Earth and Space Science

Content Standard D

As a result of their activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Properties of earth materials

  • Objects in the sky

  • Changes in earth and sky

Developing Student Understanding

Young children are naturally interested in everything they see around them—soil, rocks, streams, rain, snow, clouds, rainbows, sun, moon, and stars. During the first years of school, they should be encouraged to observe closely the objects and materials in their environment, note their properties, distinguish one from another and develop their own explanations of how things become the way they are. As children become more familiar with their world, they can be guided to observe changes, including cyclic changes, such as night and day and the seasons; predictable trends, such as growth and decay, and less consistent changes, such as weather or the appearance of meteors. Children should have opportunities to observe rapid changes, such as the movement of water in a stream, as well as gradual changes, such as the erosion of soil and the change of the seasons.

Children come to school aware that earth's surface is composed of rocks, soils, water, and living organisms, but a closer look will help them identify many additional properties of earth materials. By carefully observing and describing the properties of many rocks, children will begin to see that some rocks are made of a single substance, but most are made of several substances. In later grades, the substances can be identified as minerals. Understanding rocks and minerals should not be extended to the study of the source of the rocks, such as sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic, because the origin of rocks and minerals has little meaning to young children.

Playgrounds and nearby vacant lots and parks are convenient study sites to observe a variety of earth materials. As students collect rocks and observe vegetation, they will become aware that soil varies from place to place in its color, texture, and reaction to water. By planting seeds in a variety of soil samples, they can compare the effect of different soils on plant growth. If they revisit study sites regularly, children will develop an understanding that earth's surface is constantly changing. They also can simulate some changes, such as erosion, in a small tray of soil or a stream table and compare their observations with photographs of similar, but larger scale, changes.

By observing the day and night sky regularly, children in grades K-4 will learn to identify sequences of changes and to look for patterns in these changes. As they observe changes, such as the movement of an object's shadow during the course of a day, and the positions of the sun and the moon, they will find the patterns in these movements. They can draw the moon's shape for each evening on a calendar and then determine the pattern in the shapes over several weeks. These understandings should be confined to observations,



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement