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This is the second in a series of posts relating to the life science content standards for grades 5 through 8 of the 2005 National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council. We’ll look at how Real Science-4-Kids (RS4K) teaching materials align with these.

National Science Education Standards; Life Science 2:


A.    Reproduction is a characteristic of all living systems; because no individual organism lives forever, reproduction is essential to the continuation of every species. Some organisms reproduce asexually. Other organisms reproduce sexually.

B.    In many species, including humans, females produce eggs and males produce sperm. Plants also reproduce sexually – the egg and sperm are produced in the flowers of flowering plants. An egg and sperm unite to begin development of a new individual. That new individual receives genetic information from its mother (via the egg) and its father (via the sperm). Sexually produced offspring never are identical to either of their parents.

C.    Hereditary information is contained in genes, located in the chromosomes of each cell. Each gene carries a single unit of information. An inherited trait of an individual can be determined by one or by many genes, and a single gene can influence more than one trait. A human cell contains many thousands of different genes.

D.    The characteristics of an organism can be described in terms of a combination of traits. Some traits are inherited and others result from interactions with the environment.

National Science Education Standards; Life Science 3:


 A.    All organisms must be able to obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce, and maintain stable internal conditions while living in a constantly changing external environment.

 B.    Regulation of an organism’s internal environment involves sensing the internal environment and changing physiological activities to keep conditions within the range required to survive.

 C.    Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus. A behavioral response requires coordination and communication at many levels, including cells, organ systems, and whole organisms. Behavioral response is a set of actions determined in part by heredity and in part from experience.

 D.    An organism’s behavior evolves through adaptation to its environment. How a species moves, obtains food, reproduces, and responds to danger are based in the species’ evolutionary history.

Real Science-4-Kids meets these standards in the following ways:

The National Standards for “life science” corresponds with the RS4K Biology series. Because each level of the RS4K curricula covers subjects in the same order (with more depth added for higher levels), the following alignments with the national standards are generally true for Pre-Level I as well as Level I. However, specific examples are taken from Level I texts and workbooks since that age range most closely matches that of the National Standards presented here. Because information is built upon with each chapter, many areas of knowledge in the standards show up in virtually all chapters. However, the key chapters for each section are shown below.

Life Science section 2: Reproduction and Heredity, subsections A-D:

There is a description in Biology Level I chapter 9 (The Frog Life Cycle) about where female frogs lay their eggs and that a male frog fertilizes the eggs. In chapter 4 (Parts of a Plant), the process of pollen fertilizing the eggs is diagramed and described.  However, the topics of asexual and sexual reproduction are not specifically covered in the textbooks as of July 2009. Subjects not covered by current books may be addressed in either the upcoming Level II Biology materials and/or the “B” series for Pre-Level I and Level I.

Life Science section 3: Regulation and Heredity

A. & B.:  The Level I Biology Student Text and corresponding experiments in the Laboratory Workbook provide information relevant to subsections A and B under Regulation and Heredity. Chapter 2 (Cells – The Building Blocks of Life) explains both external and internal influences at the cellular level. Several subsequent chapters examine very specific organism responses to both external and internal environmental changes by explaining in great detail natural processes and life cycles. A very specific example is that chapter 5 (How a Plant Grows) explains how gravity and other factors help a plant seed grow “up” even if the seed is upside down under the soil. Other especially relevant chapters include: chapters 3 (Photosynthesis), 4 (Parts of a Plant), 7 (Protists II), 8 (The Butterfly Cycle), and 9 (The Frog Life Cycle). Chapter 10 (Our Balanced World) relates information on how systems work together in our environment and how humans interact with the cycles of nature.

C & D.:  Behavior responses resulting from internal and external stimuli as a topic are not covered in the Pre-Level I and Level I Biology texts as of July 2009. Heredity and adaptation are also not addressed. However, topics not covered by current books may be addressed in either the upcoming Level II Biology materials and/or the “B” series for Pre-Level I and Level I.

There is a terrifically different new presence on the Internet – one that has not been covered by most media so it is relatively unknown right now. To understand why a search engine site called Wolfram/Alpha is so very different, let’s think about how our computers currently access “knowledge.”

When computers were first envisioned, people thought they would be able to ask a question and have the computer answer it. Well, today, we can gets lots of information on any topic by using a search engine like Google or Yahoo. But, what we actually get is a list of pages that reference the words in our question. The question must have been asked and answered before in order for you to have a resulting list of pages that you have to explore one by one. Computers accessing the Internet have not actually “computed” the answer for you.

Now comes Stephen Wolfram, a distinguished scientist, inventor, author, and business leader, who spearheads a new type of search engine designed to pull together information from factual resources and put it all into one source that answers your questions.

Here is how the new search engine’s Website describes its goals and current status:

Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

As of now, Wolfram|Alpha contains 10+ trillion pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains.

Give the new search engine a try with any of the scientific terms found in Real Science-4-Kids and see what happens!

Now and then, a parent using a Real Science-4-Kids lab workbook contacts Gravitas Publications to say that a particular experiment did not “work” as expected. From an educator’s point of view, a “failed” experiment can be a very rich source of learning.

It is always possible to discuss what the outcome of any given experiment was meant to teach had it gone “right.” This can provide a benchmark to compare with the student’s actual results.

An in-depth discussion of how and why it went “wrong” can be just as fruitful. It is the perfect time for student and teacher to begin an “open inquiry” scientific investigation with lots of questions. (See the June 23 posting in this blog for the steps to use a critical thinking lens.) The teacher can spark a long list of question by asking just a few for the student to consider such as:

  1. What parts of the experiment were most likely to go wrong? Where should we begin looking for why we had a different outcome than expected?
  2. Should we write out a new checklist to make certain something was not overlooked in the process of doing the experiment?
  3. At what point did my results begin to differ from what was expected? What could have gone “wrong” up to that point?

After thinking about these questions, the student may actually write a new hypothesis about why the experiment result varied. Now the student has a new experiment that can be carried out to test the new hypothesis!

Let’s say the original experiment was to show a chemical reaction involving just a few household substances. The gathering of data (the many questions above) revealed that one of the ingredients had been on the shelf for a very long time or another ingredient had been cold from the refrigerator instead of being at room temperature. Now new questions could be posed about whether the effects of long exposure to air or to extreme temperatures could affect the experiment’s outcome. If the new hypothesis is that the baking soda was too “old,” then repeating the experiment with a new box of baking soda might let the student confirm or eliminate that as a cause.

Using a “failure” to let the student use his or her own critical-thinking (or problem-solving) skills is a terrific way to promote curiosity and confidence. You might also want to relate the following story about the importance of learning from failure. It is based on information from 3M’s Post-it Notes® Web page (3M Web site):

Dr. Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist, discovered the formula for a lightly sticky adhesive back in 1968 (reportedly making the weak adhesive while searching for a formula for a stronger adhesive). But it was Silver’s colleague, Art Fry, who finally came up with a practical use for it. The idea for repositionable notes struck Fry while singing in the church choir. His bookmark kept falling out of his hymnal, causing him to lose his page. So, taking advantage of a 3M policy known as the “bootlegging” policy, Fry used a portion of his working hours to develop a solution to his problem. More than 10 years after Silver’s original “discovery,” the world began singing the praises of his pet project: Post-it® Notes.