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Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
describes expertise as knowing both the subject matter content (the “big ideas” of the disciplines) and the ways of inquiring into new questions — and it makes the case for teaching both.
How can students do a scienceinvestigation before they havelearned the vocabulary wordswith which to describe theresults?
Scientific investigations, whether conducted by students or scientists, begin with observations of something interesting or perplexing, which lead to scientific questions, and then to reflections on what the person already knows about the question. It may seem that students need some concepts and vocabulary to begin, but investigations can be designed and carried out without knowing all the specific terms and definitions involved. In fact, the observations, data collection, and analysis involved in an investigation generally provide the context for developing operational definitions, science concepts, inquiry abilities, and an understanding of scientific inquiry, which can later be associated with names or “vocabulary.” This is well illustrated in the vignettes in earlier chapters, and is advocated in the Foreword.
Knowing vocabulary does not necessarily help students develop or understand explanations. Rather, once students begin to build and understand explanations for their observations, the proper names and definitions associated with those events become useful and meaningful. In essence, words become symbols for their understanding of the phenomena. As a result, definitions based on direct experience more often result in understanding than just memorizing words.
The issue of vocabulary development is particularly relevant to working with students who are English-language learners. As noted in
Chapters 4 and 6, teachers of these students need to pay special attention to whether assessment of students’ science knowledge is confounded by their use of the language, and to how student learning is supported when their language skills are just developing. As noted in research synthesized by Fradd and Lee (1999), when formulating their teaching strategies, teachers need to consider how stu