teaching—and as science changes—is critical to improving K-8 science education in the United States.


Underlying all our conclusions and recommendations is a redefinition of and a new framework for what it means to be proficient in science. This framework rests on a view of science as both a body of knowledge and an evidence-based, model-building enterprise that continually extends, refines, and revises knowledge. This framework moves beyond a focus on the dichotomy between either content knowledge or process skills because content and process are inextricably linked in science.

Students who are proficient in science:

  1. know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world;

  2. generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations;

  3. understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge; and

  4. participate productively in scientific practices and discourse.

These strands of proficiency represent learning goals for students as well as a broad framework for curriculum design. They address the knowledge and reasoning skills that students must acquire to be proficient in science and, ultimately, able to participate in society as educated citizens. They also incorporate the scientific practices that students need to demonstrate their proficiency. The process of achieving proficiency in science involves all four strands—advances in one strand support and advance those in another.


Changes in understanding of what children know and how they learn have been profound in the past several decades. This new understanding is central to formulating how science should be taught. In summary:

  • Children entering school already have substantial knowledge of the natural world, much of which is implicit.

  • What children are capable of at a particular age is the result of a complex interplay among maturation, experience, and instruction. What is developmentally appropriate is not a simple function of age or grade, but rather is largely contingent on their prior opportunities to learn.

  • Students’ knowledge and experience play a critical role in their science learning, influencing all four strands of science understanding.

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