Activity 1
Introducing Inquiry and the Nature of Science

This activity introduces basic procedures involved in inquiry and concepts describing the nature of science. In the first portion of the activity the teacher uses a numbered cube to involve students in asking a question—what is on the bottom?— and the students propose an explanation based on their observations. Then the teacher presents the students with a second cube and asks them to use the available evidence to propose an explanation for what is on the bottom of this cube. Finally, students design a cube that they exchange and use for an evaluation. This activity provides students with opportunities to learn the abilities and understandings aligned with science as inquiry and the nature of science as described in the National Science Education Standards. Designed for grades 5 through 12, the activity requires a total of four class periods to complete. Lower grade levels might only complete the first cube and the evaluation where students design a problem based on the cube activity.

Standards-Based Outcomes

This activity provides all students with opportunities to develop abilities of scientific inquiry as described in the National Science Education Standards. Specifically, it enables them to:

  • identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations,

  • design and conduct a scientific investigation,

  • use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data,

  • develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence,

  • think critically and logically to make relationship between evidence and explanations,

  • recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions, and

  • communicate scientific procedures and explanations.

This activity also provides all students opportunities to develop understanding about inquiry and the nature of science as described in the National Science Education Standards. Specifically, it introduces the following concepts:

  • Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations.

  • Current scientific knowledge and understanding guide scientific investigations.

  • Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.

  • Scientific explanations emphasize evidence, have logically consistent arguments, and use scientific principles, models, and theories.

  • Science distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing and from other bodies of knowledge through the use of empirical standards, logical arguments, and skepticism, as scientists strive for the best possible explanations about the natural world.

Science Background for Teachers

The pursuit of scientific explanations often begins with a question about a natural phenomenon. Science is a way of developing answers, or improving explanations, for observations or events in the natural world. The scientific question can emerge from a child's curiosity about where the dinosaurs went or why the sky is blue. Or the question can extend scientists' inquiries into the process of extinction or the chemistry of ozone depletion.

Once the question is asked, a process of scientific inquiry begins, and there eventually may be an answer or a proposed explanation. Critical aspects of science include curiosity and the freedom to pursue that curiosity. Other attitudes and habits of mind that characterize scientific inquiry and the activities of scientists include intelligence, honesty, skepticism, tolerance for ambiguity, openness to



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