Students performing at the Basic level demonstrate some of the knowledge and reasoning required for understanding the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 4. For example, they can carry out simple investigations and read uncomplicated graphs and diagrams. Students at this level also show a beginning understanding of classification, simple relationships, and energy.
Fourth-grade students performing at the Basic level are able to follow simple procedures, manipulate simple materials, make observations, and record data. They are able to read simple graphs and diagrams and draw reasonable but limited conclusions based on data provided to them. These students can recognize appropriate experimental designs, although they are unable to justify their decisions.
When presented with diagrams, students at this level can identify seasons; distinguish between day and night; and place the position of the Earth, Sun, and planets. They are able to recognize major energy sources and simple energy changes. In addition, they show an understanding of the relationship between sound and vibrations. These students are able to identify organisms by physical characteristics and group organisms with similar physical features. They can also describe simple relationships among structure, function, habitat, life cycles, and different organisms.
Students performing at the Proficient level demonstrate the knowledge and reasoning required for understanding the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 4. For example, they understand concepts relating to the Earth’s features, physical properties, structure, and function. In addition, students can formulate solutions to familiar problems as well as show a beginning awareness of issues associated with technology.
Fourth-grade students performing at the Proficient level are able to provide an explanation of day and night when given a diagram.
They can recognize major features of the Earth’s surface and the impact of natural forces. They are also able to recognize water in its various forms in the water cycle and can suggest ways to conserve it. These students recognize that various materials possess different properties that make them useful. Students at this level are able to explain how structure and function help living things survive. They have a beginning awareness of the benefits and challenges associated with technology and recognize some human effects on the environment. They can also make straightforward predictions and justify their position.
Students performing at the Advanced level demonstrate a solid understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences as well as the ability to apply their understanding to practical situations at a level appropriate to grade 4. For example, they can perform and critique simple investigations, make connections from one or more of the sciences to predict or conclude, and apply fundamental concepts to practical applications.
Fourth-grade students performing at the Advanced level are able to combine information, data, and knowledge from one or more of the sciences to reach a conclusion or to make a valid prediction. They can also recognize, design, and explain simple experimental procedures.
Students at this level recognize nonrenewable sources of energy. They also recognize that light and sound travel at different speeds. These students understand some principles of ecology and are able to compare and contrast life cycles of various common organisms. In addition, they have a developmental awareness of the benefits and challenges associated with technology.
Standards for The Nature of Science
The following concepts are appropriate for assessment at the given levels:
By grade 4, students should understand that science is trying to find out what happens in the natural world. Through careful observation of objects and events, they should be able to develop explanations for their observations. Students should also understand that different people may notice different things, and therefore may explain things differently.
Students are surrounded by and interact with the manmade world as much as with the natural world. Therefore, they must develop an understanding of what shapes the design and development of the technologies that are a part of that manmade world and their daily lives. Rather than being a content area, technology is embedded within this section because of its close association with science. The following concepts are appropriate for assessment at the given levels:
By grade 4, students should understand that any design requires making tradeoffs and that advantages and disadvantages must be weighed.
Standards for Themes of Science
Themes are the "big ideas" of science that transcend the various scientific disciplines and enable students to consider problems with global implications. To understand the conceptual basis for the themes that have been selected, students must begin to develop an understanding of major ideas by the fourth grade. They should continue to develop their understanding through the 8th grade, and by the 12th grade, they should have the ability to integrate their knowledge and understanding.
Three of the themes are common to all of the documents: Models, Systems, and Patterns of Change.
Models of objects and events in nature can be used to understand complex or abstract phenomena. Models may be first attempts to identify the relevant variables to build evermore useful representations, or they may be highly refined for predictions about the actual phenomenon. Students need to understand the limitations and simplifying assumptions that underlie the many models used in the natural sciences. A model is likely to fit data well only within a limited range of circumstances and to be misleading outside of that range.
Systems are complete, predictable cycles, structures, or processes occurring in natural phenomena, but students should understand that the idea of a system is an artificial construction created by people for certain purposes, for example, to gain a better understanding of the natural world or to design an effective technology. The construct of a system entails identifying and defining its boundaries, identifying its component parts and the interrelations and interconnections among those parts, and identifying the inputs and outputs of the system.
Regardless of the topic around which the Patterns of Change theme is developed, students should be able to recognize patterns of similarity and difference, to perceive how these patterns change over time, to remember common types of patterns, and to transfer their understanding of a familiar pattern of change to a new and unfamiliar situation.
Examples of Themes by Grade Level
Students should understand that systems are artificial constructions created by people for certain purposes, such as gaining a better understanding of the natural world or designing an effective technology.
Understanding the construct of a system entails identifying and defining its boundaries, identifying its component parts, identifying the interrelations and interconnections among the component parts, and identifying the inputs and outputs of the system.
Systems should be approached at the level of organisms. Students should have broad and rich acquaintance with structure/function relationships as a precursor to a more thorough knowledge of organ systems by grade 8. Understanding examples of food chains and interdependencies among organisms, say, within an aquarium, are precursors to understanding complex systems.
Patterns of Change
Patterns of Change is a particularly valuable theme in the life sciences because a conceptual understanding of patterns of change can be developed in the context of several different levels in the hierarchy of biological organization. At the cellular/organismal level, the primary patterns of change are the growth and development that occur throughout the life of organisms. At the population level, the primary patterns of change are the changes in population growth over relatively short periods of time and the evolutionary changes that occur over longer periods of time. At the community/ecosystem level, the primary patterns of change are those that involve the nonliving and living components of ecosystems during the process of succession. Patterns of change may be linear, or they may be cyclical; for example, many of the patterns of change that occur within cells are related to homeostasis, in which a change leads to feedback reactions that result in a return to conditions that existed before the change. An understanding of cyclical patterns of change can also be developed in the context of ecosystems (nutrient cycles) and organisms (life cycles).
Regardless of the context in which an understanding of the Patterns of Change theme is developed, students should be able to recognize patterns of similarity and difference, to recognize how these patterns change over time, and to transfer their understanding of a familiar pattern of change to a new, unfamiliar situation.
Understanding patterns of change at the organismal level:
- life cycles (including growth and metamorphosis)
Understanding patterns of change at the population level:
- concept of biotic potential, birth rates, and survival rates
- diversity of many types of plants and animals (an important preconcept for the understanding of evolution)
- variation within species (focus on humans, dogs, and cats)
Understanding patterns of change at the community/ecosystem level:
- food chains (also important for the systems theme)
A more general understanding involves the notion that everything changes, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, and that changes may be too rapid or too slow to observe directly.
The models theme has been selected because of the importance of enabling students to distinguish the idealizations of models from the phenomena themselves. Students need to understand that a model of the human eye does not represent all aspects of human eyes as they occur in human organisms. The model is a simplification, leaving unrepresented many important variations in human eye structure, yet the simplification has utility in illuminating some features of the eye and enables new questions about the eye to be generated.
Students need to understand the limitations and simplifying assumptions that underlie the varied models used in the natural sciences. For example, beliefs that models are replicas of real objects or events can negate the critical concept of variation that many models do not take into account. Although generalized models, such as a generalized graph of growth in populations, are useful, they are not to be confused with a graph of the growth of a particular organism or population or with a graph of data from a single experiment.
At this level, models should be identified by students as representations of objects or events. Students can examine both conceptual and physical models in terms of how they are like and not like the object or event being represented. Examples can be models of insects, seeds, leaves, and other physical objects. These models and others in the sciences can be linked to children’s experiences with scale models of cars, dinosaurs, doll furniture, and so forth.
Example Science Content Standards
Grade 4—Earth Science
A. Solid Earth (lithosphere)
1. Composition of the Earth:
Students can classify substances such as soil, sand, or rock.
Students can identify common geographic features of landscapes.
2. Forces that alter the Earth’s surface:
Students can describe/explain basic facts about major features of the Earth’s surface and natural changes in those features (for example, volcanoes, glaciers):
Students can predict the effects of weathering (for example, rain and wind on sand piles, mud piles, rock).
Students can describe the relative difference in time it takes to erode a sand pile, a mud pile, and a rock pile (Conceptual Understanding, Patterns of Change).
Given a picture, topographical map or globe, or word description of a major Earth feature (for example, canyon, mountain range, Great Lake, cavern, island), students can identify a geologic force that contributed to producing that feature (Conceptual Understanding, Models).
3. Rocks: Their formation, characteristics, and uses:
Students can identify common rocks and minerals and can explain how we can investigate what they are made of and how they form:
Students can classify rock samples according to color, texture, or other identifying properties (Scientific Investigation, Nature of Science).
Students can explain that molten rock comes out of volcanoes, hardens, and becomes part of the landscape (Conceptual Understanding, Patterns of Change).
4. Soil: its changes and uses:
Students know some facts about the composition of soil.
Students can separate soil samples into component parts (Scientific Investigation, Nature of Science, Systems).
Students recognize that plants grow in soil and that soil provides both nutrients and support for the plant.
Students can classify and relate major solid types of soil (for example, clay, sand, loam, subsoil) to their ability to support plant growth; that is, students can identify/predict the major plant types likely to grow in those soils (Conceptual Understanding, Nature of Science).
5. Resources from the Earth used by humankind:
Students can identify Earth resources used in everyday life.
Students can identify common uses of rock in the human environment (for example, buildings, roads, walls) (Practical Reasoning, Nature of Technology).
Students can explain/identify that gasoline is processed from oil, which is pumped from the Earth (Practical Reasoning, Nature of Technology).
Reprinted with the permission of the National Assessment Governing Board.