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Science & Technology Curriculum Framework
Owning The Questions

Core Concept: Owning the Questions and Overview

Why does an oil drop on water have color?

Why do some shoelaces come untied?

These simple questions open our minds to wonderful and complex ideas. Questions grow out of our basic encounters with the world, and questions are at the core of science and technology: Why are things the way they are? Can we change them?

As scientists and technologists raise questions and try to answer them, they become deeply engaged with their work. They wrestle with contradictions, puzzle through paradoxes, evaluate evidence, and search for connections. These pursuits require them to deal with the "real world"--both natural and human-made--and they often find that one question just leads to another. Why does this happen? Why didn't that work?

If students in Massachusetts are to learn about science and technology, they need to tangle with questions just as scientists and technologists do. They need to participate in projects, investigations, and design challenges that allow them to puzzle and search, raise questions, and rethink them. Like scientists and technologists, they must arrive at the essential content of science and technology through Inquiry.

The Massachusetts Common Core of Learning affirms the importance of Inquiry for all students learning to solve complex problems. This framework, like the others, builds on that understanding. Inquiry is at the heart of science and technology education.

Compare the work young students do in a Massachusetts classroom with the work a research team does in a business environment:

A Classroom

Fourth graders in a North Shore classroom are puzzled. The number of organisms in their salt water aquarium is decreasing. Together, they brainstorm reasons for this change in population. Is the water too warm or too salty? Are some organisms eating others? Several groups of students devise and carry out strategies for testing the theories. After a week of making observations and gathering data, each group organizes its data in charts and diagrams. The students then present their findings and reconsider their theories.

A Business Environment

A research team at Polaroid is trying to find a more environmentally-friendly package for their film. What materials are biodegradable? How polluting is the manufacturing process? The team brainstorms ideas; uses on-line computer services to research materials; develops prototypes using those materials; and conducts focus groups with consumers. The team calculates development costs and projects the impact on sales, organizing this information in charts and diagrams. The team then presents its findings and recommendations to upper management.

The fourth graders and the Polaroid team both are engaged in Inquiry; the questions they ask drive the ways in which they approach their project. Their questions require them to propose hypotheses, decide upon and try out an approach, collect and interpret data, draw conclusions, and communicate the results to others. The students are learning science and technology not as collections of facts, formulas, and procedures, but as ways of proceeding and thinking.

In classrooms that stress inquiry, students pursue questions that connect in important ways to their own lives. In these classrooms, as in real life, inquiry and subject matter are inextricable.

In the early stages of any project, a teacher may need to identify the important questions for the class. But the goal of inquiry-based learning is for the students to become questioners themselves--not just to "know the questions" but to "own the questions." "Owning the questions" means participating so thoroughly in the activities of scientific investigation and technical design that students become confident, competent, and responsible investigators of the world around them. By owning the questions, students come to appreciate the power of the answers that science and technology afford them.

Technology is intimately connected to science and they are combined in this framework. Both adopt a reasoned approach to the world; both rely heavily on mathematics; and both are best learned through Inquiry. But science and technology are not identical. Science involves the discovery of fundamental relationships that help explain the natural world. In The Domains of Science, fundamental questions include

"What do I observe?"

"What is its nature?" and

"What if?"

Technology, on the other hand, creates tools that expand our capacities and help us solve problems we face. It extends human potential for controlling the natural and human-made environment. The Domain of Technology asks fundamental questions such as

"How does this work?"

"How can this be done?" and

"How can this be done better?"

The progress of science is dependent on technology. From bolts to bytes, science research relies so heavily on technology that most scientific advances can be traced to improvements in technology. Similarly, technical advances often occur when scientific understandings have been applied to a particular problem. More centrally, both science and technology are practices based in inquiry: asking questions, making conjectures, predicting, designing tests, solving problems, and rethinking ideas.

Finally and most importantly, science and technology are not abstract subject areas but integral parts of our daily lives, and they have significant impact on human life and the life of the planet. Questions like

"What are the implications of this?"

"Who benefits and who suffers?" and

"What should my town do about this?"

set science and technology in the context of Human Affairs. These are basic questions for those seeking a balance between economic well-being, stewardship of the earth, and quality of life (Solomon and Aikenhead, 1994).

As the Massachusetts Common Core of Learning declares in its preamble:

"Not so long ago, most Americans did not worry about their environment. Now, with the global population explosion, worldwide industrialization, increased use of natural resources and degradation of rain forests and agricultural land, students need to develop skills to analyze the environmental issues that face them today and that will challenge them tomorrow."


Core Concept

Owning the Questions

If students are to come to know and own the questions of science and technology, they need to engage with them the way scientists and technologists do. They wrestle with contradictions, puzzle through paradoxes, evaluate evidence, and search for connections. These pursuits require students to deal with the "real world" -- both natural and human-made -- and they often find that one question just lead to another.

In the chart below are the underlying beliefs and tenets central to owning the questions in science and technology and to the content for Science and Technology education in Massachusetts.

Guiding Principles of Science and Technology

  1. Significant science and technology learning builds on students' curiosity and intuitions.
  2. Investigation and problem solving are central to science and technology education.
  3. Students learn best in an environment that acknowledges, respects and accommodates each learner's background, individuality and gender.
  4. Assessment in science and technology is an opportunity for student learning, a tool for guiding instruction, as well as a way to document student progress.
  5. Science and technology connect with other disciplines, and have a particularly integral relationship with mathematics.
  6. A comprehensive PreK-12 Science and Technology program includes all sciences every year. Emphasis on the underlying principles of each discipline and their connections across the domains of science is critical.
  7. Science and Technology study in grades PreK-10 becomes differentiated in grades 11 and 12 based on students' interests and career goals.
  8. Communication and collaboration are essential to teaching and learning in science and technology.
  9. Access to the expertise of others is needed in order for teachers to implement the cross-domain and interdisciplinary approach advocated in this framework.

Habits of Mind

  • Curiosity
  • Open Mindedness Balanced with Skepticism
  • A Sense of Stewardship and Care
  • Respect for Evidence
  • Persistence

Science and Technology Content

Strand & Strand Summaries (Each strand is supported by specific learning standards, Grades PreK-4, 5-8, 9-10, and 11-12)

Inquiry Strand

Lifelong learners are able to use the methods of inquiry to participate in scientific investigation and technological problem solving.

Domains of Science

Lifelong learners are able to understand and apply the principles, laws and fundamental understandings of the natural sciences.


Lifelong learners are able to understand and apply the design process and the use of technology in society.

Science, Technology and Human Affairs

Lifelong learners understand questions and problems of science and technology in the context of human affairs.

Last Updated: January 1, 1996
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