Science Process Skills

Science as not just a collection of facts but also a way to think about the world.  To be honest, at the young age of my kids, I'm more concerned with teaching them the skills of science (that process of thinking about the world) than for them to memorize the individual facts that we talk about.  That content will continue to appear (and reappear) in their science classes as they progress through school, hopefully at a level that continues to deepen and expand their knowledge base.  All that being said, I do believe its possible for young children to remember a vast base of facts if they find something they are interested in - we've all met the 6 year old dinosaur expert!  (And, I don't believe in "dumbing things down" just because they are little by over-simplifying science!)  But since we cover such a variety of topics, and since I'm never sure exactly what will catch my girls' fancy (lately its birds), I try to make sure we utilize at least 3 of the skills in each activity to help build a strong foundation for future science inquiry.

The six basic science process skills are as follows:
  • Observing - utilizing the five senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting) to make statements about the surrounding world.  Observations can be qualitative (using words) or quantitative (using numbers).  Ex: the bug is black with orange spots and six legs.
  • Inferring - creating an explanation based on observations that have been made.  This is sometimes difficult to distinguish from observations, but one way to think about inferences is that they are interpretations of observations.  Ex: the bug was hungry.
  • Measuring - expressing the amount of something in an object using measurement and numbers.  This may be a variety of units from length to temperature to volume. Ex: the bug is 2 cm long.
  • Communicating - recording and sharing the results of an exploration so that others are aware of the findings.  This may including using a science journal or making graphs.  Ex: a drawing of an black bug with orange spots.
  • Classifying - organizing objects or events by their individual attributes (i.e. size, color, shape, time period).  Another way to think about this is sorting.  Ex: the bug is a beetle because it shares x, y and z characteristics with other beetles.
  • Predicting - making an educated guess about a future event.  This is sometimes confused with inferring, but predictions are about the future and take into account both observations and inferences that were made.  Ex: when I place the bug in the box with the fruit it will climb on top and start eating the fruit.

The skills identified above are not the be all and end all of skills needed in science.  In fact, educators are increasingly focused on the Integrated Science Skills (like identifying variables, explaining the relationship between variables, processing data, creating hypothesis, etc.) that are involved in higher level scientific inquiry.  Check here for more information on the advanced science skills.

If you want to read more about science process skills and how to incorporate them into your home, the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) put out a good handout to read.  (This link opens a pdf.)  I also like referring to the book, "Learning & Assessing Science Process Skills" by Richard Rezba, et al.  It's intended audience is school teachers and is used as a textbook for some education courses so its a bit pricey, but you might be able to find it used online.