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Learning in Science

The key concepts

Six key concepts frame learning in the Science Understanding strand, support key aspects of the Science Inquiry Skills strand and contribute to developing students’ appreciation of the nature of science.

The six key concepts are:

Patterns, order and organisation

An important aspect of science is recognising patterns in the world around us, and ordering and organising phenomena at different scales. Students observe and describe patterns at different scales, and develop and use classifications to organise events and phenomena and make predictions. Classifying objects and events into groups (such as solid/liquid/gas or living/non-living) and developing criteria for those groupings relies on making observations and identifying patterns of similarity and difference. Students identify and describe the relationships that underpin patterns, including cause and effect. Students recognise that scale plays an important role in the observation of patterns and that some patterns may only be evident at a certain time and spatial scales. For example, the pattern of day and night is not evident over the timescale of an hour.

Form and function

Many aspects of science are concerned with the relationships between form (the nature or make-up of an aspect of an object or organism) and function (the use of that aspect). Students learn that the functions of both living and non-living objects rely on their forms. Their understanding of forms, such as the features of living things or the nature of a range of materials, and their related functions or uses, is based on observable behaviours and physical properties. Students recognise that function frequently relies on form and that this relationship can be examined at many scales. They apply an understanding of microscopic and atomic structures, interactions of force and flows of energy and matter to describe relationships between form and function.

Stability and change

Many areas of science involve the recognition, description and prediction of stability and change. Students recognise from their observations of the world around them that some properties and phenomena appear to remain stable or constant over time, whereas others change. They also learn to recognise that phenomena (such as properties of objects and relationships between living things) can appear to be stable at one spatial or time scale, but at a larger or smaller scale may be seen to be changing. They appreciate that stability can be the result of competing but balanced forces. Students become adept at quantifying change through measurement and looking for patterns of change by representing and analysing data in tables or graphs.

Scale and measurement

Quantification of time and spatial scale is critical to the development of scientific understanding as it enables the comparison of observations. Students are challenged to work with scales that are outside their everyday experience, including distances in space, the size of atoms and the slow geological processes that occur over time. As students gain an understanding of relative sizes and rates of change, they are able to conceptualise events and phenomena at a wider range of scales.

Matter and energy

Many aspects of science involve identifying, describing and measuring transfers of energy and/or matter. Students become increasingly able to explain phenomena in terms of the flow of matter and energy. Initially, students focus on direct experience and observation of phenomena and materials. They are introduced to the ways in which objects and living things change and begin to recognise the role of energy and matter in these changes. In later levels, they are introduced to more abstract notions of particles, forces and energy transfer and transformation. They use these understandings to describe and model phenomena and processes involving matter and energy.


Science involves systems thinking, modelling and analysis in order to understand, explain and predict events and phenomena. Students explore, describe and analyse increasingly complex systems.

Initially, students identify the observable components of a clearly identified ‘whole’ such as features of plants and animals and parts of mixtures. They identify and describe relationships between components within simple systems, and they begin to appreciate that components within living and non-living systems are interdependent. They are introduced to the processes and underlying phenomena that structure systems such as ecosystems, body systems and the carbon cycle. They recognise that within systems, interactions between components can involve forces and changes acting in opposing directions and that for a system to be in a steady state, these factors need to be in a state of balance or equilibrium. They are increasingly aware that systems can exist as components within larger systems, and that one important part of thinking about systems is identifying boundaries, inputs and outputs.

Scientific investigations

Scientific 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.

In scientific investigations, collection and analysis of data and evidence play a major role. This can involve collecting or extracting information and reorganising data in the form of tables, graphs, flowcharts, diagrams, prose, keys, spreadsheets and databases.

In the practice of science, the strands of Science Understanding and Science Inquiry Skills are closely integrated. The content descriptions in the strands have been written to enable this integration.

Information Communication Technologies and Science

Information Communication Technologies (ICT) are powerful tools that can support student learning. Students can develop and demonstrate their understanding of concepts and content in Mathematics using a range of ICT tools. It is also important that students know how to use these ICT efficiently and responsibly, as well as learning how to protect themselves and secure their data.

Details of how ICT can support student learning in Science is set out in the attached Information Communication Technologies and Science pdf.

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