Scientific thinking is:
- purposeful thinking that has the objective to enhance knowledge
- intrinsically linked to the skills of working scientifically.
A scientific thinker:
- raises questions and problems
- observes and gathers data
- draws conclusions based on evidence
- tests conclusions
- thinks with an open mind
- communicates research findings appropriately.
It can be helpful to conceptualise scientific thinking as the thinking that students engage in throughout the process of working scientifically.
Scientific thinking video (6:41) explains scientific thinking using the NSW Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus. A Stage 3 example shows teachers how students could use scientific thinking to solve a problem.
The new Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus was released by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) in 2017. This resource is designed to support teachers' knowledge and understanding of the Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus, in particular, the inclusion of four thinking skills.
These thinking skills are computational thinking, design thinking, scientific thinking and systems thinking. These four thinking skills encompass the productive, purposeful and intentional thinking that underpins effective learning in science and technology. This video will explore the thinking skill scientific thinking and how it is embedded in the new Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus.
As the table shows, scientific thinking skills are embedded within various content strands of the new Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus. Opportunities to embed scientific thinking skills are identified by the SciT abbreviation after individual syllabus dot points. So what is scientific thinking?
Scientific thinking is purposeful thinking that has the objective to enhance knowledge. Scientific thinking is intrinsically linked to the skills of working scientifically. As such, a scientific thinker raises questions and problems, observes and gathers data, draws conclusions based on evidence, tests conclusions, thinks with an open mind and communicates research findings appropriately. It can be helpful to conceptualise scientific thinking as the thinking that students engage in throughout the process of working scientifically.
Students come to school with their own unique understandings of scientific phenomena. These understandings have been shaped through play, casual observation and explanations from others. Many of these early scientific understandings, however, are informal in nature and are not based on data or evidence. This, in turn, can lead to some students having inaccurate or partially developed conceptions about scientific phenomena. Engaging in meaningful scientific thinking, through the process of working scientifically, allows students to shape new conceptual understandings and question misconceptions.
Scientific thinking moves students from wonderings about the world around them to scientific understanding. A team of students in Stage 3 pose the question: We wonder if heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects? The team predict that the heavier objects will fall faster than lighter objects because they weigh more. With the help of their teacher, they decide to conduct an investigation.
The group collect a series of balls of different masses including a basketball, a cricket ball and a table tennis ball. They weigh them and records their masses in a table. They plan on dropping each ball from a balcony, filming the drop and using the footage to record the time each takes to fall.
The team’s teacher prompts them to take some time to think carefully about their investigation before starting. The teacher asks the team to consider what they are actually measuring in this investigation, what is different between each of the objects and what is the same. Their teachers asks the question: Is this a fair test?
The group reflect on their investigation. They note that the balls are different in mass, which relates to their initial question, but they are also different in size. The team realise that their current investigation would not be fair because there are two variables that are different: mass and size. To fix the problem the team find three balls that are the same size but different masses. They use a medicine ball, a basketball and a beach ball. The team successfully conduct the investigation using the three new balls.
After conducting the investigation several times, the team notice that the medicine ball and the basketball fall straight down and hit the ground at virtually the same time. The beach ball, however, takes a slightly longer to hit the ground and seems to sway in the air a little bit when dropped.
The results of the investigation are quite different from the team's initial prediction. Each of the members takes some time to think about their results.
“Maybe the beach ball has more air inside,” suggests Chloe. “Or maybe the air is lighter?”
“I think it has something to do with the materials the balls are made of,” adds Lucy.
“The beach ball was the only one that moved around on the way down,” says Alex. “Perhaps it's something to do with the air surrounding the balls.”
“Maybe if we repeat the investigation with the beach ball and two other balls that have the same mass but are different sizes,” suggests Owen. “That might give us some clues about this investigation.”
Although some of the students’ thinking about their investigation is scientifically inaccurate, they are clearly engaged in the purposeful dialogue of scientific thinking. These students are on a journey toward scientific understanding which will involve further research, investigating, questioning and thinking. Eventually, the team will communicate their findings to their peers and teacher as a way of consolidating this newfound scientific understanding.
At its core, scientific thinking is about using evidence to establish cause and effect relationships. It requires teachers to create an environment in which curiosity, creativity and a desire for scientific understanding is valued and encouraged through the process of working scientifically. Ultimately, it is hoped that the questions, ideas and findings that stem from scientific thinking not only shape student scientific understanding but also feed into and inform the next phase of student wonderings.
The science and technology page on the NSW Department of Education website contains additional syllabus implementation support materials for teachers, including professional development opportunities. If you would like further information about syllabus implementation, please contact the science and technology K-6 curriculum team on the details below.
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Definition © 2017 NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales.