Give your kids the advantage with the award winning easy-to-teach Real Science-4-Kids  

The National Science Education Standards for Grades K-4 from the National Research Council are being presented in this blog in seven installments, with one “content standard” per posting. This is the second. At the end of each Content Standard, we will look at how Real Science-4-Kids (RS4K) texts align with that section. Some Standards are a bit long, but Gravitas wants to present each to you in its entirety.

Physical Science

As a result of the activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Properties of objects and materials
  • Position and motion of objects
  • Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism

Developing Student Understanding

During their early years, children’s natural curiosity leads them to explore the world by observing and manipulating common objects and materials in their environment. Children compare, describe, and sort as they begin to form explanations of the world. Developing a subject-matter knowledge base to explain and predict the world requires many experiences over a long period. Young children bring experiences, understanding, and ideas to school; teachers provide opportunities to continue children’s explorations in focused settings with other children using simple tools, such as magnifiers and measuring devices.

Physical science in grades K-4 includes topics that give students a chance to increase their understanding of the characteristics of objects and materials that they encounter daily. Through the observation, manipulation, and classification of common objects, children reflect on the similarities and differences of the objects. As a result, their initial sketches and single-word descriptions lead to increasingly more detailed drawings and richer verbal descriptions. Describing, grouping, and sorting solid objects and materials is possible early in this grade range. By grade 4, distinctions between the properties of objects and materials can be understood in specific contexts, such as a set of rocks or living materials.

See the example entitled “Willie the Hamster”

Young children begin their study of matter by examining and qualitatively describing objects and their behavior. The important but abstract ideas of science, such as atomic structure of matter and the conservation of energy, all begin with observing and keeping track of the way the world behaves. When carefully observed, described, and measured, the properties of objects, changes in properties over time, and the changes that occur when materials interact provide the necessary precursors to the later introduction of more abstract ideas in the upper grade levels.

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.

When students describe and manipulate objects by pushing, pulling, throwing, dropping, and rolling, they also begin to focus on the position and movement of objects: describing location as up, down, in front, or behind, and discovering the various kinds of motion and forces required to control it. By experimenting with light, heat, electricity, magnetism, and sound, students begin to understand that phenomena can be observed, measured, and controlled in various ways. 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.

Sounds are not intuitively associated with the characteristics of their source by younger K-4 students, but that association can be developed by investigating a variety of concrete phenomena toward the end of the K-4 level. In most children’s minds, electricity begins at a source and goes to a target. This mental model can be seen in students’ first attempts to light a bulb using a battery and wire by attaching one wire to a bulb. Repeated activities will help students develop an idea of a circuit late in this grade range and begin to grasp the effect of more than one battery. Children cannot distinguish between heat and temperature at this age; therefore, investigating heat necessarily must focus on changes in temperature.

As children develop facility with language, their descriptions become richer and include more detail. 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. For example, they can determine the speed of an object as fast, faster, or fastest in the earliest grades. As students get older, they can represent motion on simple grids and graphs and describe speed as the distance traveled in a given unit of time.

Guide to the Content Standard

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

Properties of Objects and Materials

  • 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.
  • Objects are made of one or more materials, such as paper, wood, and metal. Objects can be described by the properties of the materials from which they are made, and those properties can be used to separate or sort a group of objects or materials.
  • 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.

Position and Motion of Objects

  • The position of an object can be described by locating it relative to another object or the background.
  • An object’s motion can be described by tracing and measuring its position over time.
  • The position and motion of objects can be changed by pushing or pulling. The size of the change is related to the strength of the push or pull.
  • Sound is produced by vibrating objects. The pitch of the sound can be varied by changing the rate of vibration.

Light, Heat, Electricity and Magnetism

  • 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.
  • Heat can be produced in many ways, such as burning, rubbing, or mixing one substance with another. Heat can move from one object to another by conduction.
  • Electricity in circuits can produce light, heat, sound, and magnetic effects. Electrical circuits require a complete loop through which an electrical current can pass.
  • Magnets attract and repel each other and certain kinds of other materials.

How Real Science-4-Kids Meets This Standard

Below are just a few specific examples taken from Pre-Level I texts and workbooks that illustrate of the fulfillment of this National Standard as outlined in the above “Guide to the Content Standard.”

Properties of Objects and Materials

  • The observable properties of objects are covered in the first chapters of both Pre-Level I Chemistry and Pre-Level I Biology (see second bullet point below). Chemistry approaches the subject of observable properties by explaining that these are based on atoms. Chapter 1 describes in basic terms why carrots are orange, for example, and the chapter ends with a section on how scientists make observations. Reactions are discussed in Chapters 3 and 5 of Pre-Level I Chemistry. The Physics Laboratory Workbook for Pre-Level I is set up to help students learn to make good observations with a three-step process of Observe It, Think About It, and Test It. They document the characteristics of various objects they compare with each other in the first experiment called “Falling Objects.”
  • Teaching that objects can be sorted based on characteristics is covered well in the first chapter of Pre-Level I Biology. It is in the Biology book, because it provides a hands-on way for students to learn about classifying things and then the text explains about the classification system for living things. The Teacher’s Manual explains how to gather a large assortment of items (non-living) that the student can use in the Lab Workbook experiment. Students learn how various “features” of one item might mean it could fit into more than one sorted group.
  • The concept of materials existing in different states is not covered as a specific topic in the Pre-Level I materials.

Position and Motion of Objects

  • Pre-Level I Physics explores motion in detail in Chapter 4 (When Things Move).
  • Two good examples of helping the student observe and work with motion are the Physics Pre-Level I Laboratory Workbook experiments for Chapter 3 (Moving Energy In a Toy Car) and Chapter 4 (Rolling Marbles).
  • Position and motion changed by pushing or pulling is taught in detail in Chapter 2 (Push and Pull) of Pre-Level I Physics. Students are introduced to “force,” “work” and “energy” through familiar situations they encounter.
  • Sound is discussed as waves of moving air molecules in Chapter 9 (Light and Sound).

Light, Heat, Electricity and Magnetism

  • Light and its properties are taught in Chapter 9 (Light and Sound) of Pre-Level I Physics. The corresponding Lab Workbook experiment helps students observe and record how light is split by a prism.
  • Heat is not covered as a specific topic in Pre-Level I materials.
  • Electricity is explained in Chapter 9 (Electricity) of Pre-Level I Chemistry.
  • How magnets and magnetism work and their properties are presented in Chapter 8 (Magnets) of Pre-Level I Physics. Students use two bar magnets to learn about magnetic poles in the Chapter 8 experiment.

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