Nature of Science & Engineering
Interactions Among Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Society

Men and women throughout the history of all cultures, including Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities, have been involved in engineering design and scientific inquiry.

Benchmark: Tools for Solving Problems

Recognize that tools are used by people, including scientists and engineers, to gather information and solve problems.

For example: Magnifier, snowplow and calculator.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in Lay Terms

Tools have been made for a long time by people all over the world.  People make tools to use in their work, learn more about the world, and solve problems.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea

Young children are veteran technology users by the time they enter school. They ride in automobiles, use household utilities, operate wagons and bikes, use garden tools, help with the cooking, operate the television set, and so on. Children are also natural explorers and inventors, and they like to make things. School should give students many opportunities to examine the properties of materials, to use tools, and to design and build things. Activities should focus on problems and needs in and around the school that interest the children and that can be addressed feasibly and safely.

The task in these grades is to begin to channel the students' inventive energy and to increase their purposeful use of tools and - in the process - broaden their understanding of what constitutes a tool (a container, paper and pencil, camera, magnifier, etc.). Design and technology activities can be used to introduce students to measurement tools and techniques in a natural and meaningful manner. For example, five-year-olds have little trouble in designing and making things for their teddy bears built to an appropriate scale. Measurements should deal with magnitudes that are comprehensible to children of this age, which excludes, for example, the circumference of the earth or the diameter of a microbe.

Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks Recognize that tools are used by people, including scientists and engineers, to gather information and solve problems. For example: Magnifier, snowplow and calculator.

The Essentials

Sid, the Science Kid "Exploring Measurement," a public television program showing students how to measure the size of the classroom using a variety of nonstandard measurements.  Use the video to show children using tools, in this case to measure something; it is also a good introduction for discussing how people use tools.


NSES Standards:  Science and Technology Content Standard E:  As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop abilities of technological design.  "Over the course of grades K-4, student investigations and design problems should incorporate more than one material and several contexts in science and technology. A suitable collection of tasks might include making a device to shade eyes from the sun, making yogurt and discussing how it is made, comparing two types of string to see which is best for lifting different objects, exploring how small potted plants can be made to grow as quickly as possible, designing a simple system to hold two objects together, testing the strength of different materials, using simple tools, testing different designs, and constructing a simple structure. It is important also to include design problems that require application of ideas, use of communications, and implementation of procedures-for instance, improving hall traffic at lunch and cleaning the classroom after scientific investigations."  NSES

AAAS Atlas:  

"Make quantitative estimates of time intervals and the lengths and weights of familiar objects."

"Measure the length in whole units of obejcts using rulers and tape measures."

"Weigh objects using a scale." AAAS

Benchmarks of Science Literacy  Tools are used to do things better or more easily and to do some things that could not otherwise be done at all. In technology, tools are used to observe, measure, and make things. 3A/P1 Benchmarks of Science Literacy

Common Core Standards

Use basic concepts of measurement in real-world and mathematical situations involving length, time and money. Measure the length of an object in terms of multiple copies of another object. 


Student Misconceptions 
  • Upper elementary and middle-school students who can use measuring instruments and procedures when asked to do so often do not use this ability while performing an investigation. 
  • Typically a student asked to undertake an investigation and given a set of equipment that includes measuring instruments will make a qualitative comparison even though she might be competent to use the instruments in a different context  (Black 1990). 
  • It appears students often know how to take measurements but not what measurements to make or when.  AAAS Atlas AAAS


Mr. Thao tells students, "Today we will be looking closely at rocks.  Each person will get one rock.  Turn to the next clean area in your science notebook that has two clean pages next to each other. At the top of one page draw a number one and draw the number two on the other page. On the page where you drew the number one, draw a picture of your rock.  Be sure to add as many details as you can. Remember you will want to include size, shape and color too." 

Students get their rocks.

"Oh, yours is sparkly, it's like a crystal."

"Mine is falling apart and making my hands dirty." 

"Open your notebooks, and get started drawing your rock," Mr. Thao reminds the class.

The room quiets down as students begin to make their drawings. 

After ten minutes, Mr. Thao calls the students to the rug.  He writes down the words students use to describe their rocks.

Then Mr. Thao tells students, "We will draw our rocks again this time using a special tool.  We will use a hand lens to look at our rocks more carefully.  Scientists use tools like hand lenses and microscopes to make more detailed observations.  To use the hand lens, start by holding it close to one eye, then slowly move the hand lens closer to the rock until it is in clear focus."  Mr. Thao demonstrates as he describes how to use the hand lens.  "What questions do you have?"

"Do we get our own?" asks Ben.

"Yes, you will each get one."

Mr. Thao gives each student a hand lens and they walk back to their desks.  They first use the hand lenses to look at the student sitting next to them, their own hands, the pencil, and across the room. 

"You look funny, Mr. Thao."

"Oh, look at my hand!"

Mr. Thao says "Now that you know how to use our new tool, I want you to use it to observe your rock. You'll record your observations on page two.  Your new drawing will look different than your first drawing as you will see new things.  Please be careful not to touch the rock with the hand lens so the hand lens doesn't get scratched."

"My red rock has little holes in it!"  Andrea notices.

"My rock has little pink dots on it," observes Kennedy.

"My rock has little crystals in it," says Joe.

Mr. Thao says "Be sure you include the size, shape and color of your rocks again.  Is there anything new you notice about these three things?"

Students continue to observe and draw their observations in their science notebook. 

After several minutes of drawing their new observations, students are asked to share the differences between their before and after drawings with the magnifier.  (Possible answers include: Students say they noticed more colors, crystals, holes and cracks when they used the magnifier.)  Mr. Thao then asks: "Why is a magnifier a good tool for a scientist to  use?" 


Instructional Notes 

Suggested Labs and Activities

1.  Classifying household objects is a first grade lesson where students discuss a collection of common objects made from the material and discuss what and why it was made. 1.2 Classifying household objects

2.  Animal & People Parts: Lesson in which students use magnifiers to observe classroom animals and their own body parts. Animal & People parts

3.  Magnifier walk: Take a short walk with students allowing them to use a magnifier to make observations.  1st graders use magnifiers

4.  Magnify That! A lesson where students use a magnifying glass to make observations about a hole in their paper. Magnify That!

5.  Make your own magnifier lesson: Students use wire and water to make their own magnifier.  This lesson complements the where students practice designing objects. Design objects

6.  A hands-on ten lesson unit where students measure weight, length, and capacity using a variety of tools. Student handouts and data sheets are included. Make measurements using tools

7.  A lesson, with slideshow, of scientists and the tools they use.  Tools scientists use

8.  This worksheet page shows different science tools and provides a matching worksheet to identify the unit each tool measures. Matching activity for science tools

9.  This step-by-step lesson teaches students how to use a ruler.  Extensions at the end include using the ruler in a study of rocks which could be included with our Minnesota first grade earth science standard. How to use a ruler

10.  Second grade lesson on prehistoric tools. Prehistoric tools

Instructional suggestions/options

1.  Students use non-standard measurements to measure how large an object on the playground is. Measuring large objects on the playground

2.  This lesson shows the importance of safety when using tools in the classroom and includes tools like scissors and magnifiers. Safety using tools

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources

1.  Lesson Planet:  1902 Using Magnifiers Lesson Plans Reviewed by Teachers

2.  A Closer Look,  by Natalie Lunis, Newbridge Educational Publishing.  1-56784-417-0

3.  A list of children's books on what scientists do and the tools scientists use:

What Are Scientists? By Rita Golden Gelman and Susan Kovacs Buxbaum

Being a Scientist by Natalie Lunis and Nancy White

The Case of the Sticky Science Project by James Preller  

How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer

Science Tools by J.A. Randolph

Let's Experiment! By Natalie Lunis and Nancy White 

A Closer Look by Natalie Lunis

A World of Change by Natalie Lunis and Nancy White

Scientists by Pamela Chanko

What Do Scientists Do? by Daniel Jacobs

Science Outside by Susan Canizares and Betsey Chessen

Science Fair Bunnies by Kathryn Lasky

Science Tools by Susan Canizares and Betsey Chessen

What Is a Scientist? By Barbara Lehn

Terrific Science website with book titles that teach to many concepts.

Everyone Needs Tools by Dan Greenberg, Newbridge Educational Publishing, 1999.

4. '97 Framework:

Science and Technology providing opportunities for all students to investigate designed products and begin to develop the ability to design a solution to a problem.

Science as Inquiry engaging all students in teacher guided experiences that develop the ability to ask questions, make observations, use simple tools to investigate, collect data and communicate their findings.

K-4 students are curious and learn through active experiences. They are eager to know more about the world and are developing strategies for learning about it. Educators can capitalize on and nurture the natural curiosity of students in the classroom. Through the study of science, young learners can expand their learning strategies as they develop an appreciation for science and begin to develop an understanding of fundamental science concepts. 

All K-4 students should have active science experiences that include all of the content areas, including inquiry, physical science, life science, earth and space science, science in personal and social perspectives, science and technology, and the history and nature of science. As they participate in explorations of the world around them, they learn basic skills and gain understanding through systematic investigations of familiar materials and objects. 

During the elementary years, science should be a frequent and meaningful part of the academic experience of all students. Science concepts can be woven into the curriculum (see Chapter 4: Connections).  When students read fiction and nonfiction literature, write about their scientific encounters, and draw and graph what they observe and measure, science concepts can be reinforced and clarified and connections made between what they are learning in other subjects and everyday life. 

It is essential that the science taught to children in grades K-4 is developmentally appropriate. The content, instruction and assessments must meet the student at his/her developmental level. This Framework, along with the Minnesota Academic Standards in Science and the National Science Education Standards provides guidance for making these decisions. 

Because K-4 students are building a picture of how the natural world works, they need to have multiple opportunities to observe, compare, categorize, order, record, and communicate. Using their senses and simple tools, students can recognize characteristics of objects and the environment and describe them in pictures, words, and with actions. They also compare and contrast their observations about these objects and the environment with what they already know about the world. K-4 students can focus their attention, use logical reasoning, and understand and use language as a tool for communicating in science.

Direct experience is essential for elementary students and the classroom is a busy place where their curiosity is met with an array of materials to explore and discuss. But science must be more than just a collection of "hands-on" activities. Science experiences should relate to the standards, make connections with the student's world, and be developmentally appropriate. Students need time to talk and think about their work. Doing alone is not enough. Through these experiences students learn to relate their ideas to evidence, gain an understanding of science concepts, and experience the excitement of an "Aha!" in learning.

New Vocabulary 


  • Magnifiers: tools used to make an object look bigger.
  • Observations: using your senses to study an object.
  • Tools: objects used to help do work.
Technology Connections 
  • Proscope or other handheld digital microscope - digital microscope that can be hooked up to the LCD projector for classroom observations. Proscope
  • Magiscope - fiber optic microscope that is portable and durable for elementary students.  Magiscope
Cross Curricular Connections 

Math connection:

This beginning of the year "All About Me" unit allows children to learn more about themselves by using science tools to make measurements. All about me unit

Students make tables and graphs to show data collected during a science investigation.

Students use non-standard measurements to measure how large an object on the playground is.  This lesson is cross- curricular with physical education and math. Measuring large objects in the playground

This measurement activity uses a literacy connection to measure the human body using different tools. Human body measurements

Social studies connection: 

Students read stories about Native Americans and in activities 2 and 3 about the tools they created.  In activity 2, students make their own paintbrush using a stick and in activity 3, they make their own "coup stick". Tools made by Native Americans

Social studies and health connection: 

Students learn the importance of corn, beans and squash (the Three Sisters) in the Native American diet and plant a Three Sisters garden. Native American agriculture and nutrition


Assessment of Students

1.  Draw an object.  Now look at the object again using a hand lens.  Draw the object again.  How has the drawing changed when you used the hand lens?

2.  Show how to use a hand lens.

3.  What other tools do scientists use to help them do their work?

Assessment of Teachers

What tools do you already have in your classroom that will help students make observations?

1.      What are tools scientists and engineers use to help them do their work?

2.      How do teachers use design to set up their classrooms to enhance learning?


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk

This page shares ideas for teaching specific math and science topics to struggling and at risk students: Strategies for teaching math and science for at-risk students

English Language Learners 

A. From: Brunsell, E. (Ed.). (2008). Readings in science methods, K-8. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press: 

Corder discusses three ideas to support English Language Learners in the Classroom: 

1. Setting a Language Objective. 

In general, stating an explicit objective for a lesson is considered a good teaching practice.  An example of an objective in a science classroom might be "The student will determine the density of the sample."  This example is a content objective and identifies "what a student should know and be able to do" (Echevarria et al. 2004, p. 21).  English language learners' needs, however, extend beyond the science content alone.  They need opportunities to listen, speak, write, and read English.  Research suggests inclusion of language objectives along with content objectives. (Echevarria, Vogt, and Short 2004, p. 22).  Language objectives range from lower order, such as, "The student will underline unfamiliar words in the passage," to higher order such as "The student will read the four authors' descriptions and synthesize a model."  The language objective's level should vary based on the language proficiency of your students.  All objectives must be comprehensible and explicitly communicated to students.  The manner in which you direct students to an objective will determine its effectiveness: First, post the objective in a location that gives students access; second, orally state the objective; third, refer to the objective at the beginning and end of an exercise that demands reading.

2.  Supplying Background Information. 

Many English language learners enter our classrooms with a different set of experiences than their fluent English-speaking counterparts (Echevarria, et al. 2004). This means that many of them lack the background knowledge required for reading that many texts may take for granted.  Therefore, teachers must supply that necessary background knowledge.

It may be necessary for you to "model how to follow steps of directions needed to complete a task" (Echevarria et al. 2004, p. 25) such as a lab or project.  As you model, you can think aloud by orally stating the objects you are manipulating and your thought process as you proceed.  Modeling supplies English language learners with a visual image and accompanying terminology from which they can draw when encountering those terms and concepts in a reading passage.

When students encounter unfamiliar words, a reading passage becomes more difficult for them (Dale and Chall 1948; Klare 1974). To counter this, you can pre-teach key vocabulary.  All difficult terms should be considered, even those that are not considered science vocabulary.  For example, you can create and maintain a word wall by defining, discussing, and posting words that students identify as unfamiliar.  This technique provides valuable pre-reading instruction, while creating a resource to which students can quickly refer and reinforce English language gains.

3.  Linguistic Modification of Text

Researchers have identified several specific characteristics that affect a text's level of difficulty, and you can draw on their findings when simplifying your own texts:

First, passages with longer words and longer sentences are more difficult to read (Bormuth 1966; Flesch 1948; Klare 1974). 

Second, passive voice is not always as clear as active voice ( Forster and Olbrei 1973; Savin and Perchonock 1965; Slobin 1968).  An example of passive voice is "The cause had been identified by scientists."  An example of active voice is "Scientists identified the cause."

Third, a long string of consecutive nouns elevates reading difficulty (King and Just 1991; MacDonald 1993).

Fourth, a coordinate, or independent, clause is more difficult to read than a subordinate, or dependent, clause (Botel and Granowsky 1974; Wang 1970).  A coordinate clause can stand by itself as a sentence, while a subordinate clause cannot.

Fifth, an abstract statement is more challenging to comprehend than a concrete statement (Cummins et al. 1998).  An example of an abstract statement is "Record your data."  An example of a concrete statement is "Record the volume of the cylinders in Table 1."

B. "Kit Inventory" Activity

Klentschy, M. (2007). Effective Classroom Practices - English Learner Development Strategies in Science. America's Center Convention Complex. St. Louis, MO.

Before teaching, collect the materials that will be used in a unit or lesson.  Have cards ready to write the name of the materials for a word wall and designate a portion of the room for the word wall.  You could also display the word wall on a display board for future use. 

Divide the class into teams of three or four students.  Have one student volunteer to introduce the first item.  Show this one student the item and have them answer the following questions: What color is it? Where have you seen it before? What is it used for?  Put the object in an opaque bag and the student then shares with the class the answers to the above questions.  The student groups have 1 - 2 minutes to predict what they think the object is.  Student groups share their ideas.  Then the object is revealed and posted along with its word card on the word wall.  Keeping the object or a picture of it next to the word card provides a resource for students as they proceed through the unit of study and need to find words for objects in the lesson.

Extending the Learning 

Gifted students take data collected in an observation on rocks, animals, or other objects from a lesson and create a graph showing the classroom data.


A. From Brunsell, E. (Ed.). (2008). Readings in science methods, K-8. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press:

Gay (2000) describes culturally responsive teaching as having these characteristics:

It acknowledges the legitimacy of cultural heritages of different ethnic groups.

It builds bridges of meaningfulness between home and school experiences as well as between academic abstractions and lived sociocultural realities.

It uses a wide variety of instructional strategies that are connected to different learning styles.

It teaches students to know and praise their own and each others' cultural heritages.

It incorporates multicultural information, resources and materials in all the subjects and skills routinely taught in schools.

Culturally responsive instruction should include authentic activities.  Authentic activities provide students with the opportunity to explore how the subject under study is socially relevant and connected to their everyday lives.  Instruction should move away from using a collection of disconnected hands-on activities and toward interaction and manipulation of ideas that are valuable beyond the school walls. 

B.  Eight Successful Field Tested Strategies:

Assume that students can learn.

Use exciting and challenging hands-on activities.

Talk to students about their learning styles.

Develop a repertoire of content strategies and activities.

Learn about the history and culture of the various groups.

Help students see themselves as future scientists and appreciate the multicultural history of science.

Build opportunities for success into the curriculum and create climates conducive to learning.

Provide diverse learning experiences.

 C.  Display posters depicting scientists from the students' cultural background doing science in the classroom.  An easy way to do this is to take photos of your students doing science.

Special Education 

From Brunsell, E. (Ed.). (2008). Readings in science methods, K-8. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press:

Steele lists a number of ideas for teaching strategies to be used with special education students: 

1. Collaborate with special education and general education teachers. 

2. Create lessons based on themes or big ideas. 

3. Incorporate explicit instruction on the lesson topics. 

4. Use graphic organizers and visual representations. 

5. Model behaviors and strategies you want students to follow.

Study strategies include:

1. Study guide use. 

2. Material review tips. 

3. Note-taking practices. 

4. Reduce the number of parts students need to know and label.  Reduce the number of designed objects students need to know.


Classroom Observation 


Administrators observing a class will see that when students use tools for the first time, they benefit from having time for exploration before using the tools for a specific purpose in a lesson.  Students need to be able to efficiently get access to tools and to put them away.  The design of the classroom and storage units can facilitate the use of tools.  Safety precautions regarding tool use need to be taught, which may require communicating with parents about expectations for tool use.


Have students make their own magnifier with water at home.