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Know your students: Implications for student learning about the nature and process of science

Students at this level are developing a knowledge base that can be used, in conjunction with their increasing observational abilities, to generate expectations about the natural world. Learning opportunities for third, fourth, and fifth grade students should focus on the skills of asking scientific questions, constructing reasonable explanations based on evidence, and communicating about their own and other students' ideas and investigations. In addition, the introduction of a historical perspective can increase students' awareness of the diversity of the scientific community.

Teachers can build on third graders' curiosity about the natural world by having students ask questions that can be answered using their scientific knowledge base and their own observations. Students can work in cooperative groups to conduct investigations that begin with a question and progress toward seeking information and communicating an answer to the question. Emphasis should continue to be placed on making detailed observations and on generating descriptions and explanations based on those observations. Interesting historical examples of the diversity of women and men working in the scientific community can be introduced through stories and videos. These examples can also provide information about what science is and how it works.

Opportunities to develop and conduct simple experiments in which only one variable at a time is changed should be provided to fourth grade students—though students may need some guidance in the process. Fourth graders should also engage in activities that help them reason about observations, communicate with one another, and critique their own work and that of other students. Through hands-on activities and discussions, fourth grade students can learn to differentiate between observations and interpretations of those observations (inference). As they investigate questions, students at this level need guidance in seeking reliable sources of information and integrating this information with their own observations. They should read stories and view videos of historical examples of men and women who have made contributions to science and, based on these, participate in discussions about what science is, how it works, and who does science.

Fifth grade students need guidance in developing and implementing investigations that follow a logical progression and in recognizing the relationship between an explanation and the evidence relevant to it. Activities in which students refine and refocus their questions will help them develop the ability to form testable scientific questions. Fifth graders should be provided with opportunities to interpret data and to think critically about whether evidence does or does not support particular scientific explanations. Historical examples can be used to help fifth grade students understand the nature and process of science, that science is a human and community endeavor, and that people benefit from knowledge gained through science.

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