Elementary Science

The Branch School is committed to Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math, (STEAM) to better equip students for the 21st century. The Elementary science curriculum provides the foundation for inquiry-based learning.

Elementary teachers use STEMscopes, developed by Rice University. It is a comprehensive science curriculum that emphasizes experiential learning. Students study science through hands-on activities, games, and virtual labs. Based on the 5 E model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate), STEMscopes allows students to construct their own meaning as they question, experiment, analyze, and evaluate their observations.

Goals of the STEMscopes program:

  • Encourage students in interactive-based learning, in checking through games, virtual labs, and online assessments.
  • Develop life-long science learners through inquiry-based hands-on science.

In addition to STEMscopes, students develop engineering literacy through the Engineering is Elementary (EIE) program. Engineering is Elementary is an engaging, project-based curriculum which compliments the STEMscopes curriculum, but allows students to explore science through the lens of engineering. Each unit has an engineer design challenge, giving students the opportunity to apply the engineering design process.

Kindergarten

On the topic of Matter and Energy, the kindergarten unit is Properties of Objects. The key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Objects can be described based on their properties of size, mass, shape, color, and texture.
  • Objects can be compared to one another based on their properties.
  • Students also learn that they can record observations about objects, including descriptions of relative size and mass, shape, color, and texture.

On the topic of Earth and Space, the kindergarten unit is Rocks, Soil and Water. In this unit, the key concepts taught are:

  • Rocks can be described and sorted based on their properties, including size, shape, color, or texture.
  • Water in nature can be described and sorted according to its properties including color and clarity.
  • Rocks, soil, and water are useful for many purposes in our daily lives.

On the topic of Organisms and Environment, the unit is on Basic Needs. The key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Living organisms have basic needs that must be met to survive.
  • Animals require air, food, and water, and some animals also require shelter.
  • Plants require air, water, nutrients, sunlight, and space.

First Grade

On the topic of Matter and Energy, the first grade unit is Classifying Matter. The key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Objects can be described based on their properties.
  • Objects can be compared to one another based on their properties.
  • We can classify objects based on relative size (bigger or smaller, heavier or lighter) and mass, shape, color, and texture.

On the topic of Earth and Space, the first grade unit is Rocks, Soil and Water. The key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Different types of rocks and soil differ in their observable properties.
  • Soil can be sorted based on particle size, texture, and color.
  • We can see examples in daily life of how we use products made from rocks, soil, and water.

On the topic of Organisms and Environment, the first grade unit is Basic Needs. The key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Living things have basic needs that must be met to survive, while nonliving things do not.
  • We can sort and classify living and nonliving things based on whether they have basic needs and the ability to produce offspring.
  • Living things can reproduce, while nonliving things do not.

Materials Engineering

In first grade, students are introduced to the engineering process where they must consider the importance of materials. They learn that materials have different properties and that some materials may be more useful than others. This unit explores the importance of the types of materials used as the students build habitats for caterpillars so they may watch them evolve into butterflies. In this unit, they also learn the life cycle of the butterfly.

Second Grade

On the topic of Matter and Energy, the second grade unit is Physical Changes. The key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • We can observe and demonstrate how materials change when they are cut, folded, sanded, or melted.
  • We can select materials for a specific use based on their physical properties.
  • Specific materials can be combined to perform actions that the parts alone will not be able to do.

On the topic of Earth and Space, the second grade unit is Resources. The key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Natural resources, such as rocks, soil, plants, water, and air, occur through natural processes in, on, and above the Earth’s surface.
  • Manmade resources come from the Earth but are modified in some way for our use.
  • Manmade resources include materials such as glass, plastic, fabric, lumber, and paper.

On the topic of Organisms and Environment, the second grade unit is Food Chains. The key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Plants and animals depend on each other in many ways.
  • Food chains show the flow of energy from one organism to another.
  • Food chains are found in many habitats including gardens, parks, beaches, lakes, and forests.

Civil Engineering Unit

In the unit, To Get to The Other Side; Designing Bridges, students learn that when civil engineers design bridges they must consider the important factors of balance and motion. The students’ understanding of push and pull are reinforced in this unit and they use what they know about balance and force while experimenting with the building of bridges.

Chemical Engineering Unit

In this unit, students learn that chemical engineers use a design process that is like following a recipe. They learn that the amount of each ingredient used, as well as the order in which they are added, matters a great deal. Students experiment with the design process while designing a better way to make Playdough. This unit reinforces the concepts of solid and liquid while they explore the properties of different materials and mixtures.

Third Grade

Third grade science topics are Force, Motion and Energy, Earth’s Forces, and Organisms and Environments.

On the topic of Force and Motion, the third grade unit is Force and Motion. Key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Pushing and pulling can cause an object to change position and to move.
  • Work happens when a force is used to move an object over a distance.
  • Tools such as swings, balls, pulleys, and wagons can be used to help move objects.

On the topic of Earth and Space, the third grade unit is Earth’s forces. The key concepts taught in the unit are:

  • Large forces can change the Earth’s surface rapidly.
  • Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes can cause rapid changes on Earth’s surface such as creating new land, making cracks in the crust, or changing landforms.
  • Landslides can cause rapid change to Earth’s surface such as rocks and debris falling from a rock face.

On the topic of Organisms and Environments, the third grade unit is Traits. Key concepts taught in this unit are:

  • Some characteristics are inherited while others are learned in response to the environment.
  • Inherited characteristics include mainly physical characteristics such as fins on a fish, stripes on a tiger, and the yellow color of a daffodil.
  • Learned behaviors include using tools, such as a chimp’s use of sticks to retrieve termites from mounds or a sea otter’s use of rocks to open shellfish.

Aerospace Engineering Unit

In this unit, students are introduced to aerospace engineering and learn how aerospace engineers use their knowledge of astronomy in the design process. They learn about air resistance and conditions on other planets to engineer a model parachute. The goal is to land a parachute on a planet with an atmosphere which is thinner than that of Earth.

Environmental Engineering Unit

In this unit, students learn about the importance of environmental engineering. They learn how oil spills can be deadly for fish, plants, and other organisms in a river ecosystem. Students test water quality and the oil absorbing properties of materials while applying their knowledge of ecosystems and food webs. They must design a process for cleaning up an oil spill.

Fourth Grade

The fourth grade STEMscopes curriculum encourages inquiry based learning. Students are first taught the tools of inquiry: observing, asking questions, predicting, hypothesizing, planning and investigating, and interpreting. The tools of inquiry skills are practiced throughout the science units. There are two main topics of science covered in fourth-grade: Organisms and Environments and Matter and Energy.

On the first topic of Organisms and Environments, the units and key concepts are as follows:

  • Producers, consumers, and food webs
    • Producers need sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce their own food. Consumers depend on plants or other organisms for food.
    • The Sun provides energy that flows through food chains and webs. Energy that moves through a food web originally comes from the Sun.
    • We can predict how changes in an ecosystem can affect the flow of energy in a food web. Changes to an ecosystem, such as a forest fire, can cause animals to leave and some animals and plants to perish, which can have an impact on the flow of energy in a food web.
  • Adaptations
    • Adaptations of plants and animals include both internal and external characteristics that allow them to survive in their environment.
    • Bird beaks are adapted in size and shape to eating different foods. Plant leaves are adapted in size, shape, and covering to enable survival in different environments.
    • Some organisms have external adaptations that enable them to blend in to their environments.
  • Traits
    • Some characteristics are inherited from parent to offspring, while other characteristics are acquired.
    • Inherited characteristics include eye color in humans and shapes of leaves in plants.
    • Learned behaviors include having table manners, reading or speaking a language, and animals performing tricks on command.
  • Life Cycles
    • Organisms undergo observable changes during their life cycle including birth, growth, development, reproduction, and death.
    • We can illustrate and compare the life cycles of various plants and animals.
    • Some animals, such as butterflies and beetles, pass through distinctly different life stages during their life cycle. Some plants, such as radishes and lima beans, develop from seeds into small plants that resemble the adult form.

On the second topic Matter and Energy, the units and key concepts are the following:

  • Classifying Matter
    • Matter has physical properties that can be observed.
    • We can measure physical properties of matter including size, mass, volume, and temperature.
    • We can compare and contrast matter based on its physical properties such as state of matter, magnetism, and buoyancy.
  • Changes from Heat
    • Heating and cooling can cause materials to change characteristics such as state, color, and texture.
    • Heating causes ice to become liquid water and cooling causes condensation to form on a window, mirror, or on the outside of a glass of water.
    • We can predict the changes to matter caused by heating and cooling.
  • Mixtures
    • Mixtures are formed when materials are combined physically. A solution is a type of mixture in which the parts must be evenly and thoroughly mixed.
    • The materials of mixtures may be visible as when sand is mixed in water or not visible as when sugar is mixed in water.
    • The materials in mixtures can be separated using purely physical means including settling, straining, filtering, evaporation, or with magnets. The materials in a solution can be separated with evaporation.

Electrical Engineering

In this unit, the fourth grade students are introduced to electrical engineering.Students work with the concepts of conductors and insulators, schematic diagrams, and circuits. Their design challenge is to plan, create, and improve their own alarm circuit.

Industrial Engineering

This unit introduces the fourth grade students to industrial engineering. This unit guides students to think like industrial engineers as they explore the variety of simple machines people use every day. Students also explore the pros and cons of assembly lines compared to making things by hand, then measure the force it takes to complete a task with and without a simple machine to help. Finally, they put their data to the test, combining a series of simple machines to create an assembly-line subsystem for a model potato chip factory.