The early school years focus on having children engage with the world, make careful observations, and talk about what they notice. From the earliest years, teachers encourage children to notice as much as possible about objects or events and to pay attention to details. Activities such as collecting, grouping and ordering objects from their world, noting similarities and differences, observing and talking about changes, and asking questions all provide the basis for more quantitative inquiry skills later on. Children in the early elementary grades record their observations through drawings and, as their writing skills develop, add annotation to their drawings. What children observe, measure and record, and the ideas and explanations they form are related in important ways. Children need to check their observations against their ideas, and vice versa, in order to build strong conceptual understandings.
Also, during the elementary school years children come to realize that some of their questions can be answered by doing something to change an object as well as by observing it – that is, by carrying out a test. In the earliest elementary grades, investigations may be designed and carried out as a whole class activity. As children progress through the grades, they develop the skills to design and carry out their own tests of increasing complexity, using specialized instruments and tools accurately. Sometimes these tests will be scientific, searching for understanding. Other times these activities will be engineering design challenges, where children search for different, workable solutions to a simple problem, such as designing a car that will stop before it rolls off the edge of a table.
Middle School Curriculum
In recent years, there has been a great deal of research done around science education and its effectiveness. Through the work of several states and national organizations, the Next Generation Science Standards were created, which have provided the road map for this area. Massachusetts adapted these standards in their 2016 release of the Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework. At that time, Plymouth staff developed accompanying curriculum materials in the absence of an acceptable alternative. Then, in 2019, OpenSciEd was released to the public and after a thorough review, Plymouth chose to use this high quality science curriculum for grades 6-8.
OpenSciEd is designed to increase accessibility for all students. The units included in OpenSciEd use a science storyline approach, which gives students a learning experience grounded by the students’ own desire to explain what they don’t understand. Storylines are sequenced lessons that encourage students to answer their own questions in order to figure out a piece of a science idea. The embedded science ideas are observable events, which we refer to as phenomena. Students use science talk to make sense of these phenomena. Their talk in the form of words and drawings, progresses from making sense of their own thinking to deepening their reasoning, which depends on how students think with others (e.g., agree/disagree, feedback). Teachers and students have a responsibility within OpenSciEd to work together to figure things out as a community of learners, just as scientists do in the real world.
Your child will learn about specific topics in depth through OpenSciEd. As a result, there will be fewer units of study, but more time spent on each. Your child will also be expected to use science and engineering practices to make sense of these topics, rather than string together a list of disconnected facts. Examples of phenomena include:
- How can a sound make something move?
- Why do we sometimes see different things when looking at the same object?
- How can containers keep stuff from warming up or cooling down?
- Why do things sometimes get damaged when they hit each other?
- How can we make something new that was not there before?
- How do things inside our bodies work together to make us feel the way we do?
These phenomena have been carefully selected to anchor the storylines and motivate students to want to learn more about the world around them.
High School Curriculum
In their high school years, students are increasingly capable of working with abstractions and dealing with hypothetical cases. As they hone their analytical skills, students design challenges where problems never solved before are identified. They become more proficient in creating models, interpreting complex and messy data, and making inferences, using evaluative feedback to check specifications rigorously. They gain facility in working with quantitative data and representing information graphically and symbolically.
Inquiry skills built in grades 9 and 10 are expanded upon in grades 11 and 12 to include reflection on the assumptions and concepts that guide investigations and problem-solving activities. Students learn how to construct and evaluate their own and others' scientific and technological explanations, as well as learn how to evaluate evidence.