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Introducing five science capabilities

Five basic capabilities in the science learning area have been identified from our Nature of Science (NOS) research. We asked what capabilities could contribute to a functional knowledge of science. We also thought about what these capabilities would look like for students at different ages and what we might expect to see them do and say.

Within each capability you will find over ten resources to explore and use in the classroom. Explore the capabilities and resources below. These capabilities are a guide for adapting teaching and learning and are not an exhaustive list. 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. 

Teachers often ask why they were called ‘capabilities’. Dr Rosemary Hipkins of NZCER 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. Read her article Unlocking the idea of capabilities in science

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.

    Learn more