The Child and the Scientist

Photograph of children looking at cup

A child and a scientist often have very different ideas about the world around us. Our challenge is to identify the difference between how the child and the scientist think about matter, and then to help the child to move closer toward the scientist's way of thinking.

Photograph of Roger Tobin

Two essays appear at the beginning of each section of the Inquiry Project curriculum. The first essay, by Professor Roger Tobin, presents the scientist’s perspective about the science content that is introduced in the section. The second essay, by Professor Carol Smith, presents the child’s perspective, and explains why the science concepts may be hard for students to understand. As a group, these thirteen pairs of essays cover a network of concepts relevant to understanding matter. This network of concepts is developed throughout the learning progression (across grades 3-5), using language and concepts that children can understand. The essays are collected here to be easily accessed at any point in the curriculum. We encourage you to refer to them prior to teaching, as they bring forward the nuances of the concepts and how children perceive them.

The Scientist


Photograph of Carol Smith

Dr. Carol Smith, Professor of Psychology at University of Massachusetts at Boston, presents the child's perspective, and explains the challenges that face a child in learning about these concepts. Dr. Smith's research focuses on the development of children's ideas in science--- why some science concepts are very hard for students to understand and what can be done to improve science education. She has helped spearhead the study of learning progressions for matter, she is co-author the NRC book, Taking Science to School, and she is a member of the Inquiry Project research team.

Photograph of Roger Tobin

Dr. Roger Tobin is Professor and Chair of the Physics Department at Tufts University. In addition to his research in experimental physics, Dr. Tobin pursues interests in energy policy and climate change, physics of sports (especially baseball), and in science education. Dr. Tobin is co-principal investigator of the Inquiry Project.