The importance of inquiry does not imply that all teachers should pursue a single approach to teaching science. Just as inquiry has many different facets, so too do teachers need to use many different strategies to develop the understandings and abilities described in the Standards.

Nor should the Standards be seen as requiring a specific curriculum. A curriculum is the way content is organized and presented in the classroom. The content embodied in the Standards can be organized and presented with different emphases and perspectives in many different curricula.

Evolution and the Nature of Science in the National Science Education Standards

Evolution and the nature of science are major topics in the content standards. The first mention of evolution is in the initial content standard, entitled "Unifying Concepts and Processes." This standard points out that conceptual and procedural schemes unify science disciplines and provide students with powerful ideas to help them understand the natural world. It is the only standard that extends across all grades, because the understanding and abilities associated with this standard need to be developed over an entire education.

The standard is as follows:

As a result of activities in grades K–12, all students should develop understanding and abilities aligned with the following concepts and processes:

  • Systems, order, and organization

  • Evidence, models, and explanation

  • Constancy, change, and measurement

  • Evolution and equilibrium

  • Form and function  

The guidance offered for the standard is to establish a broad context for thinking about evolution:

Evolution is a series of changes, some gradual and some sporadic, that accounts for the present form and function of objects, organisms, and natural and designed systems. The general idea of evolution is that the present arises from materials and forms of the past. Although evolution is most commonly associated with the biological theory explaining the process of descent with modification of organisms from common ancestors, evolution also describes changes in the universe.

With this unifying standard as a basis, the remaining content standards are organized by age group and discipline.

Grades K–4

The life science standard for grades K–4 is organized into the categories of characteristics of organisms, life cycles of organisms, and organisms and their environments. Evolution is not explicitly mentioned in these standards, but the text explains the basic things in life science that elementary school children ought to be able to understand and do:

During the elementary grades, children build understanding of biological concepts through direct experience with living things, their life cycles, and their habitats. These experiences emerge from the sense of wonder and natural interests of children who ask questions such as: "How do plants get food? How many different animals are there? Why do some animals eat other animals? What is the largest plant? Where did the dinosaurs go?" An understanding of the characteristics of organisms, life cycles of organisms, and of the complex interactions among all components of the natural environment begins with questions such as these and an understanding of how individual organisms maintain and continue life.

The intention of the K–4 standard is to develop the knowledge base that will be needed when the fundamental concepts of evolution are introduced in the middle and high school years.

Grades 5–8

For grades 5–8, the life science standard is the following:

As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop understanding of:

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