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Science Goals for Lower Elementary School Students

by Christi O'Donnell

Science instruction in the lower elementary grades is fueled by the boundless curiosity children show for the world around them. A strong science program builds on what students already know and guides them toward a more concrete understanding of engineering and natural science. The Next Generation Science Standards, developed in collaboration with the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, provide educators with goals for grades kindergarten through 12.

Physical Science

Using their senses, young children observe the world around them.

Children studying physical science in the lower elementary grades approach the topic in a thoroughly hands-on way. The goal of these explorations is to expose students to key concepts about motion and stability, energy, waves and their applications in technologies for information transfer, and matter and its applications. By the time they leave second grade, children have had a number of opportunities to plan, conduct, analyze and evaluate a number of their own experiments using strengths, pushes, pulls, light, sound, heating and cooling. In addition, students should be comfortable describing, classifying and working with the observable properties of materials.

Life Science

Young scientists study the ways in which offspring are similar to and different from their parents.

Life science in the lower grades focuses on the needs and survival of plants and animals. As children move through the grades they gain a deeper understanding of what plants and animals need to survive as individuals and a species. Beginning with basics like food, water, protection and sunlight and moving toward reproduction, young students study how plants and animals get what they need. Simple experiments include determining whether water and sunlight are both necessary for plants to grow and hands-on activities with seed dispersal. Children also explore the relationships between parents and offspring in both the plant and animal kingdoms.

Earth and Space

Our lives on Earth play a significant role in early explorations of Earth and space.

Early studies of Earth and space engage students in observing the weather and changes that they can see as a result of the weather on the Earth's surface. In the early elementary grades, students spend a great deal of time exploring how weather impacts the daily lives of plants and animals -- humans included. Activities involving weather forecasting and preparations for severe weather are common. Students should also have an opportunity to study land and water formations and to tackle questions about minimizing weather's effects on the landscape. Taking a wider view as they move through the grades, students in first and second grade begin to explore Earth's place in the solar system and to observe and learn about the interplay between Earth and the moon and stars -- our sun in particular. Students leaving second grade should be able to give rudimentary explanations of what causes day and night and how the seasons and weather change.

Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science

Lower elementary science students enjoy using toys and everyday objects to try and solve problems.

At each grade level, lower elementary science students should have an opportunity to ask questions, make observations and gather information about a simple problem that they would like to help solve through the development of their own new or improved object or tool. Students should be encouraged to use the information they gather to create a sketch, drawing or physical model of the object or tool that they would create and then given an opportunity to test their creation. Once they have tested their creation, students should learn to analyze the results of their test to determine if they were able to solve the problem they set out to solve, or if changes should be made to get better results. Older students should be encouraged to test two objects that were created to solve the same problem and compare which one worked better and try to determine why.

About the Author

A lifetime resident of New York, Christi O'Donnell has been writing about education since 2003. O'Donnell is a dual-certified educator with experience writing curriculum and teaching grades preK through 12. She holds a Bachelors Degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a Masters Degree in education from Mercy College.

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