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NSTA Position Statement:
The National Science Education Standards (NSES p. 23) defines scientific inquiry as "the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work. Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world." The Science as Inquiry Standard in NSES includes the abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and understanding about scientific inquiry.
Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science content is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences.
Scientific inquiry is a powerful way of understanding science content. Students learn how to ask questions and use evidence to answer them. In the process of learning the strategies of scientific inquiry, students learn to conduct an investigation and collect evidence from a variety of sources, develop an explanation from the data, and communicate and defend their conclusions.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) recommends that all K–16 teachers embrace scientific inquiry and is committed to helping educators make it the centerpiece of the science classroom. The use of scientific inquiry will help ensure that students develop a deep understanding of science and scientific inquiry.
Regarding the use of scientific inquiry as a teaching approach, NSTA recommends that science teachers
- Plan an inquiry-based science program for their students by developing both short- and long-term goals that incorporate appropriate content knowledge.
- Implement approaches to teaching science that cause students to question and explore and to use those experiences to raise and answer questions about the natural world. The learning cycle approach is one of many effective strategies for bringing explorations and questioning into the classroom.
- Guide and facilitate learning using inquiry by selecting teaching strategies that nurture and assess student's developing understandings and abilities.
- Design and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science through inquiry.
- Receive adequate administrative support for the pursuit of science as inquiry in the classroom. Support can take the form of professional development on how to teach scientific inquiry, content, and the nature of science; the allocation of time to do scientific inquiry effectively; and the availability of necessary materials and equipment.
- Experience science as inquiry as a part of their teacher preparation program. Preparation should include learning how to develop questioning strategies, writing lesson plans that promote abilities and understanding of scientific inquiry, and analyzing instructional materials to determine whether they promote scientific inquiry.
Regarding students’ abilities to do scientific inquiry, NSTA recommends that teachers help students
- Learn how to identify and ask appropriate questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.
- Design and conduct investigations to collect the evidence needed to answer a variety of questions.
- Use appropriate equipment and tools to interpret and analyze data.
- Learn how to draw conclusions and think critically and logically to create explanations based on their evidence.
- Communicate and defend their results to their peers and others.
Regarding students’ understanding about scientific inquiry, NSTA recommends that teachers help students understand
- That science involves asking questions about the world and then developing scientific investigations to answer their questions.
- That there is no fixed sequence of steps that all scientific investigations follow. Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations.
- That scientific inquiry is central to the learning of science and reflects how science is done.
- The importance of gathering empirical data using appropriate tools and instruments.
- That the evidence they collect can change their perceptions about the world and increase their scientific knowledge.
- The importance of being skeptical when they assess their own work and the work of others.
- That the scientific community, in the end, seeks explanations that are empirically based and logically consistent.
—Adopted by the NSTA Board of Directors
American Association for the Advancement of Science (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.
National Research Council (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
National Research Council (2000). Inquiry and the national science education standards: A guide for teaching and learning. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.