The goal of science education is much more than teaching students specific science content, it’s teaching students how to think with an emphasis on hypothesizing, planning, testing, reasoning from data, and drawing conclusions. Many of us are familiar with the scientific method, but science teaching, particularly at the elementary level, should focus on process skills. Process skills are the behaviors we want students to develop as young scientists. Regardless of the particular content or science kits used in schools (i.e. SCIS, Foss, STC), all students should have hands-on experience with scientific investigations that provide myriad opportunities to develop these process skills. Students who have regular access to real science work and investigations sharpen their critical thinking and develop both creative and analytical problem solving skills. Kids also LOVE “doing” science, and this subject matter becomes a major motivator for student engagement.
The National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) highlights basic science process skills as well as integrated science process skills.
Basic science process skills include:
- Observing – using the senses to gather information about an object or event. Example: Describing a pencil as yellow.
- Inferring – making an “educated guess” about an object or event based on previously gathered data or information. Example: Saying that the person who used a pencil made a lot of mistakes because the eraser was well worn.
- Measuring – using both standard and nonstandard measures or estimates to describe the dimensions of an object or event. Example: Using a meter stick to measure the length of a table in centimeters.
- Communicating – using words or graphic symbols to describe an action, object or event. Example: Describing the change in height of a plant over time in writing or through a graph.
- Classifying – grouping or ordering objects or events into categories based on properties or criteria. Example: Placing all rocks having certain grain size or hardness into one group.
- Predicting – stating the outcome of a future event based on a pattern of evidence. Example: Predicting the height of a plant in two weeks time based on a graph of its growth during the previous four weeks.
Integrated Science Process Skills include:
- Controlling variables – being able to identify variables that can affect an experimental outcome, keeping most constant while manipulating only the independent variable. Example: Realizing through past experiences that amount of light and water need to be controlled when testing to see how the addition of organic matter affects the growth of beans.
- Defining operationally – stating how to measure a variable in an experiment. Example: Stating that bean growth will be measured in centimeters per week.
- Formulating hypotheses – stating the expected outcome of an experiment. Example: The greater the amount of organic matter added to the soil, the greater the bean growth.
- Interpreting data – organizing data and drawing conclusions from it. Example: Recording data from the experiment on bean growth in a data table and forming a conclusion which relates trends in the data to variables.
- Experimenting – being able to conduct an experiment, including asking an appropriate question, stating a hypothesis, identifying and controlling variables, operationally defining those variables, designing a “fair” experiment, conducting the experiment, and interpreting the results of the experiment. Example: The entire process of conducting the experiment on the affect of organic matter on the growth of bean plants.
- Formulating models – creating a mental or physical model of a process or event. Examples: The model of how the processes of evaporation and condensation interrelate in the water cycle.