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The three interrelated strands of science

The Australian Curriculum: Science has three interrelated strands: science understanding, science as a human endeavour and science inquiry skills.

Together, the three strands of the science curriculum provide students with understanding, knowledge and skills through which they can develop a scientific view of the world. Students are challenged to explore science, its concepts, nature and uses through clearly described inquiry processes.

Science understanding

Science understanding is evident when a person selects and integrates appropriate science knowledge to explain and predict phenomena, and applies that knowledge to new situations. Science knowledge refers to facts, concepts, principles, laws, theories and models that have been established by scientists over time. This strand provides the content through which the key ideas of science and skills are developed within contexts appropriate to the learners.

The science understanding strand comprises four sub-strands. The content is described by year level.

Biological sciences

The biological sciences sub-strand is concerned with understanding living things. The key concepts developed within this sub-strand are that: a diverse range of living things have evolved on Earth over hundreds of millions of years; living things are interdependent and interact with each other and their environment; and the form and features of living things are related to the functions that their body systems perform.

Through this sub-strand, students investigate living things, including animals, plants and microorganisms, and their interdependence and interactions within ecosystems. They explore their life cycles, body systems, structural adaptations and behaviours, how these features aid survival, and how their characteristics are inherited from one generation to the next. Students are introduced to the cell as the basic unit of life and the processes that are central to its function.

Chemical sciences

The chemical sciences sub-strand is concerned with understanding the composition and behaviour of substances. The key concepts developed within this sub-strand are that: the chemical and physical properties of substances are determined by their structure at an atomic scale; substances change and new substances are produced by rearranging atoms through atomic interactions and energy transfer.

In this sub-strand, students classify substances based on their properties, such as solids, liquids and gases, or their composition, such as elements, compounds and mixtures. They explore physical changes such as changes of state and dissolving, and investigate how chemical reactions result in the production of new substances. Students recognise that all substances consist of atoms which can combine to form molecules, and chemical reactions involve atoms being rearranged and recombined to form new substances. They explore the relationship between the way in which atoms are arranged and the properties of substances, and the effect of energy transfers on these arrangements.

Earth and space sciences

The earth and space sciences sub-strand is concerned with Earth’s dynamic structure and its place in the cosmos. The key concepts developed within this sub-strand are that: Earth is part of a solar system that is part of a larger universe; Earth is subject to change within and on its surface, over a range of timescales as a result of natural processes and human use of resources.

Through this sub-strand, students view Earth as part of a solar system, which is part of a galaxy, which is one of many in the universe, and explore the immense scales associated with space. They explore how changes on Earth, such as day and night and the seasons, relate to Earth’s rotation and its orbit around the sun. Students investigate the processes that result in change to Earth’s surface, recognising that Earth has evolved over 4.5 billion years and that the effect of some of these processes is only evident when viewed over extremely long timescales. They explore the ways in which humans use resources from Earth and appreciate the influence of human activity on the surface of Earth and its atmosphere.

Physical sciences

The physical sciences sub-strand is concerned with understanding the nature of forces and motion, and matter and energy. The two key concepts developed within this sub-strand are that: forces affect the behaviour of objects; energy can be transferred and transformed from one form to another.

Through this sub-strand, students gain an understanding of how an object’s motion (direction, speed and acceleration) is influenced by a range of contact and non-contact forces such as friction, magnetism, gravity and electrostatic forces. They develop an understanding of the concept of energy and how energy transfer is associated with phenomena involving motion, heat, sound, light and electricity. They appreciate that concepts of force, motion, matter and energy apply to systems ranging in scale from atoms to the universe itself.

Science as a human endeavour

Through science, humans seek to improve their understanding and explanations of the natural world. Science involves the construction of explanations based on evidence and science knowledge can be changed as new evidence becomes available. Science influences society by posing, and responding to, social and ethical questions, and scientific research is itself influenced by the needs and priorities of society.

This strand highlights the development of science as a unique way of knowing and doing, and the importance of science in contemporary decision-making and problem-solving. It acknowledges that in making decisions about science practices and applications, ethical and social implications must be taken into account. This strand also recognises that science advances through the contributions of many different people from different cultures and that there are many rewarding science-based career paths. This strand provides context and relevance to students and to our broader community.

The content in the science as a human endeavour strand is described in two-year bands. There are two sub-strands of science as a human endeavour. These are:

Nature and development of science: This sub-strand develops an appreciation of the unique nature of science and scientific knowledge, including how current knowledge has developed over time through the actions of many people.

Use and influence of science: This sub-strand explores how science knowledge and applications affect peoples’ lives, including their work, and how science is influenced by society and can be used to inform decisions and actions.

Science inquiry skills

Science inquiry involves identifying and posing questions; planning, conducting and reflecting on investigations; processing, analysing and interpreting evidence; and communicating findings. This strand is concerned with evaluating claims, investigating ideas, solving problems, drawing valid conclusions and developing evidence-based arguments. The skills students develop give them the tools they need to achieve deeper understanding of the science concepts and how scientific thinking applies to these understandings.

Science investigations are activities in which ideas, predictions or hypotheses are tested and conclusions are drawn in response to a question or problem. Investigations can involve a range of activities, including experimental testing, field work, locating and using information sources, conducting surveys, and using modelling and simulations. The choice of the approach taken will depend on the context (science as a human endeavour) and subject of the investigation (science understanding).

In science investigations, collection and analysis of primary data and evidence play a major role. This can involve collecting or extracting information and reorganising data in the form of tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, prose, keys, spreadsheets and databases. Students will also develop their understandings through the collection and analysis of secondary data and information.

The content in the science inquiry skillsstrand is described in two-year bands. There are five sub-strands of science inquiry skills. These are:

Questioning and predicting: Identifying and constructing questions, proposing hypotheses and suggesting possible outcomes.

Planning and conducting: Making decisions about how to investigate or solve a problem and carrying out an investigation, including the collection of data.

Processing and analysing data and information: Representing data in meaningful and useful ways; identifying trends, patterns and relationships in data, and using this evidence to justify conclusions.

Evaluating: Considering the quality of available evidence and the merit or significance of a claim, proposition or conclusion with reference to that evidence.

Communicating: Conveying information or ideas to others through appropriate representations, text types and modes. 

Relationship between the strands

In the practice of science, the three strands of science understanding, science as a human endeavour and science inquiry skills are closely integrated; the work of scientists reflects the nature and development of science, is built around scientific inquiry and seeks to respond to and influence society’s needs. Students’ experiences of school science should mirror and connect to this multifaceted view of science.

To achieve this, the three strands of the Australian Curriculum: Science should be taught in an integrated way. The content descriptions of the three strands have been written so that at each year this integration is possible. In the earlier years, the nature and development of science sub-strand within the science as a human endeavour strand focuses on scientific inquiry. This enables students to make clear connections between the inquiry skills that they are learning and the work of scientists. As students progress through the curriculum they investigate how science understanding has developed, including considering some of the people and the stories behind these advances in science.

They will also recognise how this science understanding can be applied to their lives and the lives of others. As students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the knowledge and skills of science they are increasingly able to appreciate the role of science in society. The content of the science understanding strand will inform students’ understanding of contemporary issues such as climate change, use of resources, medical interventions, biodiversity and the origins of the universe. The importance of these areas of science can be emphasised through the context provided by the science as a human endeavour strand, and students can be encouraged to view contemporary science critically through aspects of the science inquiry skills strand; for example, by analysing, evaluating and communicating.

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