The science sub-topics that your child will explore in 5th grade are not that different from those of 3rd and 4th grade, but she will explore them in greater depth. Fifth graders tend to study both physical science (electricity, magnets, atoms, molecules, and chemistry) and earth, or life, science (environments, weather, water cycles, habitats, food chains). But where in earlier grades the teacher might focus on a single aspect of these topics, 5th graders begin to explore how different areas of science come together. For instance, rather than just studying the mechanics and characteristics of plants and animals individually, 5th graders learn how the two systems work together as part of an ecosystem.
Fifth graders are capable of more independent work, and teachers may ask them to complete science research papers and projects using school or home computers. Students may have their own science textbook, though teachers may refer to it only occasionally. Many textbooks include addresses of helpful Internet sites that can provide further information for students who want or need it at the end of selected topics. The NASA Web site (www.nasa.gov) is one that teachers recommend; it contains some fun information and experiments on physical science and the laws of motion that are ideal for 5th graders.
Your child’s growing research and language arts skills don’t mean he’s too old for hands-on science exploration. So-called “discovery learning” is still vitally important. By experimenting with nature, objects, and materials, children learn about the world around them and how to think like scientists.
Getting children to experience science can be as simple as taking them into the school’s backyard during a life science unit. Using their skills of observation, children might find evidence of life, such as a leaf that’s been eaten by a caterpillar, an ant hill, or an exoskeleton from an insect. Putting their observations in context, they might be able to identify a food chain: the sun makes plant energy through photosynthesis, the caterpillar eats the leaf, and the bird eats the caterpillar. After making outdoor discoveries, children go inside to diagram and chart the information into a realistic food web.
Prepping for the Test
Your child may spend more time reading and writing about science this year in anticipation of the standardized tests that most children in 3rd grade and up will take. Since these federally mandated science tests will almost certainly require students to write an essay, teachers may start preparing students now.
One exciting way many 5th grade teachers integrate science and literacy is to explore the lives of famous scientists and inventors. Reading about scientists and trying to replicate their experiments is one way to inspire kids and help them understand the trial-and-error nature of science. Some teachers enter their classes in contests sponsored by manufacturers such as Toyota or Wild Planet Toys. Whether or not your child’s invention wins a prize, the process of conceiving a scientific solution to a problem, proving the solution, and writing about it is a great way for him to learn to think like a scientist and paves the way for more exciting discoveries in the future.