What Makes Science Science?

AUTHOR: Cynthia Holcomb: Education Specialistv – Elementary Science

What does science instruction look like on your elementary campus? Does it occur every day, in every grade level, or is it something that teachers attend to when they have time? Does the entire staff and student body agree on what makes science science?

I once asked a class of third graders at the beginning of the school year to define science. I will never forget the response from Kara, an earnest 8-year old who always thought through her answers carefully. “I guess it’s the opposite of social studies,” she said.

And that’s what some of our students believe. It’s a subject that is addressed when it’s convenient instead of being recognized as a required and important part of our curriculum. School administrators must be advocates for science, especially in the elementary grades, by supporting and monitoring an elementary science program that reflects state standards.

Our science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are designed so that students in the primary grades receive concrete, hands-on, tactile experiences. By Grade 3, science content shifts to the abstract. If students don’t receive their initial science instruction as tangible explorations of ideas in grades K-2, they miss building necessary background for understanding more abstract ideas in the later grades.

For students, science is a way of discovering what’s in the world and how things work. Young scientists are motivated to see or figure out something that is new to them. Science helps them make sense of the world. Science is continually refining and expanding our knowledge of our world, and it continually leads to new questions for future investigation.

To encourage students to explore our world, the Texas Education Agency has suggested time for classroom and outdoor investigations as follows:

  • In grades K-1, at least 80% of instructional time.
  • In grades 2-3, at least 60% of instructional time.
  • In grades 4-5, at least 50% of instructional time.
  • In grades 6-8, at least 40% of instructional time.

For all courses that receive science credit in grades 9-12, at least 40% of instructional time.

In addition, the 2010 science TEKS reference three types of investigations for students of grades K-12.

  • Descriptive investigations include questions but no hypothesis. Observations are recorded, but students do not make comparisons or manipulate variables. Examples include finding the mass of a rock, observing and describing animal behavior or weather patterns, and examining an electrical circuit.


  • Comparative investigations involve collecting data on different organisms, objects, or events, or collecting data under different conditions to make a comparison. Examples include observing the moon’s appearance throughout the month, recording the changes in plant life during the school year, or comparing different types of leaves.


  • Experimental investigations involve designing a fair test. Students identify controlled factors and measure the variables in an effort to gather evidence to support or not support a causal relationship.

(You can view TEA’s entire Laboratory and Field Investigations document: Laboratory and Field Investigations – FAQ, August 2010 )

So what makes science science? It’s providing time each day, in each grade, for students to think like scientists. It’s fostering a sense of curiosity and wonder. It’s providing opportunities to explore the natural world. It’s about students observing, performing experiments, completing investigations, and asking questions. And it’s much more than being just the opposite of social studies.


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