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What is scientific inquiry?
Scientific inquiry is an approach to science education that recognizes that the best way
for students to learn about science is to engage in the same practices that scientists use.
Learning occurs through active engagement with materials and tools rather than
secondhand, such as from books or videos. The following components are com-
monly included in scientific inquiry:
Hypothesize A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon that can then be tested
through experimentation. For scientists, hypotheses are based on theory and previ-
ous research. When children hypothesize, they rely on their previous experiences to
predict what will happen in an upcoming investigation.
Experiment In science, to experiment means to conduct a test under controlled conditions to
determine whether or not a hypothesis is correct. For children, experimenting usu-
ally means to perform some kind of action on an object so that they can observe the
results. Teachers can help children focus on a particular concept through the mate-
rials they provide and the design of an activity.
Observe Scientific observation refers to use of the senses or specific tools to obtain infor-
mation. Scientists often conduct careful observations during experiments and
record the data. Children observe the results of their actions to form cause-
and-effect relationships. They observe objects in the environment to learn their
When observing the results of an experiment or collecting data on the natural world,
both scientists and children look for similarities and differences by comparing and
contrasting characteristics of an object or an event.
Measure To measure means to determine the size, amount, or degree of something. In sci-
ence, measurement often entails comparing the magnitude or quantity of an item
to a precisely defined standard unit. Children measure in several ways: (1) by com-
paring items to one another, such as the distance traveled by rolling cars or the size
UNDERSTANDING AND APPLYING SCIENCE STANDARDS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN