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The CURIOUS Science Educator Framework

The CURIOUS Educator framework taps into students' innate curiosity through phenomenon-driven, inquiry-based learning. Learn how this research-backed approach fosters engagement, equity, and deeper understanding.

The CURIOUS Science Educator Framework

Welcome to the development of The CURIOUS Science Educator Framework!

Feel free to select text segments and comment on any feedback or questions. If you’d like to join our collaborative development team, click the image below:

The image includes the Cuvette Empowered logo (the word empowered in vertical text on the left, an illustration of a cuvette in the background, and a cursive "C" in the foreground), the phrase "Collaborative Learning. Inclusive Networking. Focused Growth" followed by "for science educators and researchers."

Click the image to join the development team! All are welcome.

Are you a CURIOUS Educator?

The image is entitled "The CURIOUS Educator" with a subtitle of "Benchmark your capacity to inspire curiosity in your science classroom." 

There's a colorful donut chart with a button that says "Are you CURIOUS?" followed by this text:
"As educators, success is measured in the lifelong learners we inspire. Without curiosity, our capacity to inspire our students is limited. Take the quiz to discover which aspects to expand your impact as a science educator."
Figure 1

Get your CURIOUS-ity Index!


The CURIOUS Educator Framework is a practical, inquiry-guided meta-framework that concisely brings together the best practices and resources we can find from leaders in science education. Developing this framework is a cornerstone project for the nonprofit teaching cooperative Cuvette Empowered.

The Framework aims to tap into students' natural curiosity, engage them through exploration, and develop critical thinking skills by applying concepts. It moves away from rote memorization of facts and formulas and towards an inquiry-based, experiential approach focused on big ideas in chemistry.

The process starts with an observable phenomenon to spark student curiosity, facilitating questions and guiding inquiry through case studies and open-ended projects. Students gather evidence, connect concepts back to phenomena, and apply learning across contexts. Finally, they synthesize findings by curating and communicating what they learned to others. This process aims to assess and build student understanding continually:An Overview

The CURIOUS Science Educator Framework is represented here as an infographic following a path with 7 steps: 1. Connect with an observable phenomenon, 2. Uncover meaningful questions, 3. Reveal the fundamentals through case studies, 4. Integrate fundamentals and phenomena, 5. Overlap fundamentals on new contexts, 6. Unify and present findings, and 7. Self-assess growth and understanding.
Figure 2

On overview of the CURIOUS Educator Framework

Let’s explore each step in more detail.

A 7-Step Process

Step 1. Connect with an observable phenomenon

Curiosity is a fundamental driver of human cognition and learning. Our innate desire to explore and understand novel environmental phenomena was essential for our ancestors' survival, allowing them to discover new food sources, technology, and knowledge—curiosity-motivated inquiry and knowledge-seeking that aided adaptation.

This drive to resolve uncertainty through exploration and reasoning likely contributed to the evolution of our large, complex brains capable of imagination, abstract thought, and problem-solving. Curiosity provided an evolutionary advantage by spurring our ancestors to learn about their surroundings constantly, allowing humans to adapt to diverse habitats flexibly.

In modern times, while less crucial for basic survival, curiosity continues to motivate learning, discovery, and innovation. Our brains still reward curiosity through dopamine release, reinforcing knowledge-seeking behaviors. In this way, curiosity taps into an inherent need to make sense of phenomena essential to our species' evolutionary trajectory.

Leaders in Science Education

Many leaders, approaches, and resources now promote grounding science instruction in students' direct observations of phenomena to make learning more engaging, equitable, and connected to the real world. This marks an essential shift in science education.


  • Atkin and Black - Begin units with demonstrations, hands-on activities, or real-world observations that students can experience through their senses.

  • Bybee - Tap into innate curiosity by letting students encounter phenomena first before formal explanations.

  • Carl Wieman - Developed PhET interactive simulations to allow students to explore phenomena

  • Joseph Krajcik - Developed the "Three Dimensional Learning" framework that emphasizes starting with phenomena and designing solutions to problems. His work has influenced the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

  • Okhee Lee - Advocates for "knowledge-in-use" approaches where students apply knowledge to explain real-world phenomena. Her work has focused on equity and inclusion in science education.

  • Christian Schunn - Developed a "threads of consequential learning" framework that begins with observation of phenomena, then modeling and explanation building.


  • Problem-Based Learning - Students collaboratively solve complex and authentic problems that connect to real-world phenomena.

  • Project-Based Learning - Students engage in projects investigating driving questions related to observable phenomena.

  • 5E Instructional Model - A learning cycle that begins with students observing and exploring phenomena hands-on.

  • Anchoring Phenomena - Lessons are designed around an anchoring phenomenon that students try to explain through activities and investigations.


  • STEM Teaching Tools from the Institute for Science and Math Education

  • OpenSciEd curriculum units anchored in phenomena

  • The Wonder of Science books with phenomenon-driven modules

Beginning with phenomena strongly aligns with research on human learning by actively engaging students in authentic, inquiry-based learning that promotes cognitive development, motivation, equity, and conceptual understanding. This approach reflects the natural human tendency to learn by observing and explaining the world around us.

Step 2. Uncover meaningful questions

  • Provide time and space for students to share what they find curious, confusing, or compelling about the phenomena (Roth, 1994)

  • Guide students to generate their researchable questions about the observations (Chin & Osborne, 2008)

  • Melanie Cooper - Studied how students develop research questions and misconceptions

Step 3. Reveal fundamentals through case studies

  • Select case studies, stories, and models that provide examples of the underlying chemistry concepts (Kolodner et al., 2003)

  • Let students gather the information needed to investigate their questions with teacher guidance (Hofstein & Lunetta, 2004)

  • Thomas Greenbowe - Developed guided inquiry materials to explore chemistry concepts

Step 4. Integrate fundamentals with phenomena

  • Introduce chemistry fundamentals as tools to explain the original phenomena (Taber, 2015)

  • Explicitly link abstract concepts like stoichiometry/thermodynamics back to concrete observations (Sevian & Talanquer, 2014)

  • MaryKay Orgill - Studies how to connect concepts back to anchoring phenomena

Step 5. Orient toward new contexts

  • Challenge students to apply their new understanding to explain similar phenomena (Fortus et al., 2015)

  • Provide new observations and have students critique each other's explanations (Talanquer, 2013)

  • Vicente Talanquer - Researches how students apply chemistry ideas to new contexts

  • Concepts as flexible tools rather than isolated facts.

Step 6. Unify and present findings

  • Have students work collaboratively to curate their best evidence, models, and explanations (Farrell et al., 1999)

  • Encourage sharing findings through presentations, posters, videos, and other creative formats (Schank & Kozma, 2002)

  • Diane Bunce - Develops innovative ways for students to communicate their findings

Step 7. Self-assess growth and understanding

  • Include self-reflections, concept inventories, and authentic assessments tied back to phenomena (Bretz, 2019)

  • Emphasize growth in understanding over time rather than one-off performance (Nakhleh, Polles, & Malina, 2002)

  • Stacey Lowery Bretz - Studies evidence-based assessments of student learning

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