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Practising disciplined enquiry

Children … will seldom be able to create genuinely new science knowledge, but they can gain a feel for disciplined enquiry.

When scientists investigate, they draw deeply on the full complexity of their current understandings of science. Children cannot be expected to do the same and will seldom be able to create genuinely new science knowledge, but they can gain a feel for disciplined enquiry.

Developing disciplined enquiry by students comes through the practice of:

  • knowing what
  • knowing when
  • knowing how
  • knowing where
  • knowing why.

Focusing and planning

Knowing what:

  • is the focus of the investigative question
  • to plan to observe / measure / count (including setting an appropriate focus/ range/ sample size)
  • equipment is available for specific types of measurements/ observations
  • models to think about initially.

Knowing when:

  • the question is in a form that can be investigated
  • to use a fair test, and when to use a different type of investigation
  • observations need to include systematic measurement
  • everyday meanings of words are not necessarily the same as those that scientists use.

Knowing how:

  • to turn a statement into a question
  • to work out a way of answering a question
  • to specify what could count as evidence in answering the question
  • to turn a question or observed pattern into a prediction
  • to identify and control variables (especially if the investigation is a fair test).

Knowing where:

  • to seek help in framing the investigative question
  • to set up the investigation.

Knowing why:

  • people ask different questions about the same thing.

Information gathering

Knowing what:

  • to observe (if this has not been specified in the plan)
  • recording tools and recording formats to use
  • words to use to describe the observations made (for example, specialist terms for properties, effects).

Knowing when:

  • enough observations/ measurements/ counts have been taken to answer the question
  • additional data need to be gathered to confirm a suspected pattern.

Knowing how:

  • to use measuring and counting equipment accurately
  • to recognise the endpoint (if a change is being observed)
  • to record data systematically (tables, and so on) so it is useable at a later date.

Knowing where:

  • to take samples.

Knowing why:

  • a sampling strategy might need to be changed.

Processing and interpreting

Knowing what:

  • to do with the data, in order to look for any patterns (comparing, grouping, ranking, averaging)
  • patterns could provide a defensible answer to the question/ hypothesis
  • models might help to explain the data gathered.

Knowing when:

  • an identifiable pattern is emerging from the data
  • an unexpected complication has prevented the investigation from answering the question asked
  • the question has been answered (or it is time to ask a new question)
  • the data could be explained in different ways.

Knowing how:

  • to carry out simple mathematical procedures (grouping, ranking, averaging)
  • to process data into appropriate graphical representations
  • to use experiences positively to begin again with modifications as needed
  • other findings are relevant or irrelevant to the question.

Knowing where:

  • to look for other people’s findings of relevance to this question.

Knowing why:

  • findings might not show a pattern at all
  • the investigation may not have yielded relevant information.

Reporting

Knowing what:

  • parts of the investigation are central to the report, and which are peripheral details.

Knowing when:

  • to use scientific language rather than ‘everyday’ words
  • the investigation is ready to report.

Knowing how:

  • to explain scientific terminology
  • to modify the presentation of the findings for different audiences.

Knowing where:

  • to make your findings available.

Knowing why:

  • people may not be convinced by your findings
  • one theory or model may be more convincing than others.

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