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Getting started: Tips for the teacher

The start of the school year or semester is a good time to consider the general approaches and practices you will use to communicate the nature and process of science. You will likely want to begin by reviewing common student misconceptions about the nature and process of science, as well as common misconceptions about teaching these topics. You may also want to kick off the class with a starting activity that focuses student attention on how science works. Use the following suggestions to further orient your teaching throughout the year:

Be explicit about how your classroom activities and content relate to the nature and process of science.

  • Familiarize yourself with the Science Flowchart. This is useful background information for you, the teacher and facilitator. In the version of the Science Flowchart below, the language and emphasis have been modified for students in grades 3-5. The flowchart can provide a guide for you to identify the skills you wish to make explicit with your students. Remember that not all science lessons that you teach need to include all of these components, but where there is a good fit, it is important to reinforce them with your students.

How science works flowchart for grades 3-5

  • Use activities in which students apply/develop scientific processes themselves (i.e., How do I do science?) and activities in which students examine the workings of science from the outside in (i.e., How do they do science?). Be explicit about the differences and similarities between the two.
  • The collaborative nature of science should be strongly reinforced by including frequent group activity in the classroom. Be explicit about this connection (e.g., "You'll be working with your group when we go out to measure our seedlings. That's because scientists usually work in teams. This helps them catch mistakes and do better work because everyone on the team is good at different things.").
  • During labs, have students present their evidence and interpretation to each other and come to a consensus about the outcome of the lab or activity. Be explicit about the similarities between this process and what scientists engage in.

Model the behaviors, strategies, and scientific language that you want from your students.

  • Set the tone at the start of the year that science is creative, dynamic, and fun!
  • Wherever possible, get students to ask and answer the question "how do we know this?"
  • Avoid overemphasizing the term experiment. Many scientific tests do not take the form of experiments. When discussing evidence garnered through these other sorts of scientific tests, be sure to make this explicit.
  • Review this article from Science Scope and use word lists to combat misconceptions about science that stem from vocabulary mix-ups.

Bring real science and scientists into the classroom.

  • Look for collaborative opportunities with local research institutions that might provide structures for interactions between your students and scientists.
  • Use photos and video to emphasize that science is done in many different ways by many different people.

Reinforce the message.

  • Throughout the year, re-emphasize the same ideas in multiple contexts so that students can see the general applicability of these ideas to all of science.
  • Talk to other science teachers in your department, school, or district. How do they approach teaching about the nature and process of science? Try to coordinate efforts so that students receive a consistent and reinforced message.

Implications for student learning about the nature and process of science
Sample starting activities

Teacher's lounges

K-16 Resources

Guide to Understanding Science 101

Conceptual framework

Teaching tools

Resource database

Image library

How Understanding Science is being used

Correcting misconceptions

Educational research

Alignment with science standards

How Science Works on iTunes

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