This is completely muddled up in the science class, and I think it is disabling students… and beating them up.
What do I mean? Formal skills are what dominate learning and testing in school. The formalizing skills are where real inquiry begins. Formal skills are what Dewey called "dead knowledge, other people's knowledge." Formalizing skills are natural, born again in all children, and are the essence of engaging the world. Formal skills let us work within an idealized world. Formalizing skills let us build one and use it.
This diagram gives a schematic distinction between them:
|The world of experience vs. an ideal world.|
Why the two circles with the line between them? Scientists—all people to some degree—work in two worlds at once: an ideal world they represent with symbols, and the real world that they engage and experience.
The formalizing skills are parsing, modeling, and interpreting. These let people move between the two worlds. Parsing and modeling let a person create an ideal world, and interpreting lets a person use the ideal world to understand the real world.