Exploring our Physical World

To develop a sense of place we need an understanding of the Earth itself – the ground beneath our feet, the air we breathe, the water that fills our lakes, streams and oceans and the other living things that share our planet. We’ll look at the Earth’s geosphere when we study rocks and erosion, at the atmosphere when we learn about the blanket of air that surrounds us, and at the hydrosphere when we learn about the water cycle, winds, clouds, and weather. Throughout we’ll consider the biosphere, the living things in our world, and how they interact with the other components.

Our exploration starts with the sun, the engine that powers Earth’s major systems. In Sunlight and Shadow we’ll see how and why we experience day and night and the seasons, and we’ll consider how sunlight supplies the energy for photosynthesis, fuels the water cycle, and provides the right conditions for life. Beginning our study of the geosphere, in Erosion we’ll look at the process of erosion that has shaped and formed the Earth’s landforms over time by wearing away and carrying away rocks, soil, sand, and sediments, and depositing them in new places. We’ll look at how gravity, water, wind, and ice change the land, and we’ll consider the impact humans have as well. In Rocks and Minerals we’ll study the Earth’s crust, looking at rocks and learning how they’ve been formed and reformed, and at fossils, considering how they tell us about organisms and conditions in the past. We’ll examine minerals, testing their different properties as we try to identify them, and look at rocks we find outside for evidence of how they were made and how far they’ve traveled.

In Blanket of Air we begin our study of the atmosphere and learn that air is made of tiny particles too small to see even with a microscope. Even though we can’t see them, our experiments help us to understand the behavior of this invisible gas and how important it is to life on our planet. Nature of Sound looks at how sound vibrations travel through the ground, through water and through air, giving us vital information about what’s happening around us, and, for many species, an effective means of communication.

With Water, we explore the hydrosphere, learning about water’s unique properties, and how it circulates between the surface of the Earth and the atmosphere in a repeating cycle of precipitation, evaporation or transpiration, and condensation. We learn to recognize different kinds of clouds and the weather they bring in Wind and Clouds Aloft, building on what we’ve learned about the atmosphere and hydrosphere. We see how unequal heating by the sun creates differences in air temperature and pressure, causing winds to blow and weather systems to form.

Many aspects of the physical world provide important clues for us and other animals as we move from place to place. In Get Your Bearings we learn how animals use the position of the sun, features of the landscape, and the Earth’s magnetic field for orientation and navigation. These features, together with compass, maps, and other tools, can help us find our way as we explore and get to know our Earth.

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Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards

The units and activities in Earth support the three Dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards. Together the lessons in this concept give children opportunities to engage in the Scientific and Engineering Practices (Dimension I) and to reflect on the Cross-cutting Concepts (Dimension II) as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards.

The monthly topics also address Disciplinary Core Ideas (Dimension III) in Physical Sciences (PS1: Matter and its interactions, PS2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions, PS3: Energy, PS4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer), Life Sciences (LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics, and LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity), Earth and Space Sciences (ESS1: Earth’s Place in the Universe, ESS2: Earth’s Systems, ESS3: Earth and Human Activity) and Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science (ETS1: Engineering Design, ETS2: Links Among Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society). The specific Disciplinary Core Ideas that each lesson addresses are outlined in detail on the “Teacher Resources” page and the “Volunteer Teaching Outline” that accompany each unit.

In addition, each lesson supports aspects of both the English Language Arts and Math Common Core State Standards, including Reading for Informational Texts, Speaking and Listening, and Writing, as well as Counting, Operations, Measurement, and Data.


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