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Elementary Science

Science and engineering concepts are introduced at a crucial time, while our youngest students are trying to make sense of the world around them. Early elementary science curriculum celebrates this innate curiosity and provides students with hands-on opportunities to observe and experiment with phenomena across four disciplines: Earth and Space Sciences, Life Science, Physical Science, and Technology/Engineering. As students develop, they begin to notice differences from previous observations and formulate reasons for why things change. Students start to see patterns and make predictions of future occurrences. Moving from an intensive focus on one phenomenon, they come to understand how their distinct observations are, in fact, just parts of larger environments. Witnessing the world as wholes and parts lays the groundwork for systems thinking in the upper elementary grades where students sharpen their reasoning and analytical skills and, ultimately, come to explain how components within various systems interact with and influence each other.

Curriculum Snapshots


Reasons for Change

In kindergarten, students build on early experiences observing the world around them as they continue to make observations that are more quantitative in nature and help them identify why some changes occur. Students begin to learn to use these observations as evidence to support a claim through growing language skills. They learn that all animals and plants need food, water, and air to grow and thrive and that the fundamental difference between plants and animals is a plant’s ability to make its own food. Students build their quantitative knowledge of temperature in relation to the weather and its effect on different kinds of materials. They observe that the amount of sunlight shining on a surface causes a temperature change and they design a structure to reduce the warming effects of sunlight. They investigate motions of objects by changing the strength and direction of pushes and pulls. They provide examples of plants and animals that can change their environment through their interactions with it. In kindergarten science, students begin to identify reasons for changes in some common phenomena.

(Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework)

Grade 1

Describing Patterns

In grade 1, students have more fluency with language, number sense, and inquiry skills. This allows them to describe patterns of motion between the Sun, Moon, and stars in relation to the Earth. From this understanding they can identify seasonal patterns from sunrise and sunset data that will allow them to predict future patterns. Building from their experiences in pre-K and kindergarten observing and describing daily weather, they can now examine seasonal data on temperature and rainfall to describe patterns over time. Grade 1 students investigate sound and light through various materials. They describe patterns in how light passes through and sounds differ from different types of materials and use this to design and build a device to send a signal. Students compare the ways different animals and plants use their body parts and senses to do the things they need to do to grow and survive, including typical ways parents keep their young safe so they will survive to adulthood. They notice that though there are differences between plants or animals of the same type, the similarities of behavior and appearance are what allow us to identify them as belonging to a group. Grade 1 students begin to understand the power of patterns to predict future events in the natural and designed world. 

(Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework)

Grade 2

Wholes and Parts

As students grow in their ability to speak, read, write, and reason mathematically, they also grow in their ability to grapple with larger systems and the parts that make them up. In grade 2, students start to look beyond the structures of individual plants and animals to looking at the environment in which the plants and animals live as a provider of the food, water, and shelter that the organisms need. They learn that water is found everywhere on Earth and takes different forms and shapes. They map landforms and bodies of water and observe that flowing water and wind shapes these landforms. Grade 2 students use their observation skills gained in earlier grades to classify materials based on similar properties and functions. They gain experience testing different materials to collect and then analyze data for the purpose of determining which materials are the best for a specific function. They construct large objects from smaller pieces and, conversely, learn that when materials are cut into the smallest possible pieces, they still exist as the same material that has weight. These investigations of how parts relate to the whole provide a key basis for understanding systems in later grades. 

(Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework)

Grade 3

Human Interactions

In grade 3, students develop and sharpen their skills at obtaining, recording and charting, and analyzing data in order to study their environment. They use these practices to study the interactions between humans and earth systems, humans and the environment, and humans and the designed world. They learn that these entities not only interact but influence behaviors, reactions, and traits of organisms. Grade 3 students analyze weather patterns and consider humans’ influence and opportunity to impact weather-related events. In life science they study the interactions between and influence of the environment and human traits and characteristics. They use the engineering design process to identify a problem and design solutions that enhance humans’ interactions with their surroundings and to meet their needs. Students consider the interactions and consequent reactions between objects and forces, including forces that are balanced or not. Students reason and provide evidence to support arguments for the influence of humans on nature and nature on human experience. 

(Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework)

Grade 4

Matter and Energy

In grade 4, students observe and interpret patterns related to the transfer of matter and energy on Earth, in physical interactions, and in organisms. Students learn about energy—its motion, transfer, and conversion—in different physical contexts. Grade 4 students interpret patterns of change over time as related to the deposition and erosion in landscape formation. They study today’s landscapes to provide evidence for past processes. Students learn that animals’ internal and external structures support life, growth, behavior, and reproduction. They work through the engineering design process, focusing on developing solutions by building, testing, and redesigning prototypes to fit a specific purpose. Each domain relates to the use of matter and energy over time and for specific purposes. 

(Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework)

Grade 5

Connections and Relationships in Systems

In grade 5, students model, provide evidence to support arguments, and obtain and display data about relationships and interactions among observable components of different systems. By studying systems, grade 5 students learn that objects and organisms do not exist in isolation and that animals, plants and their environments are connected to, interact with, and are influenced by each other. They study the relationships between Earth and other nearby objects in the solar system and the impact of those relationships on patterns of events as seen from Earth. They learn about the relationship among elements of Earth’s systems through the cycling of water and human practices and processes with Earth’s resources. They also learn about the connections and relationships among plants and animals, and the ecosystems within which they live, to show how matter and energy are cycled through these (building on the theme of grade 4). An ability to describe, analyze, and model connections and relationships of observable components of different systems is key to understanding the natural and designed world. 

(Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework)


Science & Engineering Practices

Students develop and practice these essential skills in increasing complexity throughout grades K-12 to aid in their understanding of core ideas in the science and engineering disciplines.

  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems

  • Developing and Using Models

  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data

  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information