Science & Engineering

In grades K-5, students actively engage in the practices of scientists and engineers while studying fundamental concepts in three science strands:  life, physical, and earth and space.  Each year students build on their previous years’ studies to deepen their understanding of essential science concepts, and apply their knowledge to design solutions for engineering problems. This integration of science and engineering practice with content reflects how scientists and engineers work in the real world, and provides deeper, more meaningful experiences for our young learners.

Kindergarten Units of Study

Exploring My Weather

Students use their senses and the tools of meteorologists to explore temperature, precipitation, wind, and cloud cover. Through their observations and investigations, students develop weather vocabulary as they explore how water changes between its forms and how weather affects humans and other animals. Students engage in engineering activities to design roofs and hats to protect against weather. They conclude by discussing seasonal changes and the importance of weather forecasting.

Exploring Forces & Motion

From pushing open the school door, to kicking a ball across the field, to riding a bike, forces are a part of our daily lives. In this physical science unit, students investigate how pushes and pulls are responsible for the motion of objects. They model the effects of applying forces of different strengths and in different directions while exploring what happens when objects collide or connect, the effects of slope, and what happens to an object when subjected to equal and unequal forces from different directions. Through creative writing, creative dramatics, and play, students begin to develop emerging ideas about fundamental physics concepts.

Exploring Living Things: Comparing Plants and Animals

In Kindergarten Life Science, students explore the needs and life cycles of plants and animals. Through planting seeds and building animal habitats, students investigate what living things need to survive and grow. As they witness firsthand the life cycles of living things, students use personal observations to describe patterns in the natural world. Kindergarten scientists compare and contrast different types of living things, create scientific drawings of real plants and animals, and learn to utilize descriptive language to communicate their observations and ideas with others.

First Grade Units of Study

Seasonal Patterns of Change

Building on their Kindergarten experiences observing and describing daily weather, First Grade scientists use their senses and tools to study seasonal changes throughout the year. They learn how to make careful observations and collect data in order to identify patterns in the natural world. Through repeated outdoor explorations, and with careful analysis of the data they collect, students recognize we experience four distinct seasons and all life around us is impacted by seasonal changes we can observe. Students begin to make predictions based on evidence they have collected and develop their ability to share their thinking with others.

Light and Sound: Puppet Theater Engineers

Students become light and sound engineers as they take on the challenge of designing, building, and creating a puppet show. After investigating light sources and how light interacts with different materials, students go on to learn that sound travels from a source and vibrations cause sound. Students apply their new understanding of light and sound to develop and engineer a shadow puppet play, using patterns of light and sound sources to create the effects they want. As they progress through the unit, students engage in multiple engineering design cycles in which they plan, make and test solutions to their shadow puppet play design challenge.

Exploring Relationships: Plants, Animals and their Offspring

Building on their Kindergarten studies, first grade students explore, observe, describe and discover structures of plants and animals. Students continue exploring the life cycle of plants by growing plants in a variety of ways, learning not all new plants must start from seeds. Students learn what plants and animals need to survive and use information from first-hand observations to identify similarities and differences among individual plants or animals of the same kind. As they begin looking at animal behaviors and habitats, students investigate the relationship between animal parents and their offspring and the activities animals engage in to help ensure survival.

Second Grade Units of Study

Exploring Habitats: Meeting Needs Where you Live

Students’ exploration of habitats deepens in second grade as our young scientists investigate how plants and animals depend on their surroundings and other living things for survival. Through matching plants and animals with various habitats, students learn plants and animals have structures and behaviors that help them live in their habitat. After discussing the needs of living things, they identify how habitats provide for these needs.  Second grade scientists then apply this knowledge to two particular habitats: the Wellesley woodlands and the tide pool.  Through hands-on experiences with organisms that live in the local wood and studies of tide pool organisms, students discover how various local and marine animals are adapted to their environment and meet their needs where they live. 

Properties of Materials: Investigating Bird Nests

Why do different kinds of birds use certain materials to build their nests? In this unit, students study the phenomena around bird nests. Students revisit and refine a model that represents how to describe different materials and how birds use those materials to build their nests. By the end of the unit, students apply their knowledge of how matter can be described, classified, and suited for different purposes with an advocacy project about endangered birds in Massachusetts.

Water, Wind and Earth’s Landscape

In Second Grade students begin to apply two aspects of weather that can have a dramatic impact on the world around us: the effects of water and wind on shaping the land. In conjunction with their geography studies in social studies, students learn that water is found everywhere on Earth and takes different forms and shapes. They map landforms and bodies of water and observe that flowing water and wind shape these landforms. Students model the effects of wind and water on Earth materials and study the effectiveness of natural and human-made solutions to problems of erosion. Taking this new knowledge, second grade scientists and engineers design, test, and compare the effectiveness of different solutions to slow or prevent water from changing the shape of the land.

Third Grade Units of Study

Exploring Variation:  Diversity and Adaptation in Plants and Animals

In third grade life science, students continue investigating the amazing diversity of living things. As they watch the unfolding life cycle of Painted Lady butterflies, students examine the ways organisms change over time to adapt to their environment. Utilizing the world-renowned Denton Butterfly Collection at the Wellesley Historical Society, students witness firsthand the amazing variety of butterfly colors, patterns, and shapes. Using evidence from direct observation, students construct explanations for how the myriad of variations, from mimicry and disguise to startling color and sacrificial wing design, provide advantages to ensure butterflies’ survival.

Understanding Weather & Climate

Third grade scientists develop and sharpen their skills at obtaining, recording, graphing, and analyzing data in order to understand the world around them. Students build on their Kindergarten and 1st grade studies to review what is weather? and deepen their understanding of the interactions between humans and the natural world. Using graphs and tables, students apply  weather data to understand how “typical” weather conditions vary in different places and at different times in the year, extending their learning by moving beyond our local climate to    research and synthesize information about different climate zones. Students conclude their study by donning their engineering hats to explore human-made solutions to weather related hazards: how can they save the apple orchard from the effects of hail?

Balancing Forces: Investigating Floating Trains

May the force be with you. Building on their kindergarten study of force and motion, Third Grade scientists explore the unseen forces that act on and around them every day. Using a backdrop of developing an explanation of how a floating train works for the citizens of the fictional town of Faraday, students explore ideas about unbalanced and unbalanced forces, gravity, inertia, friction, and magnetism. Students learn to use data tables and force diagrams to make sense of data and, through a variety of firsthand experiences and student-to-student discussions, they grapple with developing a beginning understanding of challenging physical science concepts.

Fourth Grade Units of Study

Exploring Structures: Form and Function in the Natural World

Fourth grade scientists become animal detectives as they explore how the physical structures of organisms help them survive in their environment. Students are challenged to determine the identity of five mystery mammals by studying their skulls, teeth, fur, feet, tracks, and scat. Carefully examining and analyzing the component parts of each animal, students explore how the structure matches its function. As forensic zoologists, students make close observations, collect and analyze data, formulate hypotheses, and by reasoning from the evidence, come to conclusions about the identities of the five mammals. 

Waves, Energy, and Information Transfer

It’s all energy… In fourth grade physical science, students build on their study of sound in first grade and floating trains in third to explore ways energy travels. They begin the unit acting as marine scientists working to figure out how a mother dolphin communicates with her calf across a distance. Students engage in scientific modeling (including physical models, visual representations, and interactive digital simulations) to learn about important characteristics of sound and how it travels through materials. Students then broaden their understanding of patterns of communication by investigating the patterns humans use to communicate across a distance. Using the Code Communicator Tool, an app that allows students to send and receive messages in binary code, students gain understanding of how digital devices send and receive messages – a topic particularly relevant to students’ daily experiences. Having learned that sound is a form of energy that travels in waves, students then go on to explore other forms of energy, how energy can be transferred from one form to another, and look into renewable vs. nonrenewable energy sources.

Earth’s Changing Surface

Fourth grade students expand their understanding of forces that change our Earth’s surface. Building on their second grade investigations of the effects of wind and water on Earth materials, fourth grade scientists are introduced to the scope of geologic time. Using scientific modeling and research, they study changes to the surface of the Earth, from those that change landscapes over long periods of time (weathering, erosion, and deposition and the effects of glaciers), to those that can happen in an instant (landslides, earthquakes and volcanoes). Students apply their understanding of these slow and rapid changes through hands-on experiences, culminating in finding evidence of slow changes as they explore geologic features in Wellesley (the Geology Field Investigation), and evaluating solutions to reduce the impact of natural events (fast changes) as they design and test earthquake resistant buildings.

Fifth Grade Units of Study

Exploring Interdependence: Ecosystems

Culminating their study of our living world, fifth-grade scientists integrate their elementary experiences to explore ecological interdependencies. Students explore the question, How can we, as caretakers of our planet, ensure that Wellesley has healthy ecosystems? Students will learn about ecosystems and how energy flows through a food web, with an investigation of owl pellets and some interactive simulations. From third grade, students apply what they have learned as they study the cycling of water through a watershed model, develop a simple system designed to filter particulates out of water and propose design changes to improve it. In culmination, students will research the impacts of invasive species and how they impact local ecosystems and the watershed.

Modeling Matter: The Chemistry of Food

What is Matter?  Working as food scientists, students are introduced to the idea that all matter is made of of particles too small to see, and that each different substance is made particles (molecules) that are unique. Fifth graders are challenged to solve two problems: how to separate mixtures and how to make unmixable substances mix. Students explore the nature of solids, liquids and gasses; investigate properties of materials; and culminate their study by developing a recipe for salad dressing that has no sediments, does not separate, and tastes good.

Sun & Earth

Fifth grade scientists begin to leave the boundaries of Earth as they explore our place in the universe. Students make observations and construct explanations for why we experience day and night, the reasons for changing shadows over the course of a day, and the causes of changing hours of daylight over the year. As they explore the complex interactions between the Sun and Earth, students consider whether our Sun is any more or less bright than other stars, the effects of gravitational forces, and begin to think how Earth and Sun interactions affect how we see the moon.

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