Science Curriculum

Science is the exploration of the universe for the purpose of seeking orderly, testable explanations of objects and events. The IAS elementary science program offers a balance of hands-on experiences and science content. Each year, students study topics in three major areas: life science, earth science, and physical science. The processes of observation, investigation, collection of relevant data, discussion and confirmation of findings, and experimentation are emphasized throughout the program. 


In Kindergarten, students begin using some of the basic techniques of scientists. They actively collect samples of the environment surrounding them and classify these and other samples by noting different characteristics and using all their senses. They study animals and their families. They learn about buoyancy from objects that float and sink. Students observe changes around them by looking at seasons, weather, and day and night. They study plants by collecting samples of plants and seeds and by growing new plants.


In Grade One, life science includes learning about the parts of plants and the ways plants and animals depend on each other. Students study animals by looking at their coverings, the way they move, and their young. Animal growth and development are studied though the life cycles of fish, frogs, and butterflies. In earth science, students study the structure of the earth by observing what makes up various geographic features. They learn about weathering, erosion, and soil formation, and they study the sun and its relationship to the earth. Students simulate the earth’s rotation by using models of the earth and sun. In physical science, the three states of matter are explored. Magnets are introduced, and students observe that magnets have poles that attract and repel each other.


In Grade Two, students examine the structure and function of the parts of different kinds of plants and animals. They learn that all living things have structures by which they can be classified. Animals are classified by their groups — mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Students learn why animals become extinct, with emphasis on endangered animals today. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are studied in detail. In earth science, students study the ocean and the variety of plant and animal life it contains. Emphasis is placed on how humans are dependent upon oceans and their natural resources. Students also study the water cycle and how air and water create the earth’s weather and climate. Cloud formation, temperature, and weather instruments are also studied. In physical science, students explore the way heat changes matter. Sound as a form of energy is investigated. Light energy is studied, and students observe how light enables us to see.


In Grade Three life science, students explore how living things grow and change. Animal growth and development are studied. Plant and animal environments are studied by looking at the characteristics that make life possible in ponds, oceans, deserts, and forests. Students learn the ways living things interact with the environment. In earth science, students study the changes in the earth’s surface due to weathering and erosion. The rock cycle is studied, and students classify rocks and minerals. Students explore the sun, moon, and earth as a system in terms of their relationships of size, position, movement, and effects upon one another. In physical science, work, force, and energy are studied along with gravity and friction. Simple machine are introduced and identified in everyday objects. 


The fourth grade begins the year with a unit on geology. The layers of the earth, types of rocks, plate tectonics, and continental drift are covered. Students grow crystals and study the effect of different cooling rates on their size. The introduction of paleontology includes the study of geological time, dinosaurs, and fossilization. Students lean about the rock cycle and the effects that weathering and erosion have on different types of rocks.
A unit on the cell introduces the students to the basics of plant and animal cells. The use of the compound microscope is introduced. Basic cell functions such as diffusion, mitosis, and photosynthesis are emphasized. Students learn about classification, the five kingdoms of living organisms, and what makes each kingdom unique. At the end of the unit, the students research different members of the protest kingdom and view live samples of their organisms. The study of electricity and magnetism has the fourth grade focusing on different kinds of circuits, static electricity, and the generation and storage of electrical energy. Students learn about the parts of the atom and how positive and negative charges cause the movement of an electrical current. The close relationship of electricity to magnetism is emphasized, and the students construct their own electromagnets. Uses of electrical energy and the conversion of electricity into other forms of energy are stressed throughout the unit. 


The year begins with a unit on chemistry. Physical and chemical properties of matter are discussed as well as the structure of the atom. Students learn how to read and use the Periodic Table of Elements. The basics of ionic and covalent bonding are covered as students build up and then break down compounds. Properties of acids and bases and a comparison of mixtures and compounds round out the unit. In the life sciences, students immediately follow their chemistry unit with one covering the human body. The unit covers several different organ systems and ways in which they interact. Each system is explored beginning at the cellular level and expanding to include the functioning of the entire organism. The interdependence of all parts of the body is stressed, as is the importance of the relationship between structure and function. Important cellular processes first covered in fourth grade are reinforced and new concepts such as cellular respiration and gas exchange are introduced. In the spring, the fifth grade focuses on earth science with a unit on the atmosphere and weather. Students learn about the composition and layers of the earth’s atmosphere, the water cycle, and the flow of energy from one part of the biosphere to another. Students learn about basic meteorology, how to read a weather map, and what kinds of tools scientists use to measure and predict the weather. Students make detailed observations of local weather patterns and keep close track of the weather conditions on the campus by monitoring the temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, wind, etc. 


Sixth grade starts off the year with a unit on ecology. Students learn about the different parts of an ecosystem and what each part does. The crucial roles of both biotic and abiotic factors are discussed in detail and the students investigate the many different ways that altering part of an ecosystem will affect the rest of the system. Students work in collaborative groups to research one of the many different biomes of the earth and then present their findings to the class. Similarities and differences between the various biomes is stressed throughout the unit. Students learn about various phenomena that threaten the ecosystems of the earth, including habitat destruction, pollution, energy use, and our ever-growing human population. A unit on space exploration builds on the physical science concepts introduced in fifth grade and serves as a way to put our study of ecology into perspective. The mechanics of orbital space flight are discussed, and a brief history of our space program is introduced. Students learn about what is necessary to live and work in a microgravity environment. Newton’s three laws of motion are emphasized throughout the unit as students learn about the past, present, and future of rocket travel. Students present research projects on all of the planets in our solar system as well as many of the well- and lesser-known moons. Basic plant physiology is studied, including water and nutrient transport, photosynthesis, and pollination. The study of plant reproduction covers the similarities and differences between angiosperms and gymnosperms. Structural and functional similarities and differences between several plant phyla are emphasized.. The scientific method that has been stressed throughout the Lower School science curriculum is put to use, and students are able to explore topics of interest to them. They are guided through the processes of conducting background research, forming a hypothesis, designing an experiment, collecting data, reaching a conclusion, and reporting their results.