Beyond “asking questions”: Problematizing as a disciplinary activity

Anna McLean Phillips, Jessica Watkins, David Hammer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


The Next Generation Science Standards states that “science begins with a question.” (NGSS Lead States [2013] Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press). Yet scientific inquiry among students and scientists alike often begins without a clear question. In this article, we describe problematizing as the intellectual work to identify, articulate, and motivate a gap or inconsistency in a community's or one's own current understanding. We describe problematizing in professional science to show how it is central to disciplinary practices of science. We then present an episode of fifth-grade students’ problematizing, as a detailed illustration of the construct and as an example of evidence that students can engage in this work. Through these two approaches, we show problematizing is central to the disciplinary practice of science and that it is a part of students’ engagement. We further show that it is missing from the description of practices in the Next Generation Science Standards. Lastly, we make recommendations for research on student problematizing, for revisions to the Standards, and for instruction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)982-998
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • standards
  • science education
  • policy
  • nature of science
  • history and philosophy of science

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