class. They shared the books with the kindergarten and first-grade students and also took them home for their parents and others to read. Ms. Flores also used their books as a form of assessment and analyzed them for the extent to which students demonstrated understanding of the science concepts and their abilities to think scientifically.
As a culminating activity, Ms. Flores invited two scientists to visit her classroom. To prepare the visiting scientists, she loaned each several of the students’ research report books and she gave them a list of the fundamental concepts for the standard on understanding scientific inquiry. The scientists intrigued the students with their personal stories of investigations that produced evidence similar to observations made by the students. Students were especially interested in the last stage: how the scientists needed to make their results public, which meant that they were often criticized and challenged as part of building a strong base of scientific knowledge.
Learning Outcomes. Ms. Flores sought to help her students achieve several abilities and understandings specified in the National Science Education Standards, including understandings of the characteristics of organisms, their life cycles, and living environments; abilities and understandings of scientific inquiry; and the science and technology standard on technological design. Ms. Flores decided to work especially hard to help her students develop each of the abilities of inquiry — from posing and honing a good question, to conducting a “fair test,” to communicating explanations in different and meaningful ways. Finally, she helped her students understand what scientists do by linking their own inquiries to those of scientists.
In an elementary classroom such as Ms. Flores’, science activities can also help students develop language and mathematics skills — an important concern for young children. In her class, students were developing abilities to communicate their observations in writing and orally, to craft and share their explanations using logical reasoning, and to measure, display, and interpret data. This demonstrates the integrative potential of science activities for elementary school classrooms.
Essential Features of Classroom Inquiry. Ms. Flores’s unit had all of the essential features of classroom inquiry. Her students identified a question of their own interest about earthworms around which to design an investigation. The question derived from their own understanding of the characteristics and environments of