Nature of Science & Engineering
The Practice of Science

Scientists work as individuals and in groups, emphasizing evidence, open communication and skepticism.

Benchmark: Evidence to Support Claims

Provide evidence to support claims other than saying "Everyone knows that," or "I just know," and question such reasons when given by others.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in Lay Terms

  • Evaluate explanations proposed by others by examining and comparing evidence, identifying faulty reasoning, and suggesting alternative explanations. (Anoka-Hennepin)
  • Use evidence to support ideas and communicate reasons why other's claims may be false.  (J. Panichi)

©Phillip Martin

Phillip Martin

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea

I used to think.....now I think based on evidence. (J. Panichi)

Claims and Evidence

A claim is an assertion about how the natural world works.  A student might claim, for instance, that metals stick to magnets.  For the claim to be valid and accurate, it must be supported by evidence - statements that are directly correlated with data.  The evidence should refer to specific observations, relationships that are displayed in graphs, tables of data that show trends or patterns, dates, measurements, and so on.  A claims-and-evidence construction is a sophisticated, rich display of student learning and thinking.  Science NotebookFOSS

Science is fundamentally a social enterprise.  Scientists talk frequently with their colleagues, both formally and informally.  Science is mainly conducted by large groups or widespread networks of scientists.  An increasing number of women and minorities are scientists - although still not enough to match their representation in the population.  Scientists exchange e-mails, engage in discussions at conferences, and present and respond to ideas via publication in journals and books.  Scientists also make use of a wide variety of cultural tools, including technological devices, mathematical representations, and methods of communication.  These tools not only determine what scientists see but also shape the kinds of observations they make.  Ref: Michaels, S., Shouse, A. W., & Schweingruber, H. A. (2008). Ready, set, science!. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

(This is directly related to benchmarks and

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks  Provide evidence to support claims other than saying "Everyone knows that," or "I just know," and question such reasons when given by others.

The Essentials

Albert Einstein:  "Information is not knowledge."

Albert Einstein:  "The important thing is not to stop questioning."


Benchmarks for Science Literacy

The Nature of Inquiry: Scientific Inquiry

By the end of the 2nd grade, students should know that:

  • 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
  • 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

By the end of the 5th grade, students should know that:

  • Scientists' explanations about what happens in the world come partly from what they observe, partly from what they think. 1B/E3a
  • Scientific investigations may take many different forms, including observing what things are like or what is happening somewhere, collecting specimens for analysis, and doing experiments. 1B/E1*
  • Because we expect science investigations that are done the same way to produce the same results, when they do not, it is important to try to figure out why. 1B/E2a*
  • One reason for following directions carefully and for keeping records of one's work is to provide information on what might have caused differences in investigations. 1B/E2b
  • Sometimes scientists have different explanations for the same set of observations. That usually leads to their making more observations to resolve the differences. 1B/E3bc
  • Scientists do not pay much attention to claims about how something they know about works unless the claims are backed up with evidence that can be confirmed, along with a logical argument. 1B/E4

NSES Standards:

NSES Content Standard A Science as Inquiry Standards

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Plan and conduct a simple investigation.  In the earliest years, investigations are largely based on systematic observations.  As students develop, they may design and conduct simple experiments to answer questions.  The idea of a fair test is possible for many students to consider by fourth grade.
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation.  This aspect of the standard emphasizes the students' thinking as they use data to formulate explanations.  Even at the earliest grade levels, students should learn what constitutes evidence and judge the merits or strength of the data and information that will be used to make explanations.  After students propose an explanation, they will appeal to the knowledge and evidence they obtained to support their explanations.  Students should check their explanations against scientific knowledge, experiences, and observations of others.
  • Communicate investigations and explanations.  Students should begin developing the abilities to communicate, critique, and analyze their work and the work of other students.  This communication might be spoken or drawn as well as written.

AAAS Atlas:

Related Benchmarks for: Seek Reasons for Believing Something

  • The claims people make are sometimes based on how they feel about something rather than on what they observe.  9E/E2 (ID: SMS-BMK-0652)
  • Offer reasons for claims and consider reasons suggested by others. 12A/E2 (ID: SMS-BMK-0772)
  • Seek reasons for believing something rather than just claiming "Everybody knows that..." or "I just know" and discount such claims when made by others. 12E/E3 (ID: SMS-BMK-0845)
  • Buttress their statements with facts found in books, articles, and databases, and identify the sources used and expect others to do the same. 12E/E1 (ID: SMS-BMK-0843)
  • Scientists do not pay much attention to claims about how something they know about works unless the claims are backed up with evidence that can be confirmed and with a logical argument. 1B/E4 (ID: SMS-BMK-1903)

Common Core Standards

See "Cross-curricular Connections" section for Language Arts correlations to this standard.


Student Misconceptions 

In the conventional view, the lone scientist, usually male and usually white, struggles heroically with nature in order to understand the natural world.  Sometimes scientists are seen as applying a "scientific method" to get their results.  They are perceived as removed from the real world, operating in an airy realm of abstraction.  Ref:  Michaels, S., Shouse, A. W., & Schweingruber, H. A. (2008). Ready, set, science!. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Research studies suggest that there are some limits on what to expect at this level of student intellectual development:

  • One limit is that the design of carefully controlled experiments is still beyond most students in the middle grades.
  • Others are that such students confuse theory (explanation) with evidence for it and that they have difficulty making logical inferences.

However, the studies say more about what students at this level do not learn in today's schools than about what they might possibly learn if instruction were more effective.  Benchmarks of Science Literacy: The Nature of Science


See National Science Education Standards (1996) Links to National Academies Press to read book on-line for the following vignette on earthworms.

Ms. F. is planning and teaching a unit that provides students with the opportunity to understand the science in the K-4 Life Science Content Standard.  She plans to do this through inquiry.  Of the many organisms she might choose to use, she selects an organism that is familiar to the students, one that they have observed in the schoolyard.  As a life-long learner, Ms. F. uses the resources in the community, a local museum, to increase her knowledge and help with her planning.  She also uses the resources of the school - materials available for science and media in the school library.  She models the habits and values of science by the care provided to the animals.  Students write and draw their observations.  Developing communication skills in science and in language arts reinforce one another.

(This example highlights some elements of Teaching Standards A, B, D, and E; Professional Development Standard C; K-4 Content Standards A and C; Program Standards B and D; and System Standard D.)

While studying a vacant lot near school, several of Ms. F.'s third-grade students became fascinated with earthworms.  Although she had never used earthworms in the science classroom before, and she knew she could use any of a number of small animals to meet her goals, Ms. F. felt she could draw from her experience and knowledge working with other small animals in the classroom.  She called the local museum of natural history to talk with personnel to be sure she knew enough about earthworms to care for them and to guide the children's explorations.  She learned that it was relatively easy to house earthworms over long periods.  She was told that if she ordered the earthworms from a biological supply house, they would come with egg cases and baby earthworms, and the children would be able to observe the adult earthworms, the egg cases, the young earthworms, and some of the animal's habits.

Before preparing a habitat for the earthworms, students spent time outdoors closely examining the environment where the worms had been found.  This field trip was followed by a discussion about important aspects of keeping earthworms in the classroom: How would students create a place for the earthworms that closely resembled the natural setting?  An earthworm from outside was settled into a large terrarium away from direct sun; black paper was secured over the sides of the terrarium into which the children had put soil, leaves, and grass.  A week later the earthworms arrived from the supply company and were added to the habitat.

Ms. F. had been thinking about what she wanted the children to achieve and the guidance she needed to give.  She wanted the students to become familiar with the basic needs of the earthworms and how to care for them.  It was important that the children develop a sense of responsibility toward living things as well as enhance their skills of observation and recording.  She also felt that this third grade class would be able to design simple experiments that would help the students learn about some of the behaviors of the earthworms.

In the first two weeks, the students began closely observing the earthworms and recording their habits.  The students recorded what the earthworms looked like, how they moved, and what the students thought the earthworms were doing.  The students described color and shape; they weighed and measured the earthworms and kept a large chart of the class data, which provoked a discussion about variation.  They observed and described how the earthworms moved on a surface and in the soil.  Questions and ideas about the earthworms came up continually.  Ms. F. recorded these thoughts on a chart, but she kept the students focused on their descriptive work.  Then Ms. F. turned to what else the children might want to find out about earthworms and how they might go about doing so.  Among the many questions on the chart were: How do the earthworms have babies?  Do they like to live in some kinds of soil better than others?  What are those funny things on the top of the soil?  Do they really like the dark?  How do they go through the dirt?  How big can an earthworm get?

Ms. F. let all the questions flow in a discussion, and then she asked the students to divide into groups and to see if they could come up with a question or topic that they would like to explore.  When the class reconvened, each group shared what they were going to explore and how they might investigate the topic.  The students engaged in lively discussion as they shared their proposed explorations.  Ms. F. then told the students that they should think about how they might conduct their investigations and that they would share these ideas in the next class.

A week later, the investigations were well under way.  One group had chosen to investigate the life cycle of earthworms and had found egg cases in the soil.  While waiting for baby earthworms to hatch, they had checked books about earthworms out of the library.  They had also removed several very young (very small) earthworms from the terrarium and were trying to decide how they might keep track of the growth.

Two groups were investigating what kind of environment the earthworms liked best.  Both were struggling with several variables at once - moisture, light, and temperature.  Ms. F. planned to let groups struggle before suggesting that students focus on one variable at a time.  She hoped they might come to this idea on their own.

A fourth group was trying to decide what the earthworms liked to eat.  The students had been to the library twice and now were ready to test some foods.

The last two groups were working on setting up an old ant farm with transparent sides to house earthworms, because they were interested in observing what the earthworms actually did in the soil and what happened in different kinds of soil.

In their study of earthworms, Mrs. F.'s students learned about the basic needs of animals, about some of the structures and functions of one animal, some features of animal behavior, and about life cycles.  They also asked and answered questions and communicated their understandings to one another.  They observed the outdoors and used the library and a classroom well equipped to teach science.


Instructional Notes 

Suggested Labs and Activities

Introducing the Process of Investigative Science Using Worms

Students learn that a living thing can sense and respond to its environment.

Summary: Students are introduced to the process of investigative science through a guided inquiry activity.  Given a testable question and materials, students as a class make predictions, and design an investigation with guidance from the teacher.  Then in pairs, students do the investigation, collect data, draw conclusions, and discuss ways to improve on the investigative design.  After this activity, students will be able to develop independent investigations in this and other subject areas.

(Also fits standards - all benchmarks,, and 3rd grade Life Science standard

Guided Leech Activity and Record Keeping in a Science Notebook

Summary:  In this classroom activity, students will observe leeches, develop questions about them, and decide as a class which question to investigate further.  The teacher and students will create a scientific investigation to test their question.  A science notebook will be utilized to record questions, data, and results.

(Also fits standards - all benchmarks, and

ReadWriteThink: Multimedia Responses to Content Area Topics Using Fact - "Faction" - Fiction and Diary of a Spider by Doreen Cronin

Summary of objectives:

  • Analyze and synthesize information from a read-aloud by categorizing it as fact, fiction, or fictional information that sounds factual ("faction").
  • Increase knowledge by conducting research about a specific topic.
  • Apply what they have learned by categorizing the information from their research into fact, fiction, or fictional information that sounds factual, and then using this information to create a multimedia project.
  • Work cooperatively to research and write about a topic using multimedia tools.

Instructional suggestions/options

Children's strategies for finding out more and more about their surroundings improve as they gain experience in conducting simple investigations of their own and working in small groups.  They should be encouraged to observe more and more carefully, measure things with increasing accuracy (where the nature of the investigations involves measurement), record data clearly in logs and journals, and communicate their results in charts and simple graphs as well as in prose.  Time should be provided to let students run enough trials to be confident of their results.  Investigations should often be followed up with presentations to the entire class to emphasize the importance of clear communication in science.  Class discussions of the procedures and findings can provide the beginnings of scientific argument and debate.

Students' investigations at this level can be expected to bear on detecting the similarities and differences among the things they collect and examine.  They should come to see that in trying to identify and explain likenesses and differences, they are doing what goes on in science all the time.  What students may find most puzzling is when there are differences in the results they obtain in repeated investigations at different times or in different places, or when different groups of students get different results doing supposedly the same experiment.  That, too, happens to scientists, sometimes because of the methods or materials used, but sometimes because the thing being studied actually varies.

Project 2061

Ordering Information

Crayfish: Live crayfish can be purchased locally at Transmississippi Biological Supply (TMBS).  Live specimens, such as crayfish, should not be released back into nature.  The chances of introducing either diseases or destructive, non-native species into local habitats is very high.  Please protect native species and habitat - do not release classroom animals into the wild.

Leeches:  local baitstore

Worms/Nightcrawlers:  local baitstore

Transmississippi Biological Supply, Shoreview, MN for living and preserved biological specimens.

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources

10 Science Teaching Tips for Elementary School: Teaching Science for Conceptual Learning and Understanding

FOSS Science Notebook

  • Why Incorporate Science Notebooks into FOSS?
  • Benefits to Students
  • Benefits to Teachers
  • Organization
  • Entry Ideas and Guides to Follow

More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children's Books to Guide Inquiry, K-4 (e-book)  By: Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan   

Can be purchased at the NSTA Science Store

The lessons, following the 5E instructional model developed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) cover a variety of science content - physical science, life science, and Earth and Space Science.  They include reproducible student pages and assessments.  They feature embedded reading-comprehension strategies.  And they make students yearn to learn from such engaging fiction and nonfiction books as Diary of a Worm, Sunshine On My Shoulders, How Big is a Foot? and Leo Cockroach, Toy Tester.

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder

Written and Photographed by Walter Wick, Scholastic / Fall 1997.  40 pages / Hardcover.  Ages 7 and up

New Vocabulary 


Claim: assertion about how the natural world works or a statement someone wants us to believe is true.

Communication: exchanging of information.

Evidence: information (data, facts, observations) used to support or not support a claim.

Fact: a fact is empirically true and can be supported by objective evidence.

Inference: a conclusion based on empirical data.

Inquiry: process of asking questions to find out more about a topic.

Investigation: a careful study used to try to answer questions about a topic.

Observation: information gathered using your sense or through taking a measurement.

Opinion: statements about one's personal feelings, cannot be proven.

Question: (n.) a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information; (v.) feel or express doubt about, raise objections to.

Technology Connections 

PowerPoint or Prezi presentations and Kidspiration webs could be used to illustrate what students "used to think...now I think based on evidence" comparisons.

PowerPoint in the Classroom

Prezi: To "create astonishing presentations live and on the web"

Read Write Think to organize ideas in graphic organizers

SMART Notebook lesson that may be adapted to suit lessons:

Soils and Worms

A second grade science lesson about the components of soils and worms.

Subject: Science

Grade: Grade 1Grade 2

Date submitted: May 25, 2010

Submitted by: E. Rees Link to SMART Notebook lesson

Search terms: worms, plants, soils

Cross Curricular Connections 

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

In the 3rd grade science class, students are expected to "read and comprehend informational texts, including science, and technical texts" (MN LA Standard and use the text to provide evidence to support their claims (Benchmark  The Minnesota K-12 Language Arts Standards describe what students should be able to accomplish through reading nonfiction:

  •  Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
  •  Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.
  •  Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
  •  Use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a given topic efficiently.
  •  Distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.

3rd grade science requires students to "Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence." (MN College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing) (Benchmark  The Minnesota K-12 Language Arts Standards describe what students should be able to accomplish through writing:

  •  Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reason.
  •  Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
  •  With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
  •  Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
  •  Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.

3rd grade science requires students to effectively provide evidence to support their claims (Benchmark in speaking and class discussions.  The Minnesota K-12 Language Arts Standards describe what students should be able to accomplish through speaking:

  •  Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  •  Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.


Assessment of Students

Is It a Theory?  See: Keely, P. (2009) Uncovering Student Ideas in Science.Vol. 4 (pp. 83-89), USA: NSTA Press.

Formative and Summative:  Science notebooks and reflective journals showing explanations and evidence to support claims made by themselves or others.

Formative:  Anchor Charts to document thinking and how it evolves.  Each student writes an "I wonder" question to launch the study of new topic.  This is a great tool for gathering prior knowledge and sparking excitement.  Other Anchor Charts could contain "What I Used to Think" and "Now I Think" statements.  Ref:  Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies what work: Teaching comprehension for understanding and engagement. Portland, ME: Pembroke.

Mind Maps can be used as collaborative formative assessment.

Multiple assessment methods including videotapes, demonstrations, practicum observations, discussions, reports, simulations, exhibitions and many other outcomes are useful alternatives to the traditional written test.  Peer assessment in cooperative learning groups is especially useful for demonstrating skills using laboratory equipment, and for evaluating process skills such as the creation and interpretation of graphs.  Ref:  Standards for Education of Teachers of Science: Assessment.

Assessment of Teachers

Is It a Theory?  See: Keely, P. (2009) Uncovering Student Ideas in Science.Vol. 4 (pp. 83-89), USA: NSTA Press

What is my understanding of empirical evidence?  Why is this so important to the study of science?

What are the differences between fact and opinion?

How might I respond when someone says "Well, everyone knows that!"?  How might a skeptical, data-driven individual respond?


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk

Use flexible grouping and small-group instruction on a regular basis.  Science students benefit from interacting and working together toward a common goal.  The goal might be completion of a laboratory exercise, problem-solving activity, or assigned project.  Teachers may introduce a concept with the entire class, then follow up with small group or pair work.  Groups should not be stagnant; frequent regrouping should occur based on complexity of content, student interest, student learning style, or other factors.

Have a variety of materials, resources, and texts available for student use.  Students exploring a concept should have access to written descriptions, graphic images, and audio-visual representations related to the topic.  A student with above or below grade-level reading ability will benefit from studying textbooks and reading materials at the appropriate level.  Supporting materials for investigation and experimentation should be readily available, and students should be trained in their use.

Develop learning stations.  Create areas in the classroom for independent or small-group investigation of a scientific principle or process.  Provide necessary materials and resources at each location.  The topic at each station should relate to a major theme of study.  Tasks should emphasize thinking skills and should force students to actively solve problems.  Move among students as they work, asking questions and cementing understanding.

ref: Teaching Today: How-To Articles

English Language Learners 

Communicate using many formats.  Graphs, charts, and figures that do not rely primarily on written or spoken language to convey information can be extremely helpful.  Layout of visual aids should be clear and uncluttered.

Focus on key science terms.  Use short, less complex sentences to teach and reinforce important vocabulary before, during, and after the lesson.

Make use of students' background knowledge of science concepts.  Attempt to discover what ELLs already know about a given topic and build upon it.

Have students identify familiar terminology.  Many science terms are used internationally.  Ask students to inform you when they recognize this type of vocabulary.

Consider your seating plan.  Students with limited English proficiency or SpEd students might benefit from sitting closest to the instructor, to a student who might assist with translation, or to a particular classroom resource.

Provide additional opportunities for practice.  Students with limited English proficiency or SpEd students may need extra time and practice opportunities.

ref: Teaching Today: How-To Articles

Extending the Learning 

Hold a debate.  Use the following sites for ideas and appropriate topics:

Teaching Debate in the Elementary Classroom

Debate and Persuasive Writing Activity by Ruth Sunda, Gifted Resource Teacher, Kyrene de las Brisas Elementary School, Chandler, AZ

Debate Topics for Elementary Students


Develop learning stations.  Create areas in the classroom for independent or small-group investigation of a scientific principle or process.  Provide necessary materials and resources at each location.  The topic at each station should relate to a major theme of study.  Tasks should emphasize thinking skills and should force students to actively solve problems.  Move among students as they work, asking questions and cementing understanding.

Engage students in role play or simulation activities.  Activities based on authentic situations can stimulate learning in students with a variety of interests, learning styles, and abilities.  Design lessons around computer simulations, debates, or science topics currently in the news.  These types of activities have the power to engage students and encourage active learning.

ref: Teaching Today: How-To Articles


Classroom Observation 


Administrators will notice students looking for evidence, asking each other questions, referencing data, and collaboratively exchanging data.


Question children's thoughts.  Why do you think that is so?  What can we do to find out?

Have children elaborate when discussing their observations.  Ask for accurate descriptions.

Let them know it's okay to have different explanations for the same set of observations that another scientist has done.  Encourage them to make more observations to find out why there are differences.  That usually leads to their making more observations to resolve the differences.

Let children know that claims must be backed with evidence to support the claims.