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Parent Guide to Elementary School Science

Your child’s elementary school science curriculum is typically determined at the state level. States have adopted a variety of science standards, but the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are by far the most widely used science curriculum standards in U.S. public school systems. They are endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and were … Continued

Your child’s elementary school science curriculum is typically determined at the state level. States have adopted a variety of science standards, but the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are by far the most widely used science curriculum standards in U.S. public school systems. They are endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and were first published in 2013.

The NGSS challenges elementary students to develop and refine their critical thinking skills. There are three dimensions integrated into all parts of instruction: practices, cross-cutting concepts, and core ideas.

Practices are essentially methods and processes that scientific thinkers engage in throughout the day. These practices include posting questions, identifying problems, designing models, leading investigations, analyzing data, doing math, creating solutions, engaging in evidence-based argument, and collective evidence. Cross-cutting concepts are overarching themes such as sustainability or interdependency. Core ideas make up the specific content, i.e. animal behavior, climate patterns, or life cycles.

The standards build upon one another and draw attention to the overlapping concepts, methods, and content across the elementary school science curriculum. In K-5 science, the course is divided into three realms: Life Science, Earth & Space Science, and Physical Science. There are also Engineering Design components from Grades K-2 and Grades 3-5.

Science Standards — Kindergarten

In Life Science, Kindergarteners learn about ecosystems and interdependency. By the end of Kindergarten, students should be able to:

  • Build an evidence-based argument for how living species alter the environment to meet their needs for survival
  • Design a model that symbolizes the different webs of needs with an ecosystem of diverse species
  • Share ideas for mitigating human impact on the wellbeing of the environment
  • Describe patterns of what animals and plants need to survive (based on observations)

In Earth & Space Science, Kindergarteners study weather and climate. By the end of Kindergarten, students should be able to:

  • Describe local weather patterns (based on observations)
  • Research inclement weather preparation
  • Observe the effect of sunlight on the Earth’s surface
  • Build a model to reduce sunlight’s warming effect

In Physical Science, Kindergarteners experiment with force and interactions, such as push and pull. By the end of Kindergarten, students should be able to:

  • Design and perform an investigation comparing the effects of push and pull on an object’s motion
  • Analyze evidence to determine if a solution successfully altered an object’s motion using push or pull

Science Standards — 1st Grade

In Life Science, students learn about how things are built, how they perform, and how they process information. By the end of 1st Grade, students should be able to:

  • Create a solution for a human problem mimicking how another species uses their external parts to survive
  • Determine parent and offspring behavior patterns that are beneficial to offspring survival
  • Make an argument, based on observed data, that young plants or animals are similar to, but not exact copies of, their parents

In Earth & Space Science, students study the patterns and cycles of space systems. By the end of 1st Grade, students should be able to:

  • Describe patterns of the sun, moon, and stars based on observations
  • Make regular observations throughout the year to correlate the amount of sunlight to the season

In Physical Science, students experiment with light and sound waves. By the end of 1st Grade, students should be able to:

  • Prove (through investigation) that vibrating objects can make noise and noise can make objects vibrate
  • Prove that objects in darkness can only be seen when they are illuminated
  • Conduct an experiment to understand the effects of placing objects with varying materials in the path of a light beam.
  • Build a device that uses light or sound to communicate across a distance

Science Standards — 2nd Grade

In Life Science, 2nd Graders return to interdependency and ecosystems. By the end of 2nd Grade, students should be able to:

  • Investigate whether or not plants require sunlight and water to grow
  • Build a model that mimics pollination behavioral patterns
  • Observe plant and animal life to compare diversity within and across habitats

In Earth & Space Science, 2nd graders delve into the processes that shape the planet Earth. By the end of 2nd Grade, students should be able to:

  • Prove that Earth events (like earthquakes or storms) can happen quickly or slowly
  • Compare solutions designed to reduce wind and water impact on the integrity of the land
  • Build a model to symbolize various types of land and bodies of water in a region
  • Identify where solid or liquid water can be found on Earth

In Physical Science, students study the structure and properties of matter. By the end of 2nd Grade, students should be able to:

  • Investigate and classify diverse materials based on observed properties
  • Collect data to determine which properties are most suitable for a desired purpose
  • Argue how an object’s properties can be transformed to create a new object (based on evidence)
  • Argue irreversible versus reversible impacts of heating and cooling (based on evidence)

At the end of the K-2 Grades Engineering Design, students should be able to:

  • Form a hypothesis, conduct observations, and collect evidence for an experiment about a human problem that can be changed through a new or improved object
  • Design a model to depict how an object’s shape aids its function based on a given problem
  • Analyze data to compare the strengths and weaknesses of two objects’ performance

Science Standards — 3rd Grade

In Life Science, students return to interdependency and ecosystems, then gene inheritance and variation. By the end of 3rd Grade, students should be able to:

  • Argue how some animals form groups to ensure their group members survive
  • Study fossils to prove that organisms lived long ago in different environments
  • Argue that some organisms can survive well, some less well, and some not at all, within a particular habitat
  • Comment on the merit of a solution for climate change and the effect the solution would have on an ecosystem
  • Create models to demonstrate organisms’ unique birth, growth, reproduction, and death cycles
  • Prove that plants and animals inherited traits from their parents within a broader context of similar organisms
  • Prove that the environment can influence trait persistence
  • Argue how certain variations among members of the same species can provide advantages in regard to surviving, finding a mate, and reproducing

In Earth & Space Science, students delve into weather and climate. By the end of 3rd Grade, students should be able to:

  • Represent data using tables and graphs to depict seasonal weather conditions
  • Collect evidence to describe climate patterns in regions across the world
  • Comment on the merit of a solution that reduces weather-related hazard impacts on the planet

In Physical Science, students explore forces and interactions. By the end of 3rd Grade, students should be able to:

  • Prove the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on a object’s motion
  • Prove that a pattern can be used to predict future motion
  • Determine the cause and effect relationships of electric and magnetic interactions
  • Define a problem that can be solved by using scientific ideas about magnets

Science Standards — 4th Grade

In Life Science, students return to the structure, function, and information processing of organisms. By the end of 4th Grade, students should be able to:

  • Argue how plants or animals use their internal or external structures to support survival and perpetuation of their species
  • Build a model to represent how animals process sensory data and respond to stimuli
  • Build a model to show how light reflected from objects enters the eye and allows objects to be seen

In Earth & Space Science, students explore additional processes that shape the Earth. By the end of 4th Grade, students should be able to:

  • Identify how changes in landscape occur over time
  • Prove effects of erosion
  • Analyze data to describe patterns of Earth’s features
  • Compare solutions to reduce impacts of natural Earth processes on humans

In Physical Science, students study energy and waves. By the end of 4th Grade, students should be able to:

  • Use evidence to explain how energy and fields come from natural resources and how their use affects the environment
  • Use evidence to explain an object’s speed relative to its energy
  • Prove that energy can be transferred through sound, light, heat, and electric currents
  • Predict changes in energy when objects collide
  • Design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another
  • Design a model to describe patterns in amplitude and wavelength
  • Compare solutions that use patterns to transfer information

Science Standards — 5th Grade

In Life Science, learn about matter and energy in organisms and ecosystems. By the end of 5th Grade, students should be able to:

  • Support an argument of how plants get the materials they need for growth
  • Design a model to depict movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment
  • Design models to how sunlight transforms into energy in animal’s food

In Earth & Space Science, students study Earth’s systems, the stars, and the solar system. By the end of 5th Grade, students should be able to:

  • Design a model explaining the interaction of the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere
  • Graph and describe percentages of fresh water in reservoirs to prove water distribution evidence on Earth
  • Collect evidence regarding how communities use scientific ideas to protect Earth’s resources and environment
  • Support an argument that compares differences in brightness of the sun to relative distance of other planets from the Earth
  • Graph data to show patterns of daily changes in length in shadows in the daytime and seasonal appearance of stars in the night sky
  • Support an argument that Earth’s gravitational force is directed down

In Physical Science, students delve into the structure and properties of matter. By the end of 5th Grade, students should be able to:

  • Design a model to show how matter is made of particles too small to be seen
  • Graph quantities to prove that weight of an object is conserved despite change in heating, cooling, or mixing of substances
  • Observe and identify materials based on their properties
  • Investigate the effect of mixing two or more substances to result in a new substance.

By the end of the Grades 3-5 Engineering Design, students should be able to:

  • Define a problem reflecting a need or want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost
  • Compare solutions based on how well each meets criteria and constraints of a problem
  • Test variables to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved

According to the NSTA, families can support their children’s science learning by fostering wonder, curiosity, creativity, and excitement through providing a safe and positive home environment. Being actively engaged in their child’s schooling can provide opportunities to identify potential areas of deeper exploration outside of school. Parents can encourage their children to consider a career in science or technology — these are the career fields that will be booming in at least the decades to come.

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