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Archived Information

Science & Technology Curriculum Framework
Owning The Questions

Strand 2: Domains Of Science

Earth and Space Sciences

The earth and space sciences study the origin, structure, and physical phenomena of the Earth and the Universe; they include geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy. As they study the earth and space sciences, students learn about the properties of geological materials, the nature and interaction of oceans and atmosphere, earth processes including plate tectonics, changes in the earth's topography over time, and the place of the Earth in the Universe.

Earth and Space Science Learning Standards for grades PreK through four fall under the headings of: Properties and changes of Earth's materials and Objects in the sky. Young children come to school aware that the Earth is composed of rocks, soils, water, and living organisms. Early earth science experiences should help them to compare, contrast, and describe these earthly materials and show them the utility of classifying materials according to their properties. Early space science learning will help them to recognize visible objects in the night sky and lead them to think about the characteristic movements of heavenly bodies. Embedding these observations and ideas in a broad exploration of the children's world will help them to see how living organisms (Life Sciences) as well as energy and matter (Physical Sciences) relate to the study of Earth and the Universe.

The Earth and Space Sciences Learning Standards for grades five through eight focus on the categories of: Interactions and Cycles in the Earth System, Earth's History, and Earth and Space. As students continue to investigate geological materials, their work becomes more quantitative. Attention also shifts from the properties of particular objects to an understanding of the interaction of geology, astronomy, oceanography and meteorology. Changes in the topography and composition of the earth's crust through time are considered. Students' explorations of Earth's position in space now include the factor of gravity and its effect on the motion of planets, satellites, and other bodies in space.

The Earth and Space Sciences Learning Standards for grades nine and ten fall into the following categories: Matter and Energy in the Earth System, Evolution of the Universe, and Geochemical Processes and Cycles in the Earth System. Students continue their studies to now include the Universe. As they review geological, meteorological, oceanographic and astronomical data, they learn about direct and indirect evidence and consider how these might be used to test competing theories about the origin of stars and planets, including our own solar system. Through increasingly sophisticated investigations and measurements, students also learn about various geological processes, including plate tectonics, wind formation, the flow of water through the local watershed, and changes in the Earth over time.

Earth and space science learning standards in grades eleven and twelve fall under headings similar to those for grades nine and ten. Earth and Space science study in grades eleven and twelve builds upon, extends, and applies the knowledge developed in earlier years. At this level, students develop understanding and expertise by relating classroom learning in the earth and space sciences to community and/or worksite experience or by studying key topics in earth and space science in depth.

Students in the upper grades should have the opportunity to choose from a variety of earth and space 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 Earth and Space Science; Advanced Topics in Applying Principles of Technology/Earth Science Seminar; Ecology; Environmental Engineering and Technology; Internship at an environmental protection agency; Oceanography; Space Sciences Technology Seminar.

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 and Changes of Earth's Materials

  • Illustrate that the Earth's surface is composed of water, rocks, soils, and living organisms.
  • Observe and describe that change is something that happens to earth materials. Investigate conditions in which water can be a liquid, a solid, or a gas.
  • Illustrate that some events in nature have a repeating pattern. The weather changes some from day to day, but things such as temperature and precipitation show annual rhythms particular to a geographical area.
  • Observe and show that air has properties that can be identified and measured, such as wind speed and direction, temperature, moisture, the occurrence of clouds, and the fall of precipitation. Know that together these properties and events for a particular place and time is called the weather.
  • Explore and demonstrate that rocks are made of minerals. Examine evidence that different types of minerals have different physical properties, such as hardness, color, and texture. Use established methods for identifying common minerals.
  • Observe and illustrate that rocks come in many sizes and shapes, from boulders to grains of sand and even smaller.
  • Show evidence that water flows downhill in streams and rivers, or accumulates in lakes and puddles and seeps into the ground.
  • Examine and describe ways in which fossils provide evidence of Earth's history, and show how plants, animals and environments have changed over time.
  • Illustrate that the interior of the Earth is hot. Heat flow and movement of material within the Earth moves the continents, causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and creates mountains and ocean basins.

Objects in the Sky

  • Examine and illustrate that the earth is one of several planets that orbit the Sun, and that the Moon orbits around the earth.
  • Describe ways in which the Sun, Moon, planets, meteors, clouds and other objects in the sky can be identified by properties such as size, shape, color, brightness, and movement.
  • Represent understanding that the Sun provides light and heat.
  • Observe and explain why the Sun can be seen only in the daytime, but the Moon can be seen sometimes at night and sometimes during the day. Know that because the earth rotates, the Sun, Moon, and stars all appear to move slowly across the sky.
  • Observe and illustrate why the Moon looks a little different every day, but looks the same again about every four weeks.

Learning Looks Like This . . .

Pumpkin Decay: A Study of Change

Learners are always struck by how the simplest of things, when they pause to actually observe, think about, and discuss them, can convey some of the most important meanings in the world. Take a decaying pumpkin, a stock item in every elementary school classroom, around the first week of November. What if it remained on that science display table until May? What would change about it? Its color? its shape? its smell? its texture? What could a group of kindergarten students learn about the process of change by observing their tired old pumpkin specimen for several months as it languished in their classroom?

Children have lots of hunches about what would change, but are less clear about what impedes or speeds the process of decay. One experimentally oriented class put its pumpkin outdoors on the classroom porch until spring, and lo and behold, it freeze dried! The most surprising result for most is that the smell, which mid-way in the six "month" long experiment is a cause for much annoyance, ends up closely resembling the earth! What better (and simpler) way to study an important process.

Grades 5-8 Learning Standards and Examples of Student Learning

Interactions and Cycles in the Earth System

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the internal and external structure of the planet earth. Students might create models or diagrams that represent this structure.
  • Explore and illustrate an understanding that heat flow and movement of material within the earth moves the continents, causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and creates mountains and ocean basins.
  • Evaluate conditions under which sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks form.
  • Identify ways in which soil is formed by the weathering of rock and the decomposition of dead plants and animal debris. Give examples of how soil is essential for the survival of most life on land, and is the connection between many of the living and non-living constituents of the Earth System.
  • Give evidence that water in the Earth System exists naturally in all three states and water continuously circulates through the earth's crust, oceans and air, e.g. water cycle. Provide examples illustrating that water plays important roles in regulating Earth's climate and shaping Earth's crust.
  • Demonstrate an understanding that, like all planets and stars, the Earth is approximately spherical in shape. Use models to demonstrate how the rotation of the earth on its axis every 24 hours produces the night-and-day cycle.
  • Present evidence that Earth's oceans are a reservoir of nutrients, minerals, dissolved gases, and life forms which are the major source of water vapor for the atmosphere, and that the store of heat transported by ocean currents greatly affects Earth's climate.
  • Observe and describe evidence that local climate changes over periods of years or decades, while global climate changes much more slowly. Give examples illustrating that climate changes over Earth's history have profoundly affected the evolution of life forms, and their present distribution.
  • Examine and demonstrate evidence that weather can be studied in terms of properties of the atmosphere such as pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, precipitation, and amount and type of clouds. Classify clouds by their composition, height, and type of precipitation.
  • Explain that clouds reflect much of the sunlight intercepted by Earth, while at the same time returning to Earth's surface a large fraction of the far infrared energy emitted from the surface. Describe ways in which these two effects are important elements in determining Earth's global climate.
  • Examine and demonstrate evidence that the atmosphere and the oceans have a limited capacity to recycle materials naturally.
  • Explore and describe that rain or snow falls and moves by gravity from higher to lower areas both on the surface and on the ground and that the natural flow region is called the watershed. Use maps to look at topography of nearby towns and make a model of the hills and valleys that make up the local watershed.
  • Investigate and illustrate ways in which human activities, such as reducing the amount of forest cover, increasing the amount and variety of chemicals released into the atmosphere, and intensive farming, have changed the Earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere.

Earth's History

  • Examine evidence and illustrate that the movement of the continents have had significant effects on the distribution of living things.
  • Examine and describe ways in which rocks, fossils, ice cores and tree rings record events of Earth's history, documenting plate movements, volcanic eruptions, cycles of erosion and deposition, and the evolution of life. Examine ways in which the types, number and distributions of fossils provides information about how life and environmental conditions have changed over time.

Earth and Space

  • Observe and demonstrate that the patterns of stars in the sky stay the same, although they appear to move across the sky nightly, and different stars can be seen in different seasons.
  • Explore and explain that telescopes magnify the appearance of some distant objects in the sky, including the Moon and the planets. Compare the number of stars that can be seen through telescopes to the number that can be seen by the unaided eye.
  • Observe and illustrate that planets change their positions against the background of stars.
  • Recognize and describe that the Solar System contains the central Sun, the known planets, their moons, and many asteroids, meteors, and comets that orbit the Sun. Describe ways in which the planets differ in size, temperature, composition, surface features, and number of rings and moons. Use this information to determine those conditions that make the Earth the only planet suitable for life.
  • Demonstate evidence that the Sun is a medium-sized star located near the edge of a disk-shaped galaxy of stars, part of which can be seen as a glowing band of light that spans the sky on a very clear night.
  • Illustrate that the Universe contains many billions of galaxies, and each galaxy contains many billions of stars.
  • Observe and explain that Earth has a natural satellite, the Moon, that circles the planet approximately every 29 days. Use models to describe how the motion of the Moon about Earth and the location of the Sun relative to Earth and its Moon are responsible for the regularly occurring patterns of Moon phases, eclipses and tides.
  • Give evidence that gravity is a force that produces an attraction between matter. Gravity pulls on or anywhere near the Earth toward the Earth's center and acts across space to hold the Moon in its orbit around Earth and the planets in their orbits around the Sun.
  • Illustrate that the Sun produces energy and is the major source of heat and light for Earth. Examine evidence that energy received from the Sun as heat and light drives many processes on Earth's surface and in its atmosphere.

Learning Looks Like This . . .

A Rendezvous with Halley's Comet

The Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center at Framingham State College is the site of the Challenger Learning Center, one of twenty-five teaching space centers set up as a memorial to the astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster in 1986. This wonderful earth and space science resource welcomes school groups from Grades 5 through 8.

When the bus carrying Mrs. M.'s sixth graders arrived at the Center, both students and teachers had high expectations. The curriculum theme for the 1994-1995 school year was "Rendezvous with Comet Halley" and the visitors had come prepared for their mission. The teachers had already attended workshops where they explored the curriculum materials, and the students had engaged in classroom activities where they learned about space travel, solar orbits, and the composition and temperature of comets.

One of the strengths of this curriculum is its use of instructional strategies that integrate technology with science content. Another strength is a strong emphasis on problem-solving. Both appealed strongly to these practical-minded sixth graders.

The goal of the mission, future dated 2061, was to navigate a space station to rendezvous with Halley's Comet and to launch a probe into the comet's tail. To accomplish the mission, students were organized as a crew divided into teams, each with its own task: Data (DATA), Medical Control (MED); Life Support (LS), Probe (PROBE), Isolation (ISO), Remote (REM), Communication (COM), and Navigation (NAV).

Students split their time between the Mission Control and the Space Station, and each student was responsible both to his team and to the mission. The mission required a formal communications protocol between ground control and the ship, which the students soon mastered and monitored on their own. From time to time, problems would arise which the teams were expected to solve with or without the help of the Center facilitators. When the ISO team sent data that was interpreted by Mission Control to be hazardous to the astronauts, Mission Control worked the problem and presented a solution. Throughout the day, students stayed engaged and enthusiastic. It was cooperative learning at its best!

At the end of the day, many of the students were reluctant to leave outer space for the bus. Perhaps a few of them left with new expectations and aspirations.

Grades 9-10 Learning Standards and Examples of Student Learning

Matter and Energy in the Earth System

  • Demonstrate an understanding that two fundamental forces acting in the Earth System are gravity and electromagnetism. Examine evidence that gravitational force acts between masses and is responsible for changes in the motion of objects on Earth and throughout the universe. Know that electromagnetic force holds matter together; recognize that the Earth itself acts like a magnet.

The Evolution of the Universe

  • Give evidence that the universe is estimated to be over ten billion years old, and know some of the evidence for this estimate.
  • Examine and describe evidence that led to the theory that the Solar System was formed from a cloud of gas and dust that condensed under the influences of gravity and rotation. Most of the mass of the cloud condensed to form the Sun at the cloud's center. The differences among the planets, moons, and other objects in terms of chemical composition and physical state were determined by the distances from the center of the cloud at which they condensed.
  • Observe and illustrate that life is adapted to conditions on the Earth, including the force of gravity that enables the planet to retain an adequate atmosphere, and an intensity of radiation from the Sun that allows water to cycle between liquid and vapor.
  • Examine and give evidence that life has changed the planet in dramatic ways. Photosynthesis has vastly increased the proportion of free oxygen in the atmosphere, and biological changes in the chemical composition of air and water hasten and shape the weathering of rock. Vegetation significantly affects the processes that change the landscape, and other life forms also make important contributions to changes in the face of the earth.
  • Examine and describe evidence that the Milky Way is but one galaxy in a vast, ancient, and expanding universe, which contains a tremendous number of galactic clusters. Convey understanding that most of the Universe appears to be empty space, but that more and more kinds of materials are being discovered in interstellar space.

Geochemical Processes and Cycles in the Earth System

  • Examine and describe evidence that rocks are continuously being modified by processes such as weathering, erosion, deposition, compaction, cementation, melting, heating (without melting), pressure, and crystallization. Describe ways in which sequences of these processes, collectively referred to as the rock cycle, occur continuously as materials move on or through Earth's upper crust.
  • Examine models and illustrate that global wind patterns within the atmosphere are determined by the unequal heating between the equator and poles, Earth's rotation, and the distribution of land and ocean. Consequently, weather in northern and southern mid-latitudes tends to move eastward while in the tropics it moves westward. Illustrate understanding that atmospheric winds transport heat poleward from the warm tropics, helping to maintain Earth's climate.
  • Relate and demonstrate an understanding that the solid crust of the Earth -- including both the continents and the ocean basins -- consists of separate plates that ride on a denser, hot, gradually deformable layer of the Earth. The crust sections move very slowly, pressing against one another in some places, pulling apart in other places. Ocean-floor plates may slide under continental plates. The surface layers of these plates may fold, forming mountain ranges. Describe the ways that the interconnection of Earth's layers by transfer of heat and material results in the movement of the crustal plates.
  • Investigate and illustrate the theory that land forms of various shapes and sizes result from both constructive and destructive processes. Volcanic eruptions, sediment deposition, tectonic uplift, and other processes serve to build up land forms, and weathering and erosion wear them down. Topographic maps help to portray a variety of land forms and document change over time. Investigate ways in which rocks undergo changes from both physical weathering (e.g., abrasion, frost wedging) and chemical weathering (e.g., oxidation, solution, hydrolysis) to produce sediment and soils. Examine reasons why climate controls of these processes dominates.
  • Examine and describe evidence that the "solid" Earth has a layered structure, with each layer having characteristic composition and physical properties. A solid inner core is surrounded by a liquid outer core, which in turn is surrounded by a large zone of dense mantle material. The crust is relatively thin compared to the other layers of Earth's interior. Examine ways in which the layers are interconnected by the transfer of heat and material by conduction and convection.

Grades 11-12 Learning Standards and Examples of Student Learning

Matter and Energy in the Earth System

  • Present evidence that energy is transferred through the Earth System by three mechanisms: radiation, conduction, and convection. Examine evidence that Earth receives energy from the Sun in the form of ultraviolet, visible light, near and far infrared radiation, and radio waves. This radiation has several fates, especially reflection and absorption; after absorption there is re-radiation but a tiny percent is captured by the biosphere.
  • Examine and illustrate ways that conduction is responsible for the transfer of earthquake waves through Earth's interior, and of energy and materials between Earth's surface and atmosphere. Examine ways that convection moves energy through the Earth System in the form of winds, ocean currents, and movements inside Earth's mantle and crust.

The Evolution of the Earth System

  • Investigate and describe ways in which increasingly sophisticated technology is used to learn about the universe. Such technology includes visual, radio and x-ray telescopes, computers, space probes, and accelerators which give subatomic particles energies that simulate conditions in the stars and in the early history of the universe before stars formed.
  • Examine and show evidence that stars vary in size, composition, mass, surface temperature and luminosity. Observe that the light received from a star contains information from which these quantities can be estimated. Know that this has made it possible to determine the source of energy within stars and to construct models for how stars evolve. Examine the ways in which current understanding of the evolution of stars suggests that for most of their lifetimes, most stars gradually change in size, surface temperature, and luminosity as they consume their nuclear fuel.

Earth in the Universe

  • Examine and construct models to observe ways in which Earth's global climate is determined by the planet's distance from the Sun, the tilt of its spin axis with respect to the plane of Earth's orbit, the length of the planet's day compared to the length of its year, the composition of its atmosphere and oceans, and the properties of its surface. Describe how the seasons are due to the tilt of Earth's spin axis with respect to the plane of its orbit around the Sun. This causes unequal heating of Earth's surface by the Sun's energy, varying with latitude and with time of year.

Geochemical Processes and Cycles in the Earth System

  • Describe how the global climate varies on several time scales in part due to the changing energy received from the Sun. The energy output of the Sun has varied slightly over periods of hundreds to thousands of years. Additionally, on time scales of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years, the intensity and distribution of the energy received by the planet has varied as a consequence of Earth's continually changing orbit.
  • Relate understanding that over a period of a few days, water vapor rises from Earth's surface into the atmosphere. Winds carry the vapor poleward where it condenses to form clouds and precipitation, releasing the energy initially used to evaporate the water. Over several weeks water flows down a river to the sea. Over many years water flows through underground aquifers.
  • Investigate and illustrate ways in which carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, and other elements are continuously cycled through the Earth System. These cycles involve both the global distribution of these elements and their compounds among various reservoirs, and the rate at which these substances transfer between reservoirs through chemical reactions. Investigate ways that the biosphere is an important component of many of these cycles.

Learning Looks Like This . . .

Environmental Engineering and Technology

Students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School can take a course in the junior or senior years that applies their earth and space, physical and life science knowledge to study their immediate environment. Students design, test and build boats, sails and oars with the help of a classroom-designed and constructed wave tank. Students use topographic, geologic, and soil maps as a basis for developing orientation and surveying skills, constructing three-dimensional models, delineating watersheds, performing hydrological studies, and exploring the history of surface geology in Cambridge and its immediate surroundings. Students classify and collect basic wetland soils, plant, and animal forms through explorations by foot on Cambridge's wetlands and by boat on its water bodies. This course is titled Environmental Engineering and Technology, and it is offered by the Rindge School of Technical Arts, for the Industrial Technology and Engineering Pathway.



Last Updated: January 1, 1996
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