The nature of science is concerned with science as a way of thinking, but this can’t exist in isolation, so the New Zealand curriculum document includes three other substrands of the nature of science to embed it within.

The ‘Investigating in science’ strand of the curriculum is one of these three other substrands.

Investigating in science achievement aim

  • Carry out science investigations using a variety of approaches: classifying and identifying, pattern seeking, exploring, investigating models, fair testing, making things, or developing systems.

Levels 3–4 achievement objectives

  • Build on prior experiences, working together to share and examine their own and others’ knowledge.
  • Ask questions, find evidence, explore simple models, and carry out appropriate investigations to develop simple explanations.

Levels 5–6 achievement objectives

  • Develop and carry out more complex investigations, including using models.
  • Show an increasing awareness of the complexity of working scientifically, including recognition of multiple variables.
  • Begin to evaluate the suitability of the investigative methods chosen.

Most science curriculum documents would call this strand ‘scientific inquiry’ rather than nature of science. The two main ways this substrand can embed and deepen nature of science understanding are by:

  • giving students first-hand experience
  • drawing attention to nature of science aspects in students’ own investigations and in the investigation of scientists.

First-hand experience

It is one thing to tell students that scientists carry out science in a whole lot of different ways. It is even better to support this statement by giving students first-hand experience of a myriad of different ways of investigating.

Engaging students in a wide variety of investigative processes will help debunk the myth of there being one ‘scientific method’ that scientists follow.

The scientific method, as far as it is a method, is nothing more than doing one’s damndest with one’s mind, no holds barred. In short, science is what scientists do, and there are as many scientific methods as there are individual scientists.

Percy Bridgman

Bringing scientists into the classroom

It is also invaluable for students to see scientists themselves carrying out a wide range of investigative approaches. The Science Learning Hub provides this opportunity by showing scientists engaged in many different types of investigative research.

Observing (with the naked eye or with the aid of technology


See examples on the Hub


Gathering and interpreting data

Pattern seeking

Investigating models

Making things

Developing systems

See examples on the Hub

Fair testing

Making it explicit

Whether the students are engaged in investigations first-hand or are watching videos of scientists and their research, we need to keep drawing students’ attention to learning about science as well as the doing science in these investigations. They should see that, far from there being only one nice tidy linear scientific method that all scientists follow, in fact, investigating in science is often messy and circuitous. They should see tenets of the nature of science in their own wide range of investigations and in the even wider range of scientists’ investigations to which they are exposed.

CScience is said to proceed on two legs, one of theory and the other of observation and experiment. Its progress, however, is less often a commanding stride than a kind of halting stagger – more like the path of the wandering minstrel than the straight-ruled trajectory of a military marching band. The development of science is influenced by intellectual fashions, is frequently dependent upon the growth of technology and, in any case, seldom can be planned far in advance, since its destination is usually unknown.

Timothy Ferris


Published 7 October 2011