Practice Brief 32 -- Topics: Instruction Background Practices

Why focus on science and engineering practices--and not "inquiry?" Why is "the scientific method" mistaken?

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Why It Matters To You
  • Teachers should review their curricula to look for ways the practices could be incorporated or emphasized to expand opportunities for students to learn and apply science concepts.
  • District staff & PD providers should help teachers learn about the practices in ways that are relevant to instruction and relate to other local initiatives.
  • School leaders should learn about the science and engineering practices, what practice-focused instruction looks like, and how practices are integrated into the three-dimensional view of learning.

What is the Issue?

For decades science education has engaged students in a version of science inquiry that reduces the investigation of the natural world to a fixed, linear set of steps—sometimes devoid of a deep focus on learning and applying science concepts. Rigid representations of a single "scientific method" do not accurately reflect the complex thinking or work of scientists. The new vision calls for engaging students in multifaceted science and engineering practices in more complex, relevant, and authentic ways as they conduct investigations.



Reflection Questions

  • Where are the science and engineering practices already in your instruction? Also, think about how the practices can relate to each other in different ways to support science investigations. How might you build on or adapt your instruction accordingly?
  • Which practices do your students have experience with outside the classroom? How might you leverage that?
  • Watch, read about, and discuss how science works.

Things to Consider

"The notion that there is a single scientific method of observation, hypothesis, deduction, and conclusion—a myth perpetuated to this day by many textbooks—is fundamentally wrong. Scientists do use deductive reasoning, but they also search for patterns, classify different objects, make generalizations from repeated observations, and engage in a process of making inferences as to what might be the best explanation. Thus the picture of scientific reasoning is richer, more complex, and more diverse than the image of a linear and unitary scientific method would suggest."

NRC Framework, p. 78

Attending to Equity

Recommended Actions You Can Take

Learn about each of the science and engineering practices—one at a time. Read the NRC Framework and NSTA articles. Watch the Bozeman overviews and NSTA webinars. Learn about how each practice relates to science and engineering, the different facets of each for your grade band, and Common Core connections.


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