Practices of science and engineering

Child tries to move water from a tall container using a spoon.

What science and engineering practices will he use to solve this problem?

With any profession, including teaching, experience helps the practitioner be better at the job. Not every part of teaching gets easier with years of experience (unbending my knees) but I no longer have to remind myself to use clear phrases to set limits or further children’s thinking, to plan some next steps in the science inquiry, and to make statements about the practice of science. Learning from research as well as our own practice improves our teaching effectiveness. Researchers are finding better ways to describe the process of learning both the concepts and practice of science and they are calling it “practices of science.” This term does not describe a new whole new way of teaching but a new way of describing this complex process. cover of A FrameworkThe new work from the National Academies Press,  A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, uses the word “practices” to “stress that engaging in scientific inquiry requires coordination both of knowledge and skill simultaneously.” Even young children can learn science content knowledge, such as “water can exist as a gas, a liquid and a solid”, and science skills, such as making observations to find out.

When reading the Framework, it is interesting to reflect on the science activities that the children are currently engaged in. Yes, they are learning about the needs of living organisms by caring for and observing roly-polies, but  are they also learning that scientists make observations and record this data to gain understanding of biological systems, and that engineers make observations to be able to design environments (terrariums) to meet the needs of living organisms? Cover of the December 2011 journal Science and Children.To apply this new Framework to my work in the classroom I found guidance in Robert Bybee’s article, Scientific and Engineering Practices in K-12 Classrooms, in the December 2011 Science  & Children. He describes the relationship between science and engineering as written in the Framework and his explanations helped me understand, and hopefully apply, the science and engineering practices he restates from the Framework.

To help bring understanding of engineering practices into your classroom, consider using these resources, and add your own suggestions to this list by commenting below:

  • I love to visit other classrooms to see what is working well and think about how to do the same in my  work. Join Margaret Berry Wilson, author of What Every Kindergarten Teacher Needs To Know and the Responsive Classroom approach blog, and take a peek into a classroom where the teacher’s “careful selection of age-appropriate tasks…, along with her careful set-up, cheerful reinforcement, and  appropriate challenges, made all students feel safe and significant.”
  • Engineering Is Elementary (EiE) has several videos of children in grades 2 and up learning about engineering through the EiE storybooks and hands-on explorations. At the end of the videos, the teachers offer tips to implement the lessons.
  • Engineering for All: Strategies for helping all students succeed in the design process by Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue, Sarah Lovelidge, and Erin Bowling, describes how “the core practice of engineering, the engineering design process, was taught in a third-grade inclusive classroom in which students used this process to design windmill blades” using the EiE unit, Catching the Wind: Designing Windmills (Science and Children March 2010).
  • Family Engineering, developed by the Foundation for Family Science and Engineering, with Michigan Tech and the American Society for Engineering Education, is a program for providing informal engineering learning experiences to elementary age children and their families.
  •  Engineering, Go For It! (eGFI) sponsored by the American Society for Engineering Education.

What engineering practices do you do in your classroom?


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  1. Mary Bigelow
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Roger Bybee’s article also appears in the December issues of The Science Teacher and Science Scope. A must-read for all.

  2. Maille Lyons
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I am a scientist interested in enhancing science education by supporting science fair projects that are creative and technically correct and designed by the students themselves. My website/blog (free with no adds) is at and includes articles on “scientific method in 5 easy steps”; “how to talk like a scientist”; “getting ready for an interview with a judge” and several how to sections on finding an original idea, making a backboard, presenting data, etc.

  3. Mia Jackson
    Posted December 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for writing on this important issue. Engineering may seem like a “new” thing for educators to address, but it has always been a part of good science investigations. Basic problem-solving, creativity, questioning, designing and testing solutions, teamwork, and communication are all important skills in engineering. Nurturing the development of these skills and supporting curiosity in young children is essential to meeting our goals in science education. As we know, families play a huge role in a child’s interests and achievement throughout school. The Family Engineering program that you list above is a great way to introduce engineering to young children and their parents in a fun, inviting environment. The new publication, Family Engineering: An Activity & Event Planning Guide, can be used by anyone – educators, parents, engineers – to plan and implement informal engineering programs for families.
    Mia Jackson – Foundation for Family Science & Engineering

  4. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for adding more details to expand on the post, Maille and Mia.
    The Family Science and Engineering events sound like instant (for the participants, not the developers!) science fairs where adults and children get to participate in science and engineering investigations—doing basic problem-solving, using their creativity, questioning, designing and testing solutions, participating as a team, and communicating.
    I wonder how the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and the new science education standards that will be developed will influence the practice of science fairs.

  5. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    NSTA has published The NSTA Reader’s Guide to A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and made it available at no cost to non-members as well as members. Go to the NSTA Science Store
    You will be able to add it to your NSTA Learning Center Library, so if you haven’t yet completed the free registration, this is the perfect time to do so!

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