Practice of Science

Nature of Science & Engineering
The Practice of Science

Scientific inquiry is a set of interrelated processes incorporating multiple approaches that are used to pose questions about the natural world and investigate phenomena.

Benchmark: Questions to Observations

Raise questions about the natural world and seek answers by making careful observations, noting what happens when you interact with an object, and sharing the answers with others.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in Lay Terms

The scientific method is the way scientists learn and study the world around them. It can be used to study anything from a leaf to a dog to the entire universe.

The basis of the scientific method is asking questions and then trying to come up with the answers. You could ask, "Why do dogs and cats have hair?" One answer might be that it keeps them warm. BOOM! It's the scientific method in action.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea

Productive, inquiry-based science study enables children to realize they can raise and answer questions themselves. Hands-on activities are central when students investigate the world through inquiry.  Often, they discover facts, concepts, and laws of science in much the same way that the original discoverers did.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks  Raise questions about the natural world and seek answers by making careful observations, noting what happens when you interact with an object, and sharing the answers with others.

The Essentials

See this page.

Video recommendations:

Science and the Living World

This 2-session course explores the essential question of how to use processes of scientific inquiry to learn and teach about the living world.

The Scientific Method

Every scientist across the world uses the scientific method. The method involves a series of steps that are designed to answer specific questions. The tree house gang sits down with Dr. D. and learns about the method.

Problem-Solving Using the Scientific Method

This NASA video segment explores how to use the scientific method to solve a problem about sound. In this segment the detectives talk with Dr. D., a scientist in the neighborhood, and learn that the scientific method helps people identify a problem and find ways to solve that problem.

How Scientists Work

This five minute video explains the scientific method and how experiments are used. A teacher should have a handout to accompany this video that has the five steps and ask the students to use it.

How to Stop Pop Can Fizz

Crazy Chris from So Cool Science shows you how to stop the pop can fizz and win the science fair.  He discusses the steps in the scientific method to help you set up this project (or others) for a science fair project.


NSES Standards:

Content Standard A

As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry.
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry: see this page.

AAAS Atlas:

Ask "How do you know?" in appropriate situations and attempt reasonable answers when others ask the same question. 12E/P1 (ID: SMS-BMK-0842)

People are more likely to believe your ideas if you can give good reasons for them. 9E/P1 (ID: SMS-BMK-0650)

Describing things as accurately as possible is important in science because it enables people to compare their observations with those of others. 1B/P3 (ID: SMS-BMK-1901)

People can often learn about things around them by just observing those things carefully, but sometimes they can learn more by doing something to the things and noting what happens. 1B/P1 (ID: SMS-BMK-1900)

Raise questions about the world and be willing to seek answers to these questions by making careful observations and trying things out. 12A/P1 (ID: SMS-BMK-0770)

Describe and compare real-world objects in terms of number, shape, texture, size, weight, color, and motion. 12D/P1 (ID: SMS-BMK-0825)

When people give different descriptions of the same thing, it is usually a good idea to make some fresh observations instead of just arguing about who is right. 1B/P4 (ID: SMS-BMK-1902)

Draw pictures that portray some features of the thing being described. 12D/P2 (ID: SMS-BMK-0826)

Grade range: K - 2

Benchmarks of Science Literacy

People can often learn about things around them by just observing those things carefully, but sometimes they can learn more by doing something to the things and noting what happens. 1B/P1

Tools such as thermometers, magnifiers, rulers, or balances often give more information about things than can be obtained by just observing things unaided. 1B/P2

Describing things as accurately as possible is important in science because it enables people to compare their observations with those of others. 1B/P3

When people give different descriptions of the same thing, it is usually a good idea to make some fresh observations instead of just arguing about who is right. 1B/P4

See this page.


Student Misconceptions 
  • There is only one way to do science, and it is a linear, straightforward process. All true science is conducted using the step-by-step method.
  • All scientists conduct experiments in a lab.
  • Doing science does not require creativity - it is tedious and boring, not fun.
  • It is obvious how to frame a research question and proceed toward an answer.
  • The purpose of scientific inquiry is to prove that a scientific hypothesis is correct.
  • A scientific problem is something you solve: there is a right or wrong answer; only one test is necessary; the test is to prove that their hypothesis is correct.
  • You have to be given the problem in order to use the scientific method.

See this page.


Willie the Hamster

Ms. W. encourages students to engage in an investigation initiated by a question that signals student interest. The context for the investigation is one familiar to the students - a pet in the classroom. She teaches some of the important aspects of inquiry by asking the students to consider alternative explanations, to look at the evidence, and to design a simple investigation to test a hypothesis. Ms. W. has planned the science classes carefully, but changes her plans to respond to student interests, knowing the goals for the school science program and shaping the activities to be consistent with those goals. She understands what is developmentally appropriate for students of this age - she chooses not to launch into an abstract explanation of evaporation. She has a classroom with the resources she needs for the students to engage in an inquiry activity.

George is annoyed. There was plenty of water in the watering can when he left it on the windowsill on Friday. Now the can is almost empty, and he won't have time to go the restroom and fill it so that he can water the plants before science class starts. As soon as Ms. W. begins science class, George raises his hand to complain about the disappearance of the water. "Who used the water?" he asks. "Did someone drink it? Did someone spill it?" None of the students in the class touched the watering can, and Ms. W. asks what the students think happened to the water.

Marie has an idea. If none of the children took the water, then it must be that Willie, their pet hamster, is leaving his cage at night and drinking the water. The class decides to test Marie's idea by covering the watering can so that Willie cannot drink the water. The children implement their investigation, and the next morning observe that the water level has not dropped. The children now have proof that their explanation is correct. Ms. W. asks the class to consider alternative explanations consistent with their observations. Are they sure that Willie is getting out of his cage at night? The children are quite certain that he is.

"How can you be sure?" asks Ms. W. The children devise an ingenious plan to convince her that Willie is getting out of the cage. They place his cage in the middle of the sand table and smooth the sand. After several days and nights, the children observe that no footprints have appeared in the sand, and the water level has not changed. The children now conclude that Willie is not getting out of his cage at night.

"But wait." says Kahena, "Why should Willie get out of his cage? Willie can see that the watering can is covered." So the class decides to leave the cage in the middle of the sand table and take the cover off the watering can. The water level begins to drop again, yet there are no footprints in the sand. Now the children dismiss the original idea about the disappearance of the water, and Ms. W. takes the opportunity to give the class more experiences with the disappearance of water.

At Ms. W.'s suggestion, a container of water with a wide top is placed on the windowsill and the class measures and records changes in the water level each day using strips of paper to represent the height of the water. These strips are dated and pasted on a large sheet of paper to create a bar graph. After a few days, the students discern a pattern: The level of water fell steadily but did not decrease the same amount each day. After considerable discussion about the differences, Patrick observes that when his mother dries the family's clothes, she puts them in the dryer. Patrick notes that the clothes are heated inside the dryer and that when his mother does not set the dial on the dryer to heat, the clothes just spin around and do not dry as quickly. Patrick suggests that water might disappear faster when it is warmer.

Based on their experience using strips of paper to measure changes in the level of water and in identifying patterns of change, the students and Ms. W. plan an investigation to learn whether water disappears faster when it is warmer.

The children's experiences with the disappearance of water continue with an investigation about how the size (area) of the uncovered portion of the container influences how fast the water disappears and another where the children investigate whether using a fan to blow air over the surface of a container of water makes the water disappear faster.

National Science Education Standards


Instructional Notes 

Suggested Labs and Activities

In grades PreK-2, scientific investigations can center on student questions, observations, and communication about what they observe. For example, students might plant a bean seed following simple directions written on a chart. Then they can write down what happens over time in their own words.

Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.

  • Tell about why and what would happen if?
  • Make predictions based on observed patterns.
  • Name and use simple equipment and tools (e.g., rulers, meter sticks, thermometers, hand lenses, and balances) to gather data and extend the senses.
  • Record observations and data with pictures, numbers, or written statements.
  • Discuss observations with others. See this page.

Scientific Method for Kids

Scientific language is often needed to explain natural phenomena as accurately as possible. Unfortunately, this can also complicate the process of learning the scientific method for kids. On this page you will find a science for kids approach to applying the scientific method steps.

The Scientific Method Today

This website contains reliable information about the scientific method and scientific method activities.

Daily Survival Requirements of Water

Students will use inquiry science to complete an investigation. They create hypotheses predicting the changes water undergoes in becoming ice and determine how much ice needs to be melted to create one 8 oz. glass of water.

Popcorn Science

Students conduct various experiments to determine why popcorn pops. They design tests to determine the effect of water in the kernels on its popping. Once the experiments are completed, they write summaries of them proving or disproving their hypotheses.

Sink or Float?

In this activity students will determine whether various objects sink or float in water. Students devise their own ideas about physical properties and how they can be used to describe and categorize objects.

Instructional Resources 

Instructional suggestions/options

Steps in the Scientific Method


A good scientist is observant and notices thing in the world around him/herself. (S)he sees, hears, or in some other way notices what's going on in the world and becomes curious about what's happening. This can and does include reading and studying what others have done in the past because scientific knowledge is cumulative.


The scientist then raises a question about what (s)he sees going on.


This is a tentative answer to the question: a testable explanation for what was observed.


Next, the experimenter uses deductive reasoning to test the hypothesis.


Then, the scientist performs the experiment (investigation) to see if the predicted results are obtained. If the expected results are obtained, that supports (but does not prove) the hypothesis. If predicted results are not obtained, the hypothesis is not supported or refuted.

An Egg Is Quiet

To learn about eggs and observe and describe changes in a variety of simple activities involving eggs.

Hatching Chickens

To help children understand the importance of carefully observing and caring for eggs and chickens in the classroom.

What Can You Make of It?

Students investigate the various uses of a paper cup. In this scientific inquiry lesson, students investigate various ways to use a paper cup by identifying its characteristics. Students sketch their discovery.

All About Apples

Students explore scientists and the scientific method. They create questions about apples and take those questions through the inquiry process using the scientific method.

Household Things that Fly!

Students examine the four forces of flight. In this flight lesson, students test to see which types of items will fly. Students make predictions on whether the item will fly or not. Students gain knowledge about lift, gravity, thrust, and drag.

New Vocabulary 


Scientific method: a process that is used to find answers to questions about the world around us. Context: We used a scientific method for deciding the best place to grow our plants.

Technology Connections 

Presentations in PowerPoint format:

Steps of the Scientific Method

The Scientific Method - How to Solve Just About Anything

Basic Steps of the Scientific Method

The Scientific Method Review

The Scientific Method

Scientific Method

Scientific Investigation

What does a scientist look like?

Scientific Methods

Games & Activities on the Scientific Method for kids

NASA's Kids Science News Network (KSNN) is a research, inquiry, and science standards based program that uses the Web, animations, and video to introduce science, technology, engineering, math and NASA concepts. Grade K-2 material uses age appropriate animated characters to teach concepts such as -studying weather, what causes day and night, magnetism...

Promethean/Smartboard Activities

Scientific Method

This flipchart was created to teach students the steps in the scientific method (Purpose, Hypothesis, Procedures, Analysis, and Conclusion). The flipchart contains images that help to define and illustrate each step for ELL students. There is also a "Scientific Method Worksheet" flipchart which can be downloaded and used along with science investigations.

Scientific Method Worksheet

This flipchart is a graphic organizer that was created to be completed by students, individually or as a class, during a science investigation. It assists students in completing a science investigation while utilizing the steps in the scientific method. The flipchart can be used after introducing the method with the other available flipchart named, "Scientific Method."

Scientific Method

This flipchart goes through the scientific method and suggests an experiment to try.

Exploration Habitat

A Where's Flippy submission all about exploration! Discover information about explorers, how they use the scientific method, and what the purpose of exploration is, then take an ActiVote quiz. The flipchart concludes with an exploration activity.

5 E Lesson Plan Example:

Sample Lesson Plan: Using the 5-E Model is one way to organize an inquiry-based science lesson. A simplified version of a 5-E lesson follows.

Cross Curricular Connections 

Math Standards: Algebra

Use number sentences involving addition, subtraction and unknowns to represent and solve real-world and mathematical problems; create real-world situations corresponding to number sentence.

ELA Standards:

The K-2 students easily understand and remember stories that unfold in a linear way.  Stories about seasons, the water cycle, life cycles, and so on can be effective teaching tools.  Remembering a story may not be the equivilent of understanding the story.  Primary students learn best by building understanding from their own actions upon objects and by telling stories about what they did and what they found out. See this page.


Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section.


Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).


Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

Speaking, Viewing, Listening and Media Literacy Benchmarks   

Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

a. Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., gaining the floor in respectful ways, listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).

b. Build on others' talk in conversations by linking their comments to the remarks of others.

c. Ask for clarification and further explanation as needed about the topics and texts under discussion.

d. Cooperate for productive group discussion.

e. Follow two- and three-step oral directions.

Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

Tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, avoid plagiarism by identifying sources, and speak audibly in coherent sentences.   

With prompting and support, create an individual or shared multimedia work for a specific purpose (e.g., to create or integrate knowledge, to share experiences or information, to persuade, to entertain, or as artistic expression).

a. With prompting and support, critique each found image under consideration for use in a multimedia project for its appropriateness to purpose, its effectiveness in conveying the message, and its effect on the intended audience, and justify its use in the project.

b. Share the work with an audience.  

Social Studies


1. Fundamental Concepts:

1. Resources, goods and services, and money are exchanged in an economy. Identify and classify things that come from nature as natural resources; tools, equipment, and factories as capital resouces; and workers as human resources. For example: nature - trees, iron ore, coal, pigs; captial - hammer, computer, assembly line power plant; human - teacher, carpenter, mechanic, nurse.


Assessment of Students

1. In general, you will want to know how well inquiry is leading your students to learning scientific concepts.  For example, after examining leaves, can the students describe the characteristics of the leaves in detail?  Can they explain how some leaves are similar to each other and others are different?  Can they tell you how they chose the characteristics, and can they describe these characteristics? See this page.

2. This would be an appropriate rubric to use for any inquiry based student activities.







Works cooperatively with group members






Asked inquiry type of question






Knows how to work through inquiry process






Made notes in journal that fit the experiment






Is able to determine a reasonable answer to the question developed at the beginning






Is able to move logically to the next step







See this page.

3. Student should draw conclusions of their experiments and present the findings in some form of report, either oral or written.

Assessment of Teachers

1. Fill in the blanks below and then discuss your answers with a colleague.

What is the scientific method? It is a _______________ that is used to find _______________ to questions about the world around us.

Is there only one "scientific method?" No, there are several versions of the scientific method.  Some versions have more ___________, while others may have only a few. However, they all begin with the identification of a ______________ or a ____________________ to be answered based on observations of the world around us and provide an ________________ method for conducting and analyzing an experiment.

What is a hypothesis? It is an ________________ ___________ based on observations and your knowledge of the topic.

What are data? They are __________________ gathered during an experiment.

2. What is the scientific method?  State the steps involved with this method.

It is a process that is used to find answers to questions about the world around us.

Identify the Problem: What do you want to know or explain?  Use observations you have made to write a question that addresses the problem or topic you want to investigate.

Form a Hypothesis: What do you think will happen? Predict the answer to your question or the outcome of the experiment.

Create an Experiment: How will you test your hypothesis? Develop a procedure for a reliable experiment and address safety rules.

Perform an Experiment: Follow the steps in your procedure to perform your experiment. Record data and observations!

Communicate the Results: Write a conclusion that summarizes the important parts of your experiment and the results.


Yes No


Analyze the Data: Are the data reliable? Do the data and observations from the experiment support your hypothesis?

Are the data inaccurate or is the experiment flawed?

Modify the Experiment: Rewrite your procedure to address the flaws in the original experiment.

3. Is there only one "scientific method?" Qualify your answer.

No, there are several versions of the scientific method. Some versions have more steps, while others may have only a few. However, they all begin with the identification of a problem or a question to be answered based on observations of the world around us and provide an organized method for conducting and analyzing an experiment.


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk


This site contains excellent resources for adapting lessons to a wide range of disabilities, including:

Dealing with Issues Related to Attention

Dealing with Issues Related to Information Processing and Communication

Dealing with Issues Related to Organization

Dealing with Issues Related to Social Interaction

Dealing with Issues Related to Time and Making Transitions

English Language Learners 

Drawing conclusions on their own may be difficult for ELLs. In their own culture, students may not have been trained to make guesses.

Cooperative learning may not fit in with students experiences in learning. See this page.

This site contains a multimedia Science Glossary.

School Yard Inquiry

ELL students learn life science concepts through outdoor inquiry activities.

The Scientific Method

This PowerPoint presentation (for students) will help them solve scientific problems.

Extending the Learning 

Ad Awareness

Many commercials and advertisements make promises about a product. For example, a specific brand of toothpaste will whiten teeth after five days or a detergent will take out grass stains. Watch a few commercials together and have your child question a product and put it to the test. Use the scientific method to come up with an experiment and draw a conclusion. See this page

The Case of Bubbles

Students can learn much about chemistry and physics by studying bubbles. Challenge students to make the BEST bubbles from water, glycerin and soap.  What questions will students have to answer and what scientific skills will they practice? A great site to learn more about bubbles, blowing techniques, and recipes; challenge your students to use the scientific method to determine the best bubble recipe or the best blowing method: See this page.


Multicultural garden

The multicultural garden is a guided-inquiry activity in which students build science literacy by seeking answers more independently.

An incredible website filled with lots of inquiry ideas that are designed for multicultural, ELL learners.

Special Education 

Inquiry for everyone: Authentic science experiences for students with special needs

Quality science experiences within the special education classroom, together with ..... A simple introduction to scientific process skills with limited text and colorful photographs. See this page.

How can Inquiry be Applied for Students with Learning Disabilities?

Contains an excellent chart that lists the disablility and the recommended strategy to assist the student during inquiry lessons. See this page.


Classroom Observation 


Students in inquiry-based classrooms are provided hands-on opportunities to engage in science investigations using a more holistic variation of the scientific method. With teachers serving as "facilitators of learning," inquiry-based science often consists of team projects, collaboration, student-led investigations, and outdoor explorations. Students raise questions, pose hypotheses, research and experiment, analyze their data, and provide plausible (evidence-based) explanations. Because they are student driven and interactive, inquiry-based classrooms are generally more active, physically and intellectually, than traditional science classrooms.


Scientific Method for Kids

The best way to teach children how to study the world around them is by teaching them the scientific method.

Science Experiments For Kids  

Simple, easy, cheap experiments and science fair projects you can do in your homeschool using the scientic method. 

Teaching the Scientific Method

Not only is teaching the scientific method a required process in education, but it is also a very useful process that when developed, can enhance a child's thinking and reasoning skills. Empowering children to use the scientific method encourages them to explore their world and their surroundings while asking appropriate questions that will develop their critical thinking.



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