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Science & Technology Curriculum Framework
Owning The Questions

Strand 2: Domains Of Science

Physical Sciences

The physical sciences study energy and matter; they include both physics and chemistry. In the physical sciences, students learn about the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter as well as the relationships that exist between matter and energy.

Students build understandings in the physical sciences through repeated and increasingly sophisticated hands-on experiences with materials, substances, forces and motion, and energy transformations. The links between these concrete experiences and more abstract knowledge are forged gradually. Over the course of their schooling, students develop more inclusive and generalizable explanations about the workings of the physical and chemical world.

Tools play a key role in the physical sciences, helping students to detect physical phenomena that are beyond the range of their senses. Successful use of instruments and computer-based technologies helps students engage with physical phenomena in ways that support greater conceptual understanding.

The Physical Science Learning Standards for grades PreK through four fall under the following headings: Properties of matter, Position and motion of objects, Forms of energy -- light, heat, electricity and magnetism. All students start to build knowledge about the physical world as they explore, examine, and manipulate common objects in their environment. Their growing repertoire of actions and thoughts about ordinary things allows them to make the intellectual connections necessary for understanding how the physical world works (Duckworth, 1987). Students note similarities and differences by observing, manipulating and classifying objects. Their descriptions of the physical world are mostly qualitative in this grade span.

Like all students, young children need opportunities to represent their ideas about the physical world in a variety of ways including language, pictures, graphs, and age-appropriate mathematical statements. The more abstract ideas in physical science (such as force, gravity, and atomic structure) are less useful at this stage than they will be later on.

The Physical Science Learning Standards for grades five through eight fall under the following headings: Properties of matter, Particulate model of matter, Motion and changes in motion, and Transformations of energy. While students at the middle school level may be better able to manage and represent ideas through language and mathematics, they still need concrete, real-world experiences to help them develop concepts associated with force, gravity, and molecular structure. As they move through the grade span, students gain a more sophisticated idea of what scientific investigation entails. As they learn to make accurate measurements using a variety of instruments, their experiments become more quantitative. With their increased cognitive abilities, middle school students also begin to move beyond physical examinations to model making, representing changes in matter, substances, and energy at the molecular level. These models will take many forms, including physical, illustrated, mathematical, and verbal models.

The Physical Science Learning Standards for grades nine and ten fall under the following headings: Structure of matter, Interaction of substances, Forces and motion, and Conservation and transformation of energy. By the end of grade ten, students can understand the evidence that underlies more complex models of the physical sciences, including the electronic and nuclear structure of the atom, vector quantities, and transformations of energy. Graphical representations and the gradual introduction of functions and limits introduce students to well-defined laws and principles of physical science. At this stage, students are able to make formal statements of principles in the physical sciences, and understand their implications. These principles have important connections to the life and earth sciences which can be explored in the study of such inter-domain topics as the cycling of matter in ecosystems.

Physical science study during grades eleven and twelve fall under the same headings as for grades nine and ten. Physical Science study in these two last years builds upon, expands, and applies the physical science knowledge developed during earlier years. At this level, students develop understanding and expertise by relating classroom learning in the physical sciences to community and/or worksite experience or by studying key topics in the physical sciences in depth.

Students in the upper grades should have the opportunity to choose from a variety of physical science programs, and each course of study should be designed around a strong intellectual core. Students may then choose courses best suited to their own interests and career goals. Options for study might include: Advanced Placement Physics and Chemistry; Advanced Topics in Electromagnetism; Advanced Topics in Energy Conservation; Applying Principles of Technology/Physics Seminar; Environmental Engineering and Technology; Internship in Energy Conservation; Internship in Pharmacology.

The following learning standards often use processes of inquiry to illustrate the ways in which content understandings in the Domains might be explored. However, the applications chosen as illustrations do not imply that these are the only or best way that content understandings can be addressed. Many standards are followed by an example of student learning.

Grades PreK-4 Learning Standards and Examples of Student Learning

Properties of Matter

  • Identify the observable properties of objects such as size, weight, shape, and color. For example, in their explorations students use the properties of various objects to describe, group, or classify them.
  • Give evidence that objects are made up of different materials. Show that properties are useful in describing, grouping and classifying materials. For example, students use properties such as color, texture, magnetic characteristics, and different behaviors when heated or cooled in order to compare and measure the attributes of these materials.
  • Represent an understanding that materials can exist in different states, including solid, liquid, and gaseous, and identify different characteristic properties of materials in each state.
  • Show and describe how change in a material may either be physical, such as changes in state or appearance, or chemical, such as changes in composition. Students show ways in which some properties of a material may change and others stay the same when a material experiences some external change.

Position and Motion of Objects

  • Describe the motion of an object in terms of change in position relative to another object or the background.
  • Experience and describe how an object's motion can be changed through the action of a push or pull on the object.
  • Demonstrate that sound is produced by vibrating objects. Students investigate ways of altering properties of sound such as pitch and loudness by changing the characteristics of its source.

Forms of Energy: Light, Heat, Electricity, and Magnetism

  • Represent an understanding that the Sun supplies heat and light to the Earth.
  • Manipulate a variety of objects in a beam of light in order to explore conditions in which different objects cast shadows, bend, or transmit light.
  • Demonstrate that things that give off light may also give off heat. For example, students explore and describe ways in which heat is produced by mechanical and elctrical machines, and friction.
  • Investigate situations in which changes in matter also give off energy as light, heat (or sound). For example, students experience the sound produced by a vibrating object. They describe the cause and effect relationship between a sound and the vibration of its source.
  • Use qualitative or quantitative measurement to investigate the concept that warmer things put with cooler ones lose heat, and the cool ones gain heat until they are all at the same temperature.
  • Explore and describe how heat travels more quickly through some materials than others.
  • Provide evidence that a magnet pulls on all things made of iron and either pushes or pulls on other magnets. Students discover how magnetism operates over short distances, and how a magnet's pull diminishes rapidly as it moves away from an iron object.
  • Demonstrate how materials that have been electrically charged may either push or pull other charged materials.
  • Investigate and describe how light, sound, heat, and sparks can be produced in electrical circuits using batteries as an energy source.

Learning Looks Like This . . .

Let it Melt

A first grade teacher has noticed that many of her children newly arrived from Santo Domingo are fascinated by this winter's first snow. When two boys bring in their snowballs after lunch recess, she seizes the opportunity to involve them in an informal experiment regarding changes of state. To help organize their thinking she asks them "What do you think will happen if you leave this snowball indoors?" and then "Why do you think that will happen?"

After the boys have told her their ideas, she asks them to help discover what will happen. They place their snowballs in jars, and then mark off the height of their solid snow on the jar's edge with a black marker. She then asks the boys to imagine the snowballs in their melted state, and indicate with a red marker the height on the jar where they each think the melted snow would be. One boy places a mark higher on the jar's edge, the other marks the same height as the snowball. She hopes for an interesting discussion tomorrow when the boys will be able to observe the melted snow in the jars, and think about whether their hunches were borne out and why. She also expects that refreezing the melted snow in the school freezer the next night will stimulate some interesting discussions about the differences between snow and ice.

Grades 5-8 Learning Standards & Examples of Student Learning

Properties of Matter

  • Identify properties that allow materials to be distinguished from one another and often make them well suited to specific purposes. For example, compare and measure different materials in terms of their characteristic properties such as density, texture, color.
  • Identify and classify elements and compounds with similar properties, such as metals, metalloids and non-metals; acids and bases; combustibles and non-combustibles.
  • Present evidence that a chemical change involves the transformation of one or more
  • substances into new substances with different characteristic properties. Give examples that such changes are usually accompanied by the release of or absorption of various types of energy, especially radiant energy such as heat or light.
  • Explore and describe that the mass of a closed system is conserved. For example, if a wet nail is put in a jar and the lid closed, the nail will rust (oxidize) and increase in mass but the total mass in the contents of the jar will not.
  • Measure and predict changes in the pressure, temperature, or volume of a gas sample when changes occur in either of the other two properties.

Particulate Model of Matter

  • Describe a particulate model for matter that accounts for the observed properties ofsubstances.
  • Recognize and explain how experimental evidence supports the idea that matter can be viewed as composed of very small particles (such as atoms, molecules and ions), which are in constant motion. Illustrate understanding that particles in solids are close together and not moved about easily; particles in liquids are about as close together and move about more easily; and particles in gases are quite far apart and move about freely.
  • Provide evidence that shows how the conservation of mass is consistent with the particulate model that describes changes in substances as the result of the rearrangement of the component particles.

Motions and Changes in Motion

  • Show and describe how forces acting on objects as pushes or pulls can either reinforce or oppose each other.
  • Demonstrate that all forces have magnitude and direction. Create situations to model how forces acting in the same direction reinforce each other and forces acting in different directions may detract or cancel each other.
  • Describe and represent an object's motion graphically in terms of direction, speed, velocity, and/or position versus time. Also describe these quantities verbally and mathematically.

Transformations of Energy

  • Represent an understanding that energy cannot be created or destroyed but exists in different interchangeable forms, such as light, heat, chemical, electrical, and mechanical.
  • Present evidence that heat energy moves in predictable ways, flowing from warmer objects to cooler ones until both objects are at the same temperature. Predict and use tools to measure this movement.
  • Illustrate an understanding that energy comes to the Earth as electromagnetic radiation in a range of wavelengths, such as light, infrared, ultraviolet, microwaves, and radio waves. Explain ways in which the amount of each type of radiation reaching the surface of the Earth depends on the absorption properties of the atmosphere.
  • Investigate and describe an understanding of visible electromagnetic radiation, which we generally call light, with reference to qualities such as color and brightness. Illustrate understanding that light has direction associated with it, and can be absorbed, scattered, reflected or transmitted by intervening matter. Demonstrate and explain refraction as the process by which light's direction can be changed by passing from one medium to another.
  • Explain ways that energy can be changed from one form to another. For example, heat and light are involved in physical or chemical changes and at times may be accompanied by sound.
  • Demonstrate principles of electrical circuits. Use wires, batteries, bulbs and instrumentation to measure and analyze electrical energy resistance, current and power. Use electric currents to produce electromagnetic coils of wire, and, conversely, use a moving magnet to generate a current in a circuit.

Learning Looks Like This . . .

How Loud is Loud?

In a sixth grade classroom, students' interest in noise and sound levels was sparked by the comments of a hearing-impaired classmate. Students wanted to know where the transmission of vibrations stopped in the ear and in what ways this prevented her from hearing. They also had many questions about perceived loudness levels, and why, for example, their favorite music was considered loud by their parents but seemed fine to them.

Ms. Collins, their teacher, guided their inquiry by first helping them to generate a list of everyday sounds in their lives, and to consider which they thought of as loud. They explored the decibel levels in the locker room, the school lunchroom, the study hall, and noted the differences in materials, e.g. how the metal lockers and linoleum floors of the gym space contrasted to the carpeted floors and padded chairs of the library. Soon the question of how sound is transmitted became important. They discovered that sound travels through solids, and through the air, and were sent home with the challenge of testing whether sound travels through water. Ms. Collins devised a way for students to see how the transmission of vibrations resulted in sound. She set up a slinky attached from one chair to another across the classroom and requested students tap it, noticing the way in which the vibration traveled transversely, without the coil of the slinky substantially changing position. Ms. Collins helped her students pursue their questions concerning why a decibel level is considered loud by some people, and not loud by others. Students interviewed their parents concerning their perceptions of loudness levels at home, and began to organize their results and generate new questions.

Grades 9-10 Learning Standards & Examples of Student Learning

Structure of Matter

  • Explore and describe how matter is made up of elements, compounds, and numerous mixtures of these two kinds of substances. Students might design and conduct investigations that explore ways to demonstrate this.
  • Demonstrate through the use of manipulatives that atoms interact with one another by transferring or sharing electrons that are furthest from the nucleus.
  • Represent an understanding that compounds form when atoms of two or more elements bond. Give examples that chemical bonds form when atoms share or transfer electrons.
  • Group elements and compounds into classes, based on similarities in their structures and resulting properties.
  • Describe an understanding that nuclear changes often result in the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation and particles, and present evidence on ways that this has physical repercussions on other materials.
  • Illustrate an understanding that energy is released in certain nuclear reactions and chemical reactions can be controlled and put to use, or released suddenly and destructively in explosions, fire, or high-energy chemical events. Provide examples of situations in which this has occurred in recent history.

Interaction of Substances (Chemical/Physical Changes)

  • Present evidence that solubility of substances may vary with temperature and with the natures of the solute and the solvent. Plan and conduct investigations in which the temperature, solute or solvent is varied while the other variables are kept constant.
  • Suggest how balanced electrical forces between the charges of the protons and electrons are responsible for the stability of substances. Students might design an investigation to show how chemical interactions or physical changes occur when these forces are altered.
  • Explain chemical changes in terms of rearrangements of atoms or molecules, which are made possible by the breaking and forming of chemical bonds.
  • Summarize chemical reactions by symbolic or word equations that specify the reactants and products involved.
  • Illustrate ways in which the periodic table is useful in predicting the chemical and physical properties of known elements and those yet to be discovered.
Forces and Motion
  • Demonstrate that all forces are vector quantities, having both magnitude and direction. Explore ways in which forces acting in the same direction reinforce each other. Also explore ways in which forces acting in different directions may detract from or cancel each other.
  • Represent an understanding that if an object exerts a force on a second object, then the second object exerts an equal and opposite force on the first object.
  • Describe and represent changes in motion or momentum in terms of being caused by forces. Students might set up demonstrations that show the result of forces on motion, e.g. gravity, friction or electrical.

Conservation and Transmission of Energy

  • Explore and explain how the total amount of mass and energy remains constant in any closed system. Present evidence to show that Earth is a nearly closed system with respect to matter, but not to energy. Describe the implications of this idea for life and earth sciences. Be aware of inputs of matter.
  • Describe the nature of waves, such as electromagnetic waves or sound waves, in terms of wave length, amplitude, frequency, and characteristic speed. Present evidence that waves can be used to transmit signals or energy without the transport of matter.
  • Design and conduct an investigation that explores how electromagnetic waves, unlike sound waves, can be transmitted through a vacuum.
  • Demonstrate that the same concepts of energy, matter and their interaction apply both to biological and physical systems on Earth and in the observable Universe.

Learning Looks Like This . . .

Modeling Scientists

Science projects can give students a taste of what scientists do each day and provide them with lifelong learning skills. Mr. Ryan of Medford High School and the Massachusetts State Science Fair writes about how doing a science fair project is integrated with the regular curriculum, therefore the concepts and skills learned in class can be applied to student projects.

One of the hardest things for students to decide upon is a question or topic. I tell them they need only to look around and ask "why" or "how" about the world in which we live. These questions are the starting points for science explorations. Rather than leading to a definite end, these often yield more unanswered questions. What is important is that students model real scientists as they probe the unknown and discover bits and pieces along the way. At the high school level, students are ready to do science projects that are truly experimental. Whatever phenomena they choose to investigate,I expect them to follow the strategies and procedures used by scientists. To help my students develop a scientific way knowing, I expect my students to:

  1. Keep a journal, detailing their thoughts and activities, i.e., library research, discussions with others, notes about making or collecting the necessary materials and apparatus, and records of data from their experimental trials.
  2. Write accurate and concise lab reports during the course of their work, and organize and write a full project report at the end of the year. The report often includes data tables or graphs that accurately and concisely communicate the desired information. Communicating findings and their meaning in written form is important scientific work.
  3. Present their findings in a mini-science fair. Like real scientists at a convention, my students display their findings and talk to other students in class about what they learned.

Some examples of projects have included: "How do different soaps and detergents compare with regard to emulsifying fats and oils?" and "What are the different geometric shapes that various substances grow in?"

Learning Looks Like This . . .

Olympics, Fairs, and Olympiads

An effective strategy for engaging many students in the study of science is through playful, challenging, and technologically competitive projects. As a balance to the rigorous nature of science competitions, these can be organized through in-class mechanisms such as lab periods, after school or assembly type competitions, or through outside organized interscholastic events such as Physics Olympics and Science Olympiads.

For example, in a recent Physics Olympic competition, students were challenged to position a laser in front of a semi-circular cell filled with a fluid (water, glycerin, etc.) so that the refracted ray will intersect a point on the wall 2-3 meters away. The actual target is determined by drawing a card just prior to the challenge. Students are given a semi-circular cell filled with an unknown liquid, pins, polar graph paper, and a light source. They must find the index of refraction for the liquid, and based on their data, orient the laser to refract a ray that will intersect the target.

Teachers' experiences with Physics Olympics have proven time and again that when exploration, collaboration and engineering design projects are combined with fun, not only do students develop motivation to work on science overtime, but it tends to draw out diverse groups which might be more inhibited in a normal classroom setting. Girls and boys are eager to participate. Hands-on, do-it-yourself types are likely to team up with a mathematical theoretician, sensing that their diverse skills will produce a more rounded and successful team.

Grades 11-12 Learning Standards & Examples of Student Learning

Structure of Matter

  • Represent an understanding that an atom consists of a positively-charged nucleus (composed of protons and neutrons) surrounded by one or more negatively-charged electrons. Create and use models to study the structure of atoms.
  • Illustrate an understanding that atoms of the same element have the same number of protons and electrons but may exist in forms (isotopes) that differ in the number of neutrons.
  • Predict the properties of a compound using knowledge about the structure of its smallest units (either molecules or ionic crystals).
  • Represent pure substances by using formulas or three dimensional models that show the number, types and/or relative position of atoms that make up the substance.
  • Illustrate an understanding that forces among particles in a nucleus are extremely strong and act at very small distances. Identify specific examples of how large quantities of energy are associated with nuclear changes.

Interaction of Substances (Chemical/Physical Changes)

  • Investigate situations in which physical and chemical changes do not proceed to completion, but reach a state of equilibrium with the rate of change in one direction being equal to the rate of change back in the other direction.
  • Classify chemical reactions into general types based on the nature of the reactants and changes involved such as acid/base, oxidation-reduction, precipitation, polymerization.
  • Collect and present evidence demonstrating that the rate of reaction can be increased by adding a suitable catalyst. Present evidence that the rate is also affected by changes in temperature, and by surface area, or concentration of the reactants. Describe the implications of these three points for living systems.
  • Explore and illustrate an understanding that the amount of energy involved in changes of state of molecular liquids and solids is determined by the type of attractive forces between the molecules.
  • Investigate and describe an understanding that the amount of energy involved in chemical changes is determined by the differences in stability of the bonds within the molecules.

Forces and Motion

  • Explore and illustrate situations that show how the position and motion of an object are judged relative to a particular frame of reference. Examine evidence that an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by some outside force. Also examine evidence that an object in uniform motion remains in this state of motion with constant momentum unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
  • Illustrate and describe an understanding that motion can take place in two or three dimensions. Describe an object's motion in terms of velocity or acceleration, and represent motion in various ways, including distance-time, and speed-time graphs, as well as by mathematical equations, and vectors.
  • Explore and describe an understanding that acceleration is the rate of change of velocity, where the change may be in magnitude or direction. Students might represent the relationship of force, acceleration and mass using physical, conceptual, and mathematical models.
  • Demonstrate an understanding that constant motion in a circle requires a force to maintain it, because velocity is constantly changing.

Conservation and Transmission of Energy

  • Investigate and describe the idea that the total quantity of energy in a closed system remains constant in any chemical or physical change, although its usefulness to prompt further change is reduced through each process as randomness increases. Describe the consequences of this for living systems.
  • Conduct investigations to gain evidence that interactions of matter with electromagnetic radiation, electricity, or heat can produce useful evidence regarding the structure and composition of matter.
  • Design and conduct investigations which illustrate that the loss or gain of heat energy by a sample of matter is related to a temperature change, which depends on the sample's mass, the nature of its material, and the environment in which it is placed.

Learning Looks Like This . . .

Physics in Action

Students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School can take a course in their junior or senior years that applies physical science knowledge to technology through study of the construction of equipment designed for science experiments and projects. The focus is on measurement, motion in one and two dimensions, navigation by map and compass, simple machines, buildings and structures, force, work and energy. Students learn fundamental principles of physics and mechanical engineering. This course is titled Physics and Engineering: Craft of Science, and it is offered by the Rindge School of Technical Arts for the Industrial Technology and Engineering Pathway, and is open to upperclass students.

Last Updated: January 1, 1996
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