to students what scientists already know do not promote inquiry. Rather, an emphasis on inquiry asks that we think about what we know, why we know, and how we have come to know.

Inquiry is at the heart of the National Science Education Standards. The Standards seek to promote curriculum, instruction, and assessment models that enable teachers to build on children’s natural, human inquisitiveness. In this way, teachers can help all their students understand science as a human endeavor, acquire the scientific knowledge and thinking skills important in everyday life and, if their students so choose, in pursuing a scientific career.


One of the best ways to understand school science as inquiry is through a visit to a classroom where scientific inquiry is practiced. The following vignette features a particular grade, but, as illustrated throughout this book, classroom inquiry can and does happen at all grade levels. Sidebars point out some ways inquiry is occurring.

Several of the children in Mrs. Graham’s fifth grade class were excited when they returned to their room after recess one fall day. They pulled their teacher over to a window, pointed outside, and said, “We noticed something about the trees on the playground. What’s wrong with them?” Mrs. Graham didn’t know what they were concerned about, so she said, “Show me what you mean.”

The students pointed to three trees growing side by side. One had lost all its leaves, the middle one had multicolored leaves — mostly yellow — and the third had lush, green leaves. The children said, “Why are those three trees different? They used to look the same, didn’t they?” Mrs. Graham didn’t know the answer.

Mrs. Graham knew

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