The early school years focus on having children engage with the world, make careful observations, and talk about what they notice. From the earliest years, teachers encourage children to notice as much as possible about objects or events and to pay attention to details. Activities such as collecting, grouping and ordering objects from their world, noting similarities and differences, observing and talking about changes, and asking questions all provide the basis for more quantitative inquiry skills later on. Children in the early elementary grades record their observations through drawings and, as their writing skills develop, add annotation to their drawings. What children observe, measure and record, and the ideas and explanations they form are related in important ways. Children need to check their observations against their ideas, and vice versa, in order to build strong conceptual understandings.
Also, during the elementary school years children come to realize that some of their questions can be answered by doing something to change an object as well as by observing it – that is, by carrying out a test. In the earliest elementary grades, investigations may be designed and carried out as a whole class activity. As children progress through the grades, they develop the skills to design and carry out their own tests of increasing complexity, using specialized instruments and tools accurately. Sometimes these tests will be scientific, searching for understanding. Other times these activities will be engineering design challenges, where children search for different, workable solutions to a simple problem, such as designing a car that will stop before it rolls off the edge of a table.
Middle School Curriculum
In the middle grades, students plan and carry out more sophisticated tests and design challenges. Gradually they develop the ability to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information within the context of an investigation or problem. They refine their ability to work with and analyze data, and to justify explanations with evidence. In middle school, learning about science and engineering continues to take place in the context of extended investigations.
High School Curriculum
In their high school years, students are increasingly capable of working with abstractions and dealing with hypothetical cases. As they hone their analytical skills, students design challenges where problems never solved before are identified. They become more proficient in creating models, interpreting complex and messy data, and making inferences, using evaluative feedback to check specifications rigorously. They gain facility in working with quantitative data and representing information graphically and symbolically.
Inquiry skills built in grades 9 and 10 are expanded upon in grades 11 and 12 to include reflection on the assumptions and concepts that guide investigations and problem-solving activities. Students learn how to construct and evaluate their own and others' scientific and technological explanations, as well as learn how to evaluate evidence.