Appendix A-1, which is taken directly from the Standards, provides more elaboration for these abilities for each grade span.

Understandings About Scientific Inquiry

Table 2-3 presents the fundamental understandings about the nature of scientific inquiry from the Standards. Although in some cases these “understandings” appear parallel to the “abilities” displayed in Table 2-2, they actually represent much more. Understandings of scientific inquiry represent how and why scientific knowledge changes in response to new evidence, logical analysis, and modified explanations debated within a community of scientists. The work of the geologist described in Chapter 1, for example, was guided by his initial question and the evidence-to-explanation nature of scientific inquiry.

As with the abilities of inquiry, the understandings of inquiry are very similar from one grade to the next but increase in complexity. For example, K-4 students understand that “scientists develop explanations using observations (evidence) along with what they already know about the world (scientific knowledge),” while students in grades 5-8 know that “scientific explanations emphasize evidence, have logically consistent arguments, and use scientific principles, models, and theories.” Students in grades 9-12 understand that scientific explanations must abide by the rules of evidence, be open to possible modifications, and satisfy other criteria.

Appendix A-2, taken directly from the Standards, provides more elaboration for these understandings for each grade span.


Having defined inquiry in part as a set of student learning outcomes, the next question becomes: What is teaching through inquiry, and when and how should it be done?

The science teaching standards provide a comprehensive view of science teaching (Table 2-4). These standards apply to the many teaching strategies, including inquiry, that make up an effective teacher’s repertoire. Although the teaching standards refer to inquiry, they are also clear that “inquiry is not the only strategy for teaching science” (p. 23). Nevertheless, inquiry is a central part of the teaching standards. The standards say, for example, that teachers of science “plan an ‘inquiry-based’ science program,” “focus and support inquiries,” and “encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry.”

Because the teaching standards are so broad, it is helpful for our purposes

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