Second, a focus on practices (in the plural) avoids the mistaken impression that there is one distinctive approach common to all science—a single “scientific method”—or that uncertainty is a universal attribute of science. In reality, practicing scientists employ a broad spectrum of methods, and although science involves many areas of uncertainty as knowledge is developed, there are now many aspects of scientific knowledge that are so well established as to be unquestioned foundations of the culture and its technologies. It is only through engagement in the practices that students can recognize how such knowledge comes about and why some parts of scientific theory are more firmly established than others.
Third, attempts to develop the idea that science should be taught through a process of inquiry have been hampered by the lack of a commonly accepted definition of its constituent elements. Such ambiguity results in widely divergent pedagogic objectives —an outcome that is counterproductive to the goal of common standards.
The focus here is on important practices, such as modeling, developing explanations, and engaging in critique and evaluation (argumentation), that have too often been underemphasized in the context of science education. In particular, we stress that critique is an essential element both for building new knowledge in general and for the learning of science in particular [19, 20]. Traditionally, K-12 science education has paid little attention to the role of critique in science. However, as all ideas in science are evaluated against alternative explanations and compared with evidence, acceptance of an explanation is ultimately an assessment of what data are reliable and relevant and a decision about which explanation is the most satisfactory. Thus knowing why the wrong answer is wrong can help secure a deeper and stronger understanding of why the right answer is right. Engaging in argumentation from evidence about an explanation supports students’ understanding of the reasons and empirical evidence for that explanation, demonstrating that science is a body of knowledge rooted in evidence.
How the Practices Are Integrated into Both Inquiry and Design
One helpful way of understanding the practices of scientists and engineers is to frame them as work that is done in three spheres of activity, as shown in Figure 3-1. In one sphere, the dominant activity is investigation and empirical inquiry. In the second, the essence of work is the construction of explanations or designs using reasoning, creative thinking, and models. And in the third sphere, the ideas, such as the fit of models and explanations to evidence or the appropriateness of product designs, are analyzed, debated, and evaluated [21-23]. In all three spheres