Doing Science: The Process of Scientific Inquiry
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Doing Science: The Process of Scientific Inquiry

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Teacher's Guide

Implementing the Module

The four lessons of this module are designed to be taught in sequence over six to eight days (as a supplement to the standard curriculum) or as individual lessons that support and enhance your treatment of specific concepts in middle school science. This section offers general suggestions about using these materials in the classroom. You will find specific suggestions in the procedures provided for each lesson.

What Are the Goals of the Module?

Doing Science: The Process of Scientific Inquiry helps students achieve four major goals associated with scientific literacy:

What Are the Science Concepts and How Are They Connected?

The lessons are organized into a conceptual framework that allows students to move from what they already know about scientific inquiry, or think they know, to gaining a more complete and accurate perspective on the nature of scientific inquiry. Students model the process of scientific inquiry using a paper-cube activity (Lesson 1, Inquiring Minds). They then explore questions and what distinguishes those questions that can be tested by a scientific investigation from those that cannot (Lesson 2, Working with Questions). Students then participate in a computer-based scientific investigation as members of a fictitious community health department. In this investigation, students gain experience with the major aspects of scientific inquiry and critical thinking (Lesson 3, Conducting a Scientific Investigation). Students then reflect on what they have learned about the process of scientific inquiry. Continuing in their roles as members of the community health department, students analyze data and prepare investigative reports. They also evaluate reports prepared by others (Lesson 4, Pulling It All Together). The chart Science Content and Conceptual Flow of the Lessons illustrates the scientific content and conceptual flow of the four lessons.

How Does the Module Correlate with the National Science Education Standards?

National Science Education Standards (NSES) iconDoing Science: The Process of Scientific Inquiry supports teachers in their efforts to reform science education in the spirit of the National Academy of Sciences’ 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES). The content is explicitly standards based. Each time a standard is addressed in a lesson, an icon appears in the margin and the applicable standard is identified. The chart Content Standards: Grades 5–8 lists the specific content standards that this module addresses.

Science Content and Conceptual Flow of the Lessons
Lesson and Learning Focus* Topics Covered and Major Concepts

1: Inquiring Minds

Engage: Students become engaged in the process of scientific inquiry.

Scientists learn about the natural world through scientific inquiry.

  • Scientists ask questions that can be answered through investigations.
  • Scientists design and carry out investigations.
  • Scientists think logically to make relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Scientists communicate procedures and explanations.

2: Working with Questions

Explore: Students consider what makes questions scientifically testable. Students gain a common set of experiences upon which to begin building their understanding.

Scientists ask questions that can be answered through investigations.

  • Testable questions are not answered by personal opinions or belief in the supernatural.
  • Testable questions are answered by collecting evidence and developing explanations based on that evidence.

3: Conducting a Scientific Investigation

Explain/Elaborate: Students conduct an investigation in the context of a community health department. They propose possible sources of the health problem and describe how they might confirm or refute these possibilities.

Scientific explanations emphasize evidence.

  • Scientists think critically about the types of evidence that should be collected.

Scientists analyze the results of their investigations to produce scientifically acceptable explanations.

4: Pulling It All Together

Evaluate: Students deepen their
understanding of scientific inquiry by
performing their own investigation and
evaluating one performed by another
student.

Scientific inquiry is a process of discovery.

  • It begins with a testable question.
  • Scientific investigations involve collecting evidence.
  • Explanations are evidence based.
  • Scientists communicate their results to their peers.
*See How Does the 5E Instructional Model Promote Active, Collaborative, Inquiry-Based Learning?.

Content Standards: Grades 5–8
NSES Content Standard Correlation to Doing Science: The Process of Scientific Inquiry
Standard A: Science as Inquiry
As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop
Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry  
  • Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.
All lessons
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
Lessons 1, 3, 4
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
Lessons 1, 3, 4
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
Lessons 1, 3, 4
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
Lessons 1, 3, 4
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
Lessons 1, 3, 4
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Lessons 3, 4
Understandings about scientific inquiry  
  • Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects; and some involve making models.
All lessons
  • Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Lessons 3, 4
Standard C: Life Science
As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of
Structure and function in living systems  
  • Some diseases are the result of intrinsic failures of the system. Others are the result of damage by infection by other organisms.
Lessons 3, 4
Populations and ecosystems  
  • Food webs identify the relationships among producers, consumers, and decomposers in an ecosystem.
Lesson 1
Standard E: Science and Technology
As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop
Understandings about science and technology  
  • Science and technology are reciprocal. Science helps drive technology. Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable.
Lessons 2, 3, 4
Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of
Personal health  
  • The potential for accidents and the existence of hazards imposes the need for injury prevention. Safe living involves the development and use of safety precautions and the recognition of risk in personal decisions.
Lessons 3, 4
Risks and benefits  
  • Risk analysis considers the type of hazard and estimates the number of people who might be exposed and the number likely to suffer consequences. The results are used to determine the options for reducing or eliminating risks.
Lessons 3, 4
  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.
Lesson 3
Science and technology in society  
  • Technology influences society through its products and processes. Technology influences the quality of life and the ways people act and interact.
Lesson 2
Standard G: History and Nature of Science
As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of
Science as a human endeavor  
  • Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skills, and creativity.
All lessons
Nature of science  
  • Scientists formulate and test their explanations of nature using observation, experiments, and theoretical and mathematical models.
All lessons

Teaching Standards

The suggested teaching strategies in all the lessons support you as you work to meet the teaching standards outlined in the National Science Education Standards. This module helps teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program by providing short-term objectives for students. It also includes planning tools such as the Science Content and Conceptual Flow of the Lessons table and the Suggested Timeline for teaching the module. You can use this module to update your curriculum in response to students’ interest. The focus on active, collaborative, and inquiry-based learning in the lessons helps support the development of student understanding and nurtures a community of science learners.

The structure of the lessons enables you to guide and facilitate learning. All the activities encourage and support student inquiry, promote discourse among students, and challenge students to accept and share responsibility for their learning. The use of the 5E Instructional Model, combined with active, collaborative learning, allows you to respond effectively to students with diverse backgrounds and learning styles. The module is fully annotated, with suggestions for how you can encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry and foster curiosity, openness to new ideas and data, and skepticism.

Assessment Standards

You can engage in ongoing assessment of your instruction and student learning using the assessment components. The assessment tasks are authentic; they are similar to tasks that students will engage in outside the classroom or to practices in which scientists participate. Annotations will guide you to these assessment opportunities and provide answers to questions that will help you analyze student feedback.

How Does the 5E Instructional Model Promote Active, Collaborative, Inquiry-Based Learning?

Because learning does not occur by way of passive absorption, the lessons in this module promote active learning. Students are involved in more than listening and reading. They are developing skills, analyzing and evaluating evidence, experiencing and discussing, and talking to their peers about their own understanding. Students work collaboratively with others to solve problems and plan investigations. Many students find that they learn better when they work with others in a collaborative environment than when they work alone in a competitive environment. When active, collaborative learning is directed toward scientific inquiry, students succeed in making their own discoveries. They ask questions, observe, analyze, explain, draw conclusions, and ask new questions. These inquiry-based experiences include both those that involve students in direct experimentation and those in which students develop explanations through critical and logical thinking.

The viewpoint that students are active thinkers who construct their own understanding from interactions with phenomena, the environment, and other individuals is based on the theory of constructivism. A constructivist view of learning recognizes that students need time to

This module provides a built-in structure for creating a constructivist classroom: the 5E Instructional Model. The 5E model sequences learning experiences so that students have the opportunity to construct their understanding of a concept over time. The model leads students through five phases of learning that are easily described using words that begin with the letter E: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The following paragraphs illustrate how the five Es are implemented across the lessons in this module.

Engage

Students come to learning situations with prior knowledge. This knowledge may or may not be congruent with the concepts presented in this module. The Engage lesson provides the opportunity for teachers to find out what students already know or think they know about the topic and concepts to be developed. It also gives each learner the opportunity to consider what his or her current ideas and thoughts about the topic are. The Engage phase should also capture students’ interest and make them curious about the topic and concepts.

Students come to learning situations with prior knowledge. This knowledge may or may not be congruent with the concepts presented in this module. The Engage lesson provides the opportunity for teachers to find out what students already know, or think they know, about the topic and concepts to be covered. The Engage lesson in this module, Lesson 1, Inquiring Minds, is designed to

Explore

In the Explore phase of the module, Lesson 2, Working with Questions, students investigate the nature of scientifically testable questions. Students engage in short readings and generate their own set of testable questions. This lesson provides a common set of experiences within which students can begin to construct their understanding. Students

Explain

The Explain lesson (Lesson 3, Conducting a Scientific Investigation) provides opportunities for students to connect their previous experiences with current learning and to make conceptual sense of the main ideas of the module. This stage also allows for the introduction of formal language, scientific terms, and content information that might make students’ previous experiences easier to describe. The Explain lesson encourages students to

Elaborate

In Elaborate lessons, students apply or extend previously introduced concepts and experiences to new situations. In the Elaborate lesson in this module, Lesson 3, Conducting a Scientific Investigation, students

Evaluate

The Evaluate lesson (Lesson 4, Pulling It All Together) is the final stage of the instructional model, but it only provides a “snapshot” of what the students understand and how far they have come from where they began. In reality, the evaluation of students’ conceptual understanding and ability to use skills begins with the Engage lesson and continues throughout each stage of the instructional model. When combined with the students’ written work and performance of tasks throughout the module, however, the Evaluate lesson provides a summative assessment of what students know and can do.

The Evaluate lesson in this module, Lesson 4, Pulling It All Together, provides an opportunity for students to

To review the relationship of the 5E Instructional Model to the concepts presented in the module, see the chart Science Content and Conceptual Flow of the Lessons.

When you use the 5E Instructional Model, you engage in practices that are different from those of a traditional teacher. In response, students learn in ways that are different from those they experience in a traditional classroom. The charts, What the Teacher Does and What the Students Do, outline these differences.

What the Teacher Does
Stage That is consistent with the BSCS 5E Instructional Model That is inconsistent with the BSCS 5E Instructional Model
Engage
  • Piques students’ curiosity and generates interest
  • Determines students’ current understanding (prior knowledge) of a concept or idea
  • Invites students to express what they think
  • Invites students to raise their own questions
  • Introduces vocabulary
  • Explains concepts
  • Provides definitions and answers
  • Provides closure
  • Discourages students’ ideas and questions
Explore
  • Encourages student-to-student interaction
  • Observes and listens to the students as they interact
  • Asks probing questions to help students make sense of their experiences
  • Provides time for students to puzzle through problems
  • Provides answers
  • Proceeds too rapidly for students to make sense of their experiences
  • Provides closure
  • Tells students that they are wrong
  • Gives information and facts that solve the problem
  • Leads the students step-by-step to a solution
Explain
  • Encourages students to use their common experiences and data from the Engage and Explore lessons to develop explanations
  • Asks questions that help students express understanding and explanations
  • Requests justification (evidence) for students’ explanations
  • Provides time for students to compare their ideas with those of others and perhaps to revise their thinking
  • Introduces terminology and alternative explanations after students express their ideas
  • Neglects to solicit students’ explanations
  • Ignores data and information students gathered from previous lessons
  • Dismisses students’ ideas
  • Accepts explanations that are not supported by evidence
  • Introduces unrelated concepts or skills
Elaborate
  • Focuses students’ attention on conceptual connections between new and former experiences
  • Encourages students to use what they have learned to explain a new event or idea
  • Reinforces students’ use of scientific terms and descriptions previously introduced
  • Asks questions that help students draw reasonable conclusions from evidence and data
  • Neglects to help students connect new and former experiences
  • Provides definitive answers
  • Tells the students that they are wrong
  • Leads students step-by-step to a solution
Evaluate
  • Observes and records as students demonstrate their understanding of the concepts and performance of skills
  • Provides time for students to compare their ideas with those of others and perhaps to revise their thinking
  • Interviews students as a means of assessing their developing understanding
  • Encourages students to assess their own progress
  • Tests vocabulary words, terms, and isolated facts
  • Introduces new ideas or concepts
  • Creates ambiguity
  • Promotes open-ended discussion unrelated to the concept or skill

What the Students Do
Stage That is consistent with the BSCS 5E Instructional Model That is inconsistent with the BSCS 5E Instructional Model
Engage
  • Become interested in and curious about the concept or topic
  • Express current understanding of a concept or idea
  • Raise questions such as, What do I already know about this? What do I want to know about this? How could I find out?
  • Ask for the “right” answer
  • Offer the “right” answer
  • Insist on answers or explanations
  • Seek closure
Explore
  • “Mess around” with materials and ideas
  • Conduct investigations in which they observe, describe, and record data
  • Try different ways to solve a problem or answer a question
  • Acquire a common set of experiences so they can compare results and ideas
  • Compare their ideas with those of others
  • Let others do the thinking and exploring (passive involvement)
  • Work quietly with little or no interaction with others (only appropriate when exploring ideas or feelings)
  • Stop with one solution
  • Demand or seek closure
Explain
  • Explain concepts and ideas in their own words
  • Base their explanations on evidence acquired during previous investigations
  • Record their ideas and current understanding
  • Reflect on and perhaps revise their ideas
  • Express their ideas using appropriate scientific language
  • Compare their ideas with what scientists know and understand
  • Propose explanations from “thin air” with no relationship to previous experiences
  • Bring up irrelevant experiences and examples
  • Accept explanations without justification
  • Ignore or dismiss other plausible explanations
  • Propose explanations without evidence to support their ideas
Elaborate
  • Make conceptual connections between new and former experiences
  • Use what they have learned to explain a new object, event, organism, or idea
  • Use scientific terms and descriptions
  • Draw reasonable conclusions from evidence and data
  • Communicate their understanding to others
  • Ignore previous information or evidence
  • Draw conclusions from “thin air”
  • Use terminology inappropriately and without understanding
Evaluate
  • Demonstrate what they understand about the concept(s) and how well they can implement a skill
  • Compare their current thinking with that of others and perhaps revise their ideas
  • Assess their own progress by comparing their current understanding with their prior knowledge
  • Ask new questions that take them deeper into a concept or topic area
  • Disregard evidence or previously accepted explanations in drawing conclusions
  • Offer only yes-or-no answers or memorized definitions or explanations as answers
  • Fail to express satisfactory explanations in their own words
  • Introduce new, irrelevant topics

How Does the Module Support Ongoing Assessment?

Because teachers will use this module in a variety of ways and at a variety of points in the curriculum, the most appropriate mechanism for assessing student learning is one that occurs informally at various points within the lessons, rather than just once at the end of the module. Accordingly, integrated within the lessons in the module are specific assessment components. These embedded assessments include one or more of the following strategies:

These strategies allow you to assess a variety of aspects of the learning process, such as students’ prior knowledge and current understanding, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills; level of understanding of new information; communication skills; and ability to synthesize ideas and apply understanding to a new situation.

assessment iconAn assessment icon and an annotation that describes the aspect of learning being assessed appear in the margin beside each step in which embedded assessment occurs.

How Can Teachers Promote Safety in the Science Classroom?

Even simple science demonstrations and investigations can be hazardous unless teachers and students know and follow safety precautions. Teachers are responsible for providing students with active instruction concerning their conduct and safety in the classroom. Posting rules in a classroom is not enough; teachers also need to provide adequate supervision and advance warning if there are dangers involved in the science investigation. By maintaining equipment in proper working order, teachers ensure a safe environment for students.

You can implement and maintain a safety program in the following ways:

How Can Controversial Topics Be Handled in the Classroom?

Teachers sometimes feel that the discussion of values is inappropriate in the science classroom or that it detracts from the learning of “real” science. The lessons in this module, however, are based upon the conviction that there is much to be gained by involving students in analyzing issues of science, technology, and society. Society expects all citizens to participate in the democratic process, and our educational system must provide opportunities for students to learn to deal with contentious issues with civility, objectivity, and fairness. Likewise, students need to learn that science intersects with life in many ways.

In this module, students are given a variety of opportunities to discuss, interpret, and evaluate basic science and health issues, some in light of their values and ethics. As students encounter issues about which they feel strongly, some discussions might become controversial. The degree of controversy depends on many factors, such as how similar students are with respect to socioeconomic status, perspectives, value systems, and religious beliefs. In addition, your language and attitude influence the flow of ideas and the quality of exchange among the students.

The following guidelines may help you facilitate discussions that balance factual information with feelings:

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