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Math, Science and Inquiry

Science involves the study of the natural world, while math is the study of patterns and relationships in the natural world.

Science Inquiry

According to Barbara Stripling in Curriculum Connections through the Library (2003, p. 21-22), "students who are engaged in science inquiry are searching for the truth, for explanations about the physical world that are based on accurate and replicable evidence. The driving question for scientific inquiry is 'How?' Students develop an answer to 'How?' through scientific investigation, whether they are conducting their own experiments or reading about the experiments of others."

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has identified benchmarks in 12 areas:

The association provides an excellent website features a wide range of activities. To learn more, go to ScienceNetLinks.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, students should be supported at very early grades to raise questions and discuss methods to address those questions. These abilities should transfer to similar situations in which students deal with information search and use problems and test methods to address those problems. Set within the framework of the Scientific Method, the Academy recognizes the following progression of abilities to deal with activities related to scientific inquiry:

By Grade 4

By Grades 5 to 8

By Grades 9 to 12

Fundamental to these abilities are some basic understandings that students should be engaged in for discussion and application as early as grade school:

Stripling (2003, p. 22-23) describes seven ways teachers and librarians can support science inquiry:

  1. Scientific Misconceptions. Educators must activate student prior knowledge to identify the misconceptions of learners. Students must learn to confront wrong ideas (i.g. heavy objects always fall faster than light objects).
  2. Sound Hypotheses. Students must learn how to identify and develop a sound hypothesis by combining the students' questions with prior knowledge and background information. Younger children will need scaffolding for this activity.
  3. Scientific Accuracy. The evaluation of sources is critical for scientific inquiry. Students must base their evaluation of information on currency, credibility, and authority. They must be able to recognize bias.
  4. Scientific Evidence. Students must use criteria for judging evidence such as accuracy, logic, reliability, replicability, and clarity of presentation. This evidence should lead to a reasoned explanation and conclusion.
  5. Visual Literacy. The data found in visual media such as charts must be interpreted correctly. Students must also be able to create their own accurate graphic representations.
  6. Scientific Vocabulary. Students should be able to use developmentally appropriate vocabulary to describe scientific contexts.
  7. Text Structures. When students are learning science concepts, they should learn patterns such as hypothesis-evidence-conclusion; topic and subtopic; classification; steps in a process; assertion and support; and comparison/contrast.

Math Inquiry

According to Barbara Stripling in Curriculum Connections through the Library (2003, p. 23), "the science question 'how?' also drives math inquiry. The focus is on finding the truth, on finding number patterns that describe the physical world."

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics focuses on the following key areas of mathematics:

The association provides an outstanding website with science curriculum and activity ideas. Go to Illuminations for resources.

Stripling (2003, p. 24-35) describes five ways teachers and librarians can support math inquiry:

  1. Visual Literacy. Children must be able to understand graphic representations of numbers and symbols.
  2. Math Vocabulary. Students need to understand the context of math vocabulary.
  3. Real-World Connections. Because math is abstract, learners need real-world examples and contexts.
  4. Text Structures. Students need to understand patterns in mathematics such as main idea-details, visual texts, concept and definition, and steps in a process.
  5. Mastery. Mathematical skills build over time. It's important to support individual differences and help children build skills.


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