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Metalanguage is an element within the dimension of intellectual quality in teaching. Essentially it is about explicitly teaching the specific language of a subject and associated text structures. It means in science that as a teacher you identify and analyse specialist science language. The language may be about the processes of science or the science concepts. In lessons with a high use of metalanguage there would be frequent commentary on language use and the contexts of different language uses.

Glossary of science process terms

cause and effect

This type of relationship involves one or several factors resulting in another phenomenon. The Earth’s rotation on its axis has the effect of the phenomenon of night and day.


A judgement or decision that has been logically derived from the results of an investigation and evaluation of the methods used and data collected. A concluding statement addresses the hypothesis or aim of the investigation.

controlled variable

In a fair test, there is one major point of difference so that any difference in results can be attributed to that one difference. It is therefore necessary to keep everything else that could vary the same. This process is called controlling the variables. If testing whether heat effects seed germination, some seeds would be heated, others would not, but the processes of germinating the seeds would require that they were exposed to the same temperature, light, soil, water etc. These are the controlled variables. In MyScience, using Cows Moo Softly, reminds students of the need to “keep everything else the same” addresses controlling variables.


The facts or measurements collected from an investigation. A good data set requires repetition and careful measurements. Univariate data is data about only one variable e.g. the age of students at a school. Bivariate data is data linking two sets of variables (the dependent and independent) attempting to explore cause-and-effect relationships e.g. smoking behaviour and lung cancer incidence. Discrete items are recorded as discontinuous data whereas items that vary continuously are called continuous data.


Come to a conclusion from the logical interpretation of evidence.

dependent variable

The dependent variable is the difference that is detected through the results. In many cases it is what the students measure to achieve their results. Students may determine the length of seedlings to see if a particular fertiliser promotes growth. When graphing results the dependent variable is on the vertical (y) axis.


Evidence is directly measured and observable information. It can be used to support or refute an hypothesis and is the basis for the development of understanding in science. Evidence must be critically analysed before it can be assumed to be valid.


A commonly used text type in science in which cause-and-effect is clarified or the sequence of events e.g. a life cycle are outlined.


Examine, scrutinise, look into closely. In science the process of making structured observations or manipulating objects and materials and observing the effects. The second step in the 5E’s instructional model. Students could be invited to explore the different properties of materials such as absorbency, flexibility, transparency etc.


To make a prediction based on going beyond the range of the recorded data set.

fair test

A valid investigation in which variables are appropriately manipulated and the sample size is sufficiently large that a reasonable conclusion could be drawn. In MyScience, the mnemonic “Cows Moo Softly” is used to help students to remember how to plan a fair test by treating variables appropriately. Cows = change one thing, Moo = measure something and Softly = keep everything else the same.

guided (closed) scientific investigation

A scientific investigation in which a substantial component is provided by the teacher. It may be a verification activity in which the aim and method is provided.


Things or situations that could potentially cause harm, injury or expose to danger.


A general proposition that is posed as a possible explanation of a phenomenon and can be used as the basis of an investigation. An example might be that the higher that an object is dropped from then the wider the impact crater it makes.” Sometimes worded in the form of “If......... then.....” where the independent variable is linked to the dependent variable.

independent variable

The variable that is being investigated and tested to see if it actually does impact on the dependent variable. The thing in an investigation that is deliberately changed. In the MyScience mnemonic “Cows Moo Softly”, the independent variable is deliberately changed. The independent variable is usually plotted on the horizontal(x) axis of a graph. (Some students remember the independent variable because it is what I change.)


Interpretation that goes beyond the direct evidence or the literal information.


The process of making a prediction of a value that is within the data set recorded in a table or graph but not directly recorded from the data but is within the data points.


In science, a model can be a physical representation of a phenomenon (usually in miniature) or a conceptual representation of a relationship that can be expressed mathematically. In primary science, modelling is carried out as the physical or concrete use of materials to represent something e.g. a scaled model of the solar system, a model of an energy efficient house. Scientific models are used to make predictions and if these are verified, evidence is provided for the validity of the model. E.g. Modelling was used to validate that the earth was not the centre of the solar system.


Detect an occurrence or feature using the senses.

open science investigation/inquiry

An investigation in which the result of the investigation is not known in advance and that the student determines the aim, method and equipment.


In science, a prediction is more than just an attempt to foretell or prophesise, but is based on logic, understanding or modelling. If an hypothesis is a true statement, then it can be used to make a prediction that is validated through an investigation or observation.

qualitative data

Information obtained based on personal or subjective judgements (such as which is taller, faster etc) about the quality of a performance. This type of data is usually descriptive and therefore consists of words. Qualitative data may be graphed if it reports the frequency of an occurrence e.g. the number of people who have blue as their favourite colour.

quantitative data

Information derived from measurements or quantities and recorded with informal or formal units. This type of data consists of numbers and lends itself to representation in graphs.

risk management

The processes of establishing procedures and ensuring appropriate use of equipment so as to reduce to an acceptable level the chances of harm.

testable question

In MyScience a testable question is a re-statement of an hypothesis that can be investigated safely and within the confines of a classroom.