Developing Student Understanding

Due to their developmental levels and expanded understanding, students in grades 5-8 can undertake sophisticated study of personal and societal challenges. Building on the foundation established in grades K-4, students can expand their study of health and establish linkages among populations, resources, and environments; they can develop an understanding of natural hazards, the role of technology in relation to personal and societal issues, and learn about risks and personal decisions. Challenges emerge from the knowledge that the products, processes, technologies and inventions of a society can result in pollution and environmental degradation and can involve some level of risk to human health or to the survival of other species.

The study of science-related personal and societal challenges is an important endeavor for science education at the middle level. By middle school, students begin to realize that illness can be caused by various factors, such as microorganisms, genetic predispositions, malfunctioning of organs and organ-systems, health habits, and environmental conditions. Students in grades 5-8 tend to focus on physical more than mental health. They associate health with food and fitness more than with other factors such as safety and substance use. One very important issue for teachers in grades 5-8 is overcoming students' perceptions that most factors related to health are beyond their control.

Students often have the vocabulary for many aspects of health, but they often do not understand the science related to the terminology. Developing a scientific understanding of health is a focus of this standard. Healthy behaviors and other aspects of health education are introduced in other parts of school programs.

By grades 5-8, students begin to develop a more conceptual understanding of ecological crises. For example, they begin to realize the cumulative ecological effects of pollution. By this age, students can study environmental issues of a large and abstract

Although students in grades 5-8 have some awareness of global issues, teachers should challenge misconceptions, such as anything natural is not a pollutant, oceans are limitless resources, and humans are indestructible as a species.

nature, for example, acid rain or global ozone depletion. However, teachers should challenge several important misconceptions, such as anything natural is not a pollutant, oceans are limitless resources, and humans are indestructible as a species.

Little research is available on students' perceptions of risk and benefit in the context of science and technology. Students sometimes view social harm from technological failure as unacceptable. On the other hand, some believe if the risk is personal and voluntary, then it is part of life and should not be the concern of others (or society). Helping students develop an understanding of risks and benefits in the areas of health, natural hazards—and science and technology in general—presents a challenge to middle-school teachers.

Middle-school students are generally aware of science-technology-society issues

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