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The "school science – working science" continuum

… up to approximately Level 4, students investigate their own ideas about science. At higher levels they look at scientists’ ideas about science.

As their abilities and understandings develop, students progress along a "school science – working science" continuum.

  • The contextual strands of science in The New Zealand Curriculum offer activities with a range of "school science – working science" ideas.
  • The curriculum levels provide reliable indications of what is appropriate to different ages/ abilities. For example, up to approximately Level 4, students investigate their own ideas about science. At higher levels they look at scientists’ ideas about science.


Senior student working from resources in science class.

The science student investigates personal theories.

Through school science, they learn to refer to science theories in investigations.

In doing so, the science student moves towards the understandings of a "working" scientist, who investigates science theories.

Gathering data

By using senses and measuring instruments to gather data, the science student develops the understandings required to become a "working" scientist.

As they progress, science students gain awareness of data gathering technologies that require theoretical interpretation (for example, DNA "fingerprinting").


The science student investigates discrete, single instances of cause/effect.

Students become more adept at identifying and controlling relevant variables as they develop into "working" scientists.

They are better able to consider how working scientists' investigations take into account – in a systematic manner – multiple variables.


The science student is beginning to differentiate between "what" is thought and "why" it is thought. 

In school science, they acquire skills in critiquing and justifying their own and others' reasoning towards the understandings of a "working" scientist.

Students discover that communities of expert scientists debate and critique new theories before they use and accept a theory.


The science student accepts personally plausible explanations and recognises when evidence confirms their own ideas.

As they progress, they are more likely to accept that there may be more than one reason for the resulting data or evidence. 

Like a "working" scientist, who differentiates theory from evidence while considering all possible explanations, students begin to look for alternate explanations.

The nature of investigations

The science student sees investigations as separate episodes.

Studying science helps them develop an ability to link chains of related investigations, in order to look for patterns.

They begin to think like a "working" scientist, whose investigations are complex webs of inter-related episodes using different methods, and seeking different types of evidence to address a question.