In 5th grade science at Cambridgeport, we learn science skills and content by becoming scientists. We start this process by thinking about scientific practices - what do scientists really do? Then we start actually doing these things - asking questions, designing experiments, developing and using models, collecting and analyzing data, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence. Our work is driven by authentic student questions and at the end, we are left with strong understanding and even deeper questions.
Two students from last year’s classes wrote a forward to the journal Nature: Cambridgeport that gives a feel for our process.
All of the fifth grade students at the Cambridgeport School now have a great understanding of plants - the inside of them and the outside! But the process of learning what we know was even more interesting than the facts themselves. First we explored … looking and drawing from the outside in. We gazed through microviewers and saw tiny, unfamiliar worlds. We tasted the sugary water in the stems. We took what we learned and thought about what we already knew and put the pieces together. Our plants were leaning towards the light; they wrapped around things and climbed. We wondered if they could think. We designed experiments to answer our questions. Designing pushed us to think deeper, and use what we found to explain our discoveries. Experimenting in teams made us feel like we were finding something new. We felt like we were allowed to make our own choices and decisions. We felt like real scientist getting to research real questions.
Our work emphasizes the keeping of a science journal to capture observations, ideas, and questions. We also concentrate on having scientific conversations that are rich and rigorous.
The overarching theme of our year is energy and no matter what we are studying, there is a rich network of connections to this important topic. We start our year with an intensive study of plants. This unit serves as our launch into science practice. Towards the end of that unit we learn about photosynthesis, which links us to energy for the first time. We have shorter units on adaptations and on wind and the water cycle, which all leads to the topic of energy transformations. We study sound and light energy, and then move to examining our current practices for obtaining energy. In the spring we explore renewable energy, and our year culminates with an ambitious design and engineering project requiring teams to address a serious problem by developing solutions that rely on solar energy.