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Five science capabilities

Five basic capabilities in the science learning area have been identified from the nature of science research . These capabilities contribute to a functional knowledge of science.

Within each capability you will find over ten resources to explore and use in the classroom for levels 1-5. They will help you to see what these capabilities look like for students at different ages and what you might expect to see them do and say. The boundaries between the capabilities are blurry. Any learning activity could provide opportunities to strengthen more than one of them, but for planning, teaching and assessment purposes, it is useful to foreground one specific capability.

The five science capabilities

  • Gather & interpret data

    Learners make careful observations and differentiate between observation and inference.

    Science knowledge is based on data derived from direct, or indirect, observations of the natural physical world and often includes measuring something. An inference is a conclusion you draw from observations – the meaning you make from observations. Understanding the difference is an important step towards being scientifically literate.

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  • Use evidence

    Learners support their ideas with evidence and look for evidence supporting others' explanations.

    Science is a way of explaining the world. Science is empirical and measurable. This means that in science, explanations need to be supported by evidence that is based on, or derived from, observations of the natural world.

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  • Critique evidence

    Not all questions can be answered by science.

    In order to evaluate the trustworthiness of data, students need to know quite a lot about the qualities of scientific tests. 

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  • Interpret representations

    Scientists represent their ideas in a variety of ways, including models, graphs, charts, diagrams and written texts.

    Learners think about how data is presented and ask questions such as:

    • What does this representation tell us?
    • What is left out?
    • How does this representation get the message across?
    • Why is it presented in this particular way?

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  • Engage with science

    This capability requires students to use the other capabilities to engage with science in “real life” contexts.

    It involves students taking an interest in science issues, participating in discussions about science and at times taking action.

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Developing science capabilities through the nature of science strand

The nature of science strand explores how science knowledge is created and used in the world. The five science capabilities are linked to the four nature of science sub-strands.

Understanding about science  the focus is on scientists' investigations – Three capabilities relate to this sub-strand:

  • gather & interpret data
  • use evidence
  • critique evidence.

Investigating in science  the focus is on students' investigations – Three capabilities relate to this sub-strand:

  • gather & interpret data
  • use evidence
  • critique evidence.

Communicating in science  – The capability, "interpret representation" relates to this sub-strand. 

Participating and contributing  – The capability, "engage with science" relates to this sub-strand.

Unlocking the idea of capabilities in science

Dr Rosemary Hipkins (NZCER, 2014) explains why the capabilities were developed (what they are supposed to "do" in terms of teaching and learning), why they were called that, and how they fit in with our curriculum’s key competencies.