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.

Life Science

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

  • The characteristics of organisms
  • Life cycles of organisms
  • Organisms and environments

Developing Student Understanding

During the elementary grades, children build understanding of biological concepts through direct experience with living things, their life cycles, and their habitats. These experiences emerge from the sense of wonder and natural interests of children who ask questions such as: “How do plants get food? How many different animals are there? Why do some animals eat other animals? What is the largest plant? Where did the dinosaurs go?” An understanding of the characteristics of organisms, life cycles of organisms, and of the complex interactions among all components of the natural environment begins with questions such as these and an understanding of how individual organisms maintain and continue life. Making sense of the way organisms live in their environments will develop some understanding of the diversity of life and how all living organisms depend on the living and nonliving environment for survival. Because the child’s world at grades K-4 is closely associated with the home, school, and immediate environment, the study of organisms should include observations and interactions within the natural world of the child. The experiences and activities in grades K-4 provide a concrete foundation for the progressive development in the later grades of major biological concepts, such as evolution, heredity, the cell, the biosphere, interdependence, the behavior of organisms, and matter and energy in living systems.

Children’s ideas about the characteristics of organisms develop from basic concepts of living and nonliving. Piaget noted, for instance, that young children give anthropomorphic explanations to organisms. In lower elementary grades, many children associate “life” with any objects that are active in any way. This view of life develops into one in which movement becomes the defining characteristic. Eventually children incorporate other concepts, such as eating, breathing, and reproducing to define life. As students have a variety of experiences with organisms, and subsequently develop a knowledge base in the life sciences, their anthropomorphic attributions should decline.

In classroom activities such as classification, younger elementary students generally use mutually exclusive rather than hierarchical categories. Young children, for example, will use two groups, but older children will use several groups at the same time. Students do not consistently use classification schemes similar to those used by biologists until the upper elementary grades.

As students investigate the life cycles of organisms, teachers might observe that young children do not understand the continuity of life from, for example, seed to seedling or larvae to pupae to adult. But teachers will notice that by second grade, most students know that children resemble their parents. Students can also differentiate learned from inherited characteristics. However, students might hold some naive thoughts about inheritance, including the belief that traits are inherited from only one parent, that certain traits are inherited exclusively from one parent or the other, or that all traits are simply a blend of characteristics from each parent.

Young children think concretely about individual organisms. For example, animals are associated with pets or with animals kept in a zoo. The idea that organisms depend on their environment (including other organisms in some cases) is not well developed in young children. In grades K-4, the focus should be on establishing the primary association of organisms with their environments and the secondary ideas of dependence on various aspects of the environment and of behaviors that help various animals survive. Lower elementary students can understand the food link between two organisms.

Guide to the Content Standard

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

The Characteristics of Organisms

  • Organisms have basic needs. For example, animals need air, water, and food; plants require air, water, nutrients, and light. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their needs can be met. The world has many different environments, and distinct environments support the life of different types of organisms.
  • Each plant or animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction. For example, humans have distinct body structures for walking, holding, seeing, and talking.
  • The behavior of individual organisms is influenced by internal cues (such as hunger) and by external cues (such as a change in the environment). Humans and other organisms have senses that help them detect internal and external cues.

Life Cycles of Organisms

  • Plants and animals have life cycles that include being born, developing into adults, reproducing, and eventually dying. The details of this life cycle are different for different organisms.
  • Plants and animals closely resemble their parents.
  • Many characteristics of an organism are inherited from the parents of the organism, but other characteristics result from an individual’s interactions with the environment. Inherited characteristics include the color of flowers and the number of limbs of an animal. Other features, such as the ability to ride a bicycle, are learned through interactions with the environment and cannot be passed on to the next generation.

Organisms and Their Environments

  • All animals depend on plants. Some animals eat plants for food. Other animals eat animals that eat the plants.
  • An organism’s patterns of behavior are related to the nature of that organism’s environment, including the kinds and numbers of other organisms present, the availability of food and resources, and the physical characteristics of the environment. When the environment changes, some plants and animals survive and reproduce, and others die or move to new locations. [See Content Standard F (grades K-4)]
  • All organisms cause changes in the environment where they live. Some of these changes are detrimental to the organism or other organisms, whereas others are beneficial.
  • Humans depend on their natural and constructed environments. Humans change environments in ways that can be either beneficial or detrimental for themselves and other organisms.

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.”

The Characteristics of Organisms

  • RS4K Pre-Level I Biology begins with a chapter explaining that living things differ from non-living things in several ways and dependence on food and environmental factors is one of the differentiators. This chapter also introduces students to the idea of classifications and provides a fun experiment to help them use classification skills. Experiments in the Laboratory Workbook, such as “Who Needs Light?” reinforce how dependent living things are on various elements in their environment.
  • How structures within cells, animals and plants perform differing jobs is a theme illustrated throughout the biology student text and lab book, but the greatest concentration of that information can be found in chapter 4, Plant Parts, and chapter 3, Food for Plants. For example, chapter 3 explains that the green parts of plants are “food factories.” The corresponding experiments show students examples of how plants use light and water.
  • Chapters 6 through 9 focus on the life cycles of animals from protozoa to frogs. The chapter on butterflies (chapter _8) is especially relevant to an organism’s responses to internal and external cues such as a newly born caterpillar having the instinct to immediately begin eating the leaf that supports it.

Life Cycles of Organisms

  • The RS4K Pre-Level I Biology Student Text specifically explains in detail the life cycles of a plant, protozoa, butterflies and frogs. Lab workbook experiments for chapters 5 through 9 provide students with the opportunity to observe these life cycles.
  • Illustrating the life cycle of various organisms points out that each organism begets another like it, although “heredity” as a concept is not separately discussed. Chapter 5 points out, for example, that “It takes a flowering plant to make a seed of a flowering plant. And it takes a seed of a flowering plant to make a flowering plant.”
  • Differentiating inherited characteristics from learned features is not covered as a specific topic.

Organisms and Their Environments

  • The dependence of all life on light, air and water and the food cycle are most pointedly discussed in chapter 10 of the RS4K Pre-Level I Biology Student Text. A colorful illustration shows the food cycle from plants to an animal eating plants to an animal eating the plant-eating animal.
  • Chapter 10’s topic of life in a delicate balance addresses these issues in general terms but various other chapters illustrate the points with specifics. For example, chapter 3 explains that a tree’s reaction to less light in the fall is to have its leaves stop making chlorophyll so that the leaves die off.
  • An example in chapter 10 of plants “breathing in” carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen that humans can then breathe in illustrates this point for students.
  • Although the delicate nature of the balance of life on Earth is explored in some depth in chapter 10, Our Balanced Earth, the text does not go into specifics about human-caused effects on the planet.

Comments are closed.