The RSS Middle School Science Program expands students knowledge of the world around them by understanding the principles of science. Students explore phenomena through testing, exploration, and observations. This is completed through in-class demonstrations, individual and group work, projects, and lab work. Students are encouraged to try out new ideas, make mistakes, and then learn from those mistakes. One of the core principles in exploring science is to be a resilient and reflective thinker, and that is the main goal of the RSS science program. As students enter middle school, the focus is on process and standards of scientific inquiry, slowly building from concrete to more abstract concepts. We move from simply showing how things work, to applying knowledge to new and different contexts. Each year students have a final project that they present at the annual STEM Expo. The projects are student driven and allow students to explore their individual interests. At the completion of 8th Grade, students leave Rodeph Sholom with a solid foundation for further study in science and yearning to learn more.
Life sciences, including biology and ecology, are the focus of science in the 5th Grade. The year starts with an introduction to science through observation and classification, followed by microscopes and cells, then moving to plant life cycles, and ending with ecology. The curriculum is centered around inquiry-based activities with an emphasis on science-specific skills that will help students find success in future science courses. Each unit is assessed with homework, assessments, and a culminating project.
The “Observation and Classification” unit is based on Linnaeus’s system of taxonomy and is centered around the seven levels of classification. Using dichotomous keys as a tool, students practice making observations to classify organisms. The skills of close observation and description are further explored in the “Becoming Birders” project. Students keep field notebooks to record their observations and inferences about the natural world. In addition to learning about identifying and classifying birds at large, each student becomes an expert on one species of bird in Central Park.
Students continue building their scientific skills of observation, description, and inferencing with a new focus of study, in the “Cells & Scopes” unit. After learning basics such as how to properly use a compound microscope, the differences between a plant and animal cell, and cell organelles, students use their field notebooks as microscope journals. Here students are required to understand concepts such as magnification, the field of view, how to properly prepare a slide, and to make detailed quantitative and qualitative observations as well as illustrations.
“Green Machines,” the unit on plants, focuses on the ecological concept of adaptation. Students learn how plants have evolved into complex organisms, and how their adaptations, such as specialized dispersal methods, allow them to survive in their ecosystems. After learning about the life cycle of an angiosperm and different methods of seed dispersal, each 5th Grade student engineers their own seed to have a unique and successful method of dispersal. Students design blueprints for their model, create their own 3D structure, and make a presentation for the class. In preparation for the STEM Expo, students create a detailed display board highlighting how their specific method of dispersal works, the type of environment their plant grows in, and the scientific name and a cross section displaying the different parts of the seed. Students combine their knowledge of how an angiosperm reproduces with their own ingenuity to produce a wide variety of seed dispersal methods.
5th Grade Science culminates with the Ecology Unit. The curriculum focuses on topics such as biomes, climate change, and interspecies interactions. This wide-ranging unit pulls together content knowledge from the other units, to end the year with a big-picture ecological view of our world.
Major Topics and Projects:
- Observation and Classification: Field notebook and bird species guidebook page
- Cells & ‘Scopes: Microscope journal, cell model project
- Green Machines: Seed engineering project for the STEM Expo
- Ecology and ecosystems: organism interactions project