This page last changed on Apr 12, 2007 by bheilman.

K-4 Standards 

Students are familiar with the change of state between water and ice, but the idea of liquids having a set of properties is more nebulous and requires more instructional effort than working with solids. Most students will have difficulty with the generalization that many substances can exist as either a liquid or a solid. K-4 students do not understand that water exists as a gas when it boils or evaporates; they are more likely to think that water disappears or goes into the sky. Despite that limitation, students can conduct simple investigations with heating and evaporation that develop inquiry skills and familiarize them with the phenomena.

The children cannot understand a complex concept such as energy. Nonetheless, they have intuitive notions of energy--for example, energy is needed to get things done; humans get energy from food. Teachers can build on the intuitive notions of students without requiring them to memorize technical definitions.

Initially no tools need to be used, but children eventually learn that they can add to their descriptions by measuring objects--first with measuring devices they create and then by using conventional measuring instruments, such as rulers, balances, and thermometers. By recording data and making graphs and charts, older children can search for patterns and order in their work and that of their peers.

  • Objects have many observable properties, including size, weight, shape, color, temperature, and the ability to react with other substances. Those properties can be measured using tools, such as rulers, balances, and thermometers.
  • Materials can exist in different states--solid, liquid, and gas. Some common materials, such as water, can be changed from one state to another by heating or cooling.
  • The position of an object can be described by locating it relative to another object or the background.
  • Light travels in a straight line until it strikes an object. Light can be reflected by a mirror, refracted by a lens, or absorbed by the object.

During the first years of school, they should be encouraged to observe closely the objects and materials in their environment, note their properties, distinguish one from another and develop their own explanations of how things become the way they are.

Children should have opportunities to observe rapid changes, such as the movement of water in a stream, as well as gradual changes, such as the erosion of soil and the change of the seasons.

By observing the day and night sky regularly, children in grades K-4 will learn to identify sequences of changes and to look for patterns in these changes. As they observe changes, such as the movement of an object's shadow during the course of a day, and the positions of the sun and the moon, they will find the patterns in these movements. They can draw the moon's shape for each evening on a calendar and then determine the pattern in the shapes over several weeks. These understandings should be confined to observations, descriptions, and finding patterns. Attempting to extend this understanding into explanations using models will be limited by the inability of young children to understand that earth is approximately spherical.

Students can discover patterns of weather changes during the year by keeping a journal. Younger students can draw a daily weather picture based on what they see out a window or at recess; older students can make simple charts and graphs from data they collect at a simple school weather station.

Emphasis in grades K-4 should be on developing observation and description skills and the explanations based on observations. Younger children should be encouraged to talk about and draw what they see and think. Older students can keep journals, use instruments, and record their observations and measurements.

  • The sun provides the light and heat necessary to maintain the temperature of the earth.
  • Weather changes from day to day and over the seasons. Weather can be described by measurable quantities, such as temperature, wind direction and speed, and precipitation.

 5-8 Standards

In grades 5-8, students observe and measure characteristic properties, such as boiling points, melting points, solubility, and simple chemical changes of pure substances and use those properties to distinguish and separate one substance from another.

Their early ideas are that the particles have the same properties as the parent material; that is, they are a tiny piece of the substance. It can be tempting to introduce atoms and molecules or improve students' understanding of them so that particles can be used as an explanation for the properties of elements and compounds. However, use of such terminology is premature for these students and can distract from the understanding that can be gained from focusing on the observation and description of macroscopic features of substances and of physical and chemical reactions. At this level, elements and compounds can be defined operationally from their chemical characteristics, but few students can comprehend the idea of atomic and molecular particles.

The understanding of energy in grades 5-8 will build on the K-4 experiences with light, heat, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the motion of objects. In 5-8, students begin to see the connections among those phenomena and to become familiar with the idea that energy is an important property of substances and that most change involves energy transfer.

In addition, students view energy as a fuel or something that is stored, ready to use, and gets used up. The intent at this level is for students to improve their understanding of energy by experiencing many kinds of energy transfer.* A substance has characteristic properties, such as density, a boiling point, and solubility, all of which are independent of the amount of the sample. A mixture of substances often can be separated into the original substances using one or more of the characteristic properties.

  • Light interacts with matter by transmission (including refraction), absorption, or scattering (including reflection). To see an object, light from that object-emitted by or scattered from it-must enter the eye.
  • The sun is a major source of energy for changes on the earth's surface. The sun loses energy by emitting light. A tiny fraction of that light reaches the earth, transferring energy from the sun to the earth. The sun's energy arrives as light with a range of wavelengths, consisting of visible light, infrared, and ultraviolet radiation.
  • Water, which covers the majority of the earth's surface, circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is known as the "water cycle." Water evaporates from the earth's surface, rises and cools as it moves to higher elevations, condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soil, and in rocks underground.
  • Water is a solvent. As it passes through the water cycle it dissolves minerals and gases and carries them to the oceans.
  • The atmosphere is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gases that include water vapor. The atmosphere has different properties at different elevations.
  • Clouds, formed by the condensation of water vapor, affect weather and climate.
  • Global patterns of atmospheric movement influence local weather. Oceans have a major effect on climate, because water in the oceans holds a large amount of heat.
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