They obtain evidence from observations and measurements taken in natural settings such as oceans, or in contrived settings such as laboratories. They use their senses, instruments such as telescopes to enhance their senses, or instruments that measure characteristics that humans cannot sense, such as magnetic fields. In some instances, scientists can control conditions to obtain their evidence; in other instances they cannot control the conditions or control would distort the phenomena, so they gather data over a wide range of naturally occurring conditions and over a long enough period of time so that they can infer what the influence of different factors might be (AAAS, 1989). The accuracy of the evidence gathered is verified by checking measurements, repeating the observations, or gathering different kinds of data related to the same phenomenon. The evidence is subject to questioning and further investigation.

The above paragraph explains what counts as evidence in science. In their classroom inquiries, students use evidence to develop explanations for scientific phenomena. They observe plants, animal, and rocks, and carefully describe their characteristics. They take measurements of temperature, distances, and time, and carefully record them. They observe chemical reactions and moon phases and chart their progress. Or they obtain evidence from their teacher, instructional materials, the Web, or elsewhere, to “fuel” their inquiries. As the Standards note, “explanations of how the natural world changes based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical inspiration, superstition, or authority may be personally useful and socially relevant, but they are not scientific” (p. 201).

  1. Learners formulate explanations from evidence to address scientifically oriented questions. Although similar to the previous feature, this aspect of inquiry emphasizes the path from evidence to explanation rather than the criteria for and characteristics of the evidence. Scientific explanations are based on reason. They provide causes for effects and establish relationships based on evidence and logical argument. They must be consistent with experimental and observational evidence about nature. They respect rules of evidence, are open to criticism, and require the use of various cognitive processes generally associated with science — for example, classification, analysis, inference, and prediction, and general processes such as critical reasoning and logic.

    Explanations are ways to learn about what is unfamiliar by relating what is observed to what is already known. So, explanations go beyond current knowledge and propose some new understanding. For science, this means building upon the existing knowledge base. For students, this



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement