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Science and Engineering Practices

Practice 1: Asking Questions and Defining Problems
Practice 2: Developing and Using Models
Practice 3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
Practice 4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Practice 5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
Practice 6: Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence
Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Defining Practices

According to National Research Council’s Framework for K–12 Science Education, practices encompass the way science and engineering are actually done. When students engage in the practices of science, they gain a better understanding of how knowledge develops in science. Doing what scientists or engineers do can be a way to engage student interest. While the disciplines of science and engineering vary greatly, several common practices can be described across disciplines. For example, Fig 2.2 A shows a biologist on a ship surveying for dolphins and turtles, in order to avoid entangling these organisms in research nets. Fig. 2.2 B shows two research scientists inspecting an instrument that measures the composition of particles in the atmosphere. Although the scientists in Fig. 2.2 A and B are doing very different types of research, they are both engaged in making observations that are part of a scientific investigation. The emphasis of the NGSS on the multiple practices of science and engineering allows students to understand that science and engineering are not limited to one approach.


Fig. 2.2. (A) A biologist on a National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association (NOAA) ship surveys for dolphins and marine turtles to avoid entangling them in research nets.

Image courtesy of Officers and Crew of National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association (NOAA) Ship PICCES; Collection of Commander Jeremy Adams, NOAA Corps

Image caption

Fig. 2.2. (B) NOAA scientists inspect an instrument that samples particles in the atmosphere.

Image copyright and source

Image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association (NOAA) News

Many practices are common to both scientific inquiry and engineering design. However, there are some important differences between the practice of science and the practice of engineering. In general, scientific inquiry involves asking questions that can be answered through an investigation. These questions may or may not have an immediate practical application and are often driven by curiosity or a desire to better understand the natural world. Engineering, however, usually involves defining a problem that can be solved through the design process and seeks to meet a human need.


In Exploring Our Fluid Earth, practices are aligned with Special Features, Activities, or Question Sets. Practices are also embedded in Performance Expectations, which are aligned at the topic level.


For example, this curriculum addresses the practice Analyzing and Interpreting Data through the activity Electrolysis of Water (Fig. 2.3).



Image caption

Fig. 2.3. Equipment set-up for electrolysis of water

Image copyright and source

Image by Byron Inouye

Representative Image
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.