Center for Curriculum Materials in Science

AAAS Project 2061, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, University of Michigan

CCMS Core Principles

Promoting the use of student investigations as learning activities

The Center for Curriculum Materials in Science (CCMS) considers student-conducted investigations to be an essential element of science curricula, and we promote the development of materials that incorporate such inquiry-oriented activities. We use the term investigation to describe an exploration or study intended to answer a question about the natural world and to uncover properties of or relationships among phenomena. Investigations may involve working with physical objects and events, simulations of naturally occurring processes, data that summarize findings of research, or written accounts of studies conducted by others.

We promote the inclusion of student investigations in science curricula for two reasons. First, they help students to understand the nature of science through firsthand experience of scientific practices. Second, they help students to understand scientific content by giving them direct experience with natural phenomena.

Because knowing and finding out are not separated in science, it is important for students to learn science in a way that is consistent with the nature of science itself. To appreciate the logic and process of scientific reasoning, and not just its results, students need opportunities to gain new knowledge by asking questions about the natural world and working with problems that require the collection and analysis of evidence to formulate and support conclusions. They should understand the predictive power of scientific theories and the importance of testable hypotheses, verifiable data, and the need for skepticism in seeking to validate these theories. Investigations should be structured to support students’ curiosity and creativity and to encourage collaborative efforts. Carefully planned group investigations can provide students with access to a greater range of ideas about what is being studied than would be available when working by themselves, and the process of working together can be motivating to students.

Students learn what they practice doing, and investigations help to engage students actively in science. Investigations should, therefore, allow students to collect, sort, catalogue, observe, use instruments, dissect, compute, count, graph, and measure. In addition to helping students understand the nature of science, conducting investigations also helps them to acquire the skills of science practice. Students should have opportunities to work with objects around them, develop questions about them, and find answers to those questions. Students should learn computation and estimation skills; manipulation and observation skills; critical thinking skills; and how to communicate with tables and graphs. These skills, which are an important part of the development of science literacy, are best learned through practice in the context of well-designed, purposeful, and age-appropriate investigations.

Investigations also enable students to obtain direct experience with scientific phenomena that can help them to develop abstract understandings about the phenomena or to generalize about concepts they have already learned in terms of the phenomena they explain. For example, an investigation in which students measure the different rates of heating of different objects can provide students with concrete experience that serves as a foundation for understanding specific heat.

Research. CCMS research and development efforts recognize the importance of scientific inquiry as a discrete set of ideas and skills that represent learning goals for students and as a teaching strategy that can be used to help all students achieve those and other learning goals. Specific research projects explore how materials can help students learn to construct and use scientific models, design empirical tests of hypotheses, and how to construct, defend, and critique scientific explanations. Other projects explore ways to use investigations of meaningful problems as an effective learning context for students.

Leadership development. Center graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have opportunities to participate in the design of student investigations and of curricula that include them. They also have opportunities to study how teachers implement classroom activities that engage students in investigations of phenomena and what impact these activities have on students’ engagement in science learning and their achievement of science learning goals.

Teacher development. As inquiry-based activities are developed and incorporated into curriculum materials, CCMS researchers recognize the need to provide teachers with specific experiences that enable them to use the activities effectively. The Center works closely with its partner school districts to develop and field test strategies for embedding information about the use of student investigations within the materials themselves and for providing teachers with relevant professional development experiences.

[Core Principles References]

Text: AAAS Project 2061, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, University of Michigan
Text: Center for Curriculum Materials in Science