Lower School Science Program Overview
At Catlin Gabel the science department is organized around one central, essential question:
What’s going on in the world, and how can I find out?
This broad question overlies all that we do, all that we investigate, and through it we hope to cultivate a sense of wonder and inquiry. We strive to engender in your children an engaged curiosity, and we support tenacious creativity.
We continually ask and explore questions like these:
➢ What is science?
➢ How, and why, do you do it?
➢ What is the value of science? To me, my community, the planet?
➢ How do we KNOW this?
➢ How can we PROVE that?
➢ What makes a good scientific question?
➢ How do I answer it?
The Lower School science program is built upon hands-on explorations of basic science concepts using essential skills. Topics taught are developed as part of a dynamic balance between "TPO2K" (or “things people ought to know) balanced with student interests and questions about the world around us. Our primary focus, always, is on the skills, behaviors and processes of science, essentials like cooperation and collaboration, estimation and measurement, logical reasoning and discovery, creativity and experimentation.
We especially strive to honor and celebrate different learning styles and developmental needs, adapting and accommodating lessons, and adjusting outputs to suit the needs of individual learners, partnerships, and teams of students.
Long-range plans integrate with needs directly drawn from specific curricular topics in the homerooms, as we provide for program continuity. Examples include such investigations as “Bugs” in 1st, community in 2nd, water and marine life in 3rd, land forms in 4th, and sustainability in farming in 5th. As such, some topic choices change from year to year, as different factors weigh on the decision making process of what to include and what to leave out.
There are also some threads that tie the curriculum together vertically over 5-years, such as energy. We explore magnetism and sound in 1st, mechanics and simple machines in 2nd, direct current electricity in 3rd, heat and chemical energy in 4th, and light and solar energy in 5th.
Environmental education pervades the science program: how to respect, protect, and care for living things, and how to manage our role in the environment, both here on campus and out into the larger world. Children learn how, when, where, and why to use appropriate tools and units to measure various things. Mathematical concepts and operations are used continually as an applied tool of science—recognizing that mathematics is as fundamentally integrated with science as are direct experiences, models, words, pictures, and graphics.
We focus on direct investigation, including learning how to plan, setup, conduct, revise, redo, discuss, and clean up an experiment or project. Students learn to make predictions, identify and control variables, how to record data and results, and how to analyze and interpret this information. As children mature, they learn to look for deeper, more complete meanings, going far beyond superficial or first impressions. Problem solving in science means learning to use logic and evidence to solve problems, and learning how to be imaginative and intuitive, as well as skeptical.
Assessment in the classroom is an ongoing and interactive process, embedded in daily activities. Observations of children focus on how they are doing the behaviors essential to science, using the process skills needed, and on their acquisition and application of the concepts we are investigating. In most cases, “mastery” of skills and concepts is not expected, nor is it often developmentally appropriate. Thus, a child's progress should be considered as part of a broad, growing continuum of behaviors and skills and knowledge that are all essentially "under construction."
Finally, the science department as a whole is in the midst of a 2-year project to revise and align much of our curriculum to developmental studies and allied recommendations made by AAAS, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, who have recently completed a landmark study and published documents called the Atlas of Science Literacy. This has already, and will continue to influence our curricular decisions across the divisions in coming years.
Introductory experiments, "magic tricks," and discrepant events—these familiarize children with the lab and basic scientific processes and behaviors; focus on explaining and understanding what is actually happening.
“Bugs”—basic arthropod anatomy and physiology; how insects, spiders, and other creepy, crawly critters work.
Biomes, habitats, and campus explorations—what makes a biome; what is a habitat; things that affect where an organism lives; our part in our local environment.
Geology—similarities, differences, and changes in rocks; fossils and dinosaurs; use of rock tumblers and rock polishing equipment to better "see" rocks.
Magnetism—what magnets are; what they can and cannot do; magnetic toys.
Sound energy—production and causes of sound; sound qualities and measurements; vibrations in toys and musical instruments.
Mapping—how to make and read a map; use of a magnetic compass; our campus community.
Metric system measurement—introduction to and practice with basic metric units of distance, mass, and volume.
Gears and simple machines—what they are and how they help do work; gear ratios and speeds; energy transmission, transformation, and loss; motion, force and work.
Community forest explorations—habitat assessment; forest investigations; identifying trees on campus.
Animal classification—vertebrate and selected invertebrate groups; herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore; predator and prey; adaptation and habitat.
Water and watersheds—what water really is; how water behaves and properties of water; what makes a watershed and which one(s) we live in; parts and functions of watersheds; the water cycle and earth‘s water recycling system; animal and plant life in and around water; pond and stream life; marine life and systems; tide pool creatures.
Electric and electro-magnetic energy—direct current circuits; light bulbs, buzzers, and switches; cells and batteries; conductors and insulators; generators and motors; magnetic nature of some metals; electromagnets.
Fossils, evolution, and geologic time—how fossils are formed and what they are; how fossils tell us about the past; how scientists have developed a timeline and “family tree” of the evolution of life on earth.
Landforms—the Ring of Fire; volcanism and tectonics; landforms and their development and change over time.
Air Pressure—what it is and what causes it; how it affects things as diverse as aluminum drink cans, balloons, and our lungs.
Heat energy—what it is and how it is produced, changed, and lost; how heat moves through various materials via convection, conduction, and radiation; molecular motion; calibration of thermometers.
"Mystery Powders"—take nine white, everyday “kitchen” powders, observe them carefully while testing them for their behavior with water, vinegar, iodine, and heat; then recombine two, three, or four in an unknown mixture, retest, and deduce the contents. Requires careful, repetitive testing, excellent notes, organization, cooperation, and logical reasoning. Very challenging and very much fun!
Chemistry—what molecules and atoms are, and how they are related; evidence we have for their existence, behavior, and properties; chemical energy; pH testing of acids and bases; soil nutrient analysis for LS garden site; water quality testing.
NOTE: "Lab Reports" are introduced and used throughout the fourth grade year to help organize ideas, materials, procedures, observational data, and conclusions.
Sustainability in agriculture and soils—wise and thoughtful use of resources; needs and wants; food choices, gardening, and farming; field studies on farms throughout the Willamette Valley; soils and their creation; soil components and experimental investigations into how to make and adjust soil chemistry and composition; how soils affect crops and living systems; data collection, evaluation, and analysis; journal keeping in science.
Light energy—the nature and behavior of light and related forms of electromagnetic energy; mirrors, myras, and prisms; refraction and reflection; symmetry and optical illusions; LASERS; relationship of light to other forms of electromagnetic energy; structure and function of the eye and brain relative to vision and perception.
Consumer products—evaluations of advertising claims, economics, and product performance and value; design and application of standardized testing of product contents, pricing, packaging, and efficacy. Data is organized in tables and charts, and results of experiments graphed throughout the project. Culmination of project includes writing a letter to the company making the "best" product explaining what was done and why the student evaluated their product as the "best."
Campus forests and garden project explorations—identification and mitigation of plant health problems; maintenance and enhancement of animal habitat on campus; identification and removal of exotic species; tree identification and classification; garden planning, planting, and maintenance.