These learning strands also incorporate the scientific practices that students need to master in order to demonstrate their proficiency.

The strands of proficiency build on the helpful contributions of science standards documents such as the Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Science Education Standards. These documents set out to characterize the conceptual goals of science education and call for greater emphasis on science as inquiry. The strands of proficiency provide a framework for thinking about elements of scientific knowledge and practice. They can be useful to educators in their effort to plan and assess student learning in classrooms and across school systems. They can also be a helpful tool for identifying the science that is emphasized in a given curriculum guide, textbook, or assessment.

The Four Strands

The strands offer a new perspective on what is learned during the study of science, and they embody the idea of knowledge in use—the idea that students’ knowledge is not static. Instead, students bring certain capabilities to school and then build on those capabilities throughout their K-12 science education experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. Proficiency involves using all four strands to engage successfully in scientific practices.

Another important aspect of the strands is that they are intertwined, much like the strands of a rope.1 Research suggests that each strand supports the others, so that progress along one strand promotes progress in the others. For example, there is evidence that students can make substantial gains in their conceptual knowledge of science when given opportunities to “do” science, and scientific reasoning tends to be strongest in domains in which a person is more knowledgeable. Students are more likely to make progress in science when classrooms provide opportunities to advance across all four strands.

Many science educators may want to interpret the strands in light of the current language and concepts of science education—for example, mapping the strands to the content, process, and nature of science, and participation, respectively. But it is important to note that the strands were developed because the Committee on Science Learning thought current assumptions about what constitutes the “content, process, and nature of science” are inadequate. In a sense, the first three strands revise and expand common ideas about the content, process, and nature of science to better reflect research and to include greater emphasis on the application of ideas.

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