Science - Grade Level Descriptions

Science - Grade Level Descriptions

Science Grades Tabs

Course Description

At GMS our girls practice earth science by examining and exploring the interrelated systems and environments of the Earth. We use the Bay area we all share as our workspace. In our yearlong field science program at Filoli the girls observe ecosystems and habitats, collect and analyze data, and propose explanations based on their own observations and evidence. On a larger scale, using scientific inquiry and cutting edge technology, they explore volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics and seafloor vents. Hands-on experiments with ocean currents allow the girls to develop deep understanding of the concept of density and how the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere are interrelated. By the end of 6th grade the girls begin to apply their understanding of Earth systems to the complex topic of climate change. 

Units of Study:

Unit 1 – Biomes of the World

Developing an understanding and awareness of the diverse biomes and ecosystems found on our planet builds the framework for our yearlong deeper study and practice of Earth Science. Using GoogleEarth technology we take a Tour of the Biomes, inspiring questions about climate, plants, animals, ecosystems and adaptations. In small groups girls collaborate to conduct research to answer their questions. They demonstrate and communicate their understanding by building models, drawing and labeling scientific diagrams and reporting on the discovery of a “new” organism, perfectly adapted to survive in its biome. Each project and investigation during the year will utilize these important science skills.

Unit 2 – Field Study

In our yearlong Seasonal Plot Studies program at Filoli GMS girls practice field science in our local, diverse ecosystems. Each team of four girls explores and monitors hula-hoop sized plots in two different ecosystems during three seasons. These explorations, supported by Filoli outdoor education docents, field journals, handheld computers and temperature probes, help girls develop observation documentation, quantitative data collection, graphing, and data analysis skills. Students create formal lab reports and scientific posters to communicate their science. The unit culminates in the spring with a scientific poster session open to the GMS community.

Unit 3 –  Earth in the Solar System

In this unit students briefly explore current theories surrounding the beginning of the universe and formation of galaxies before focusing in on our solar system, specifically planet Earth.  Folk tales and creation myths from around the world provide cross-curricular links to humanities and help to illustrate how human understanding of the Earth’s place in space has changed over time.

Unit 4 -Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics

Students use GoogleEarth as a tool to gather data, explore and draw conclusions about three types of volcanoes and how they work. This understanding is then the foundation for our investigation of plate tectonic theory and the relationships between plate motion, earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain building. The Pacific Ring of Fire that includes California is frequently the type locality we use as the girls learn to differentiate between convergent, divergent, and transform plate boundaries and to understand the role that plate tectonics plays in shaping the Earth. A three-day field experience at Marin Headlands gives them a chance to explore the San Andreas Fault at the tectonic boundary between the North American and Pacific plates.

Unit 5 - Ocean Currents

While studying the causes and patterns of ocean currents, the students also explore the relationships between currents and pollution, climate, fisheries, and sailing. Through experimentation girls investigate the role that wind, salinity, and temperature have on the density and motion of bodies of water. In her final, individual project each girl researches specific currents and practices her geography skills by accurately tracing the path of a hypothetical message in a bottle tossed into the world’s one ocean.

Unit 6 -Seafloor Exploration

In this short, technology centered unit, students explore the seafloor along a plate boundary using indirect observation and data collection techniques (remote sensing). Each student asks her own question, develops a hypothesis, collects real data and analyzes it to draw or infer a conclusion that answers her original question. The project focuses on data analysis and drawing a meaningful conclusion. Each girl utilizes all of the scientific skills she has practiced during the year. Students present their work at an in-class scientific meeting. 

Unit 7 -Life through Time

Students collect evidence about the changes and stability in life and earth processes through the past 4.6 billion years. Each session encourages students to explore the most common flora and fauna of a particular geologic time period, track the locations of the Earth’s tectonic plates, document major evolutionary events, and visualize the relationships among different organisms in the past and today. Students continue their study of the processes of evolutionary change in seventh grade through genetics and natural selection.

Course Description

In 7th Grade students focus on Life Science. The major concepts explored include cell theory, Mendelian genetics, heredity, and evolution. Observational studies, model building, problem solving, and inquiry help students connect learning to the outside world. 

Units of Study:

Review and Apply:

  • Metric System: Scales and Conversions
  • Scientific Method: Steps and Controls
  • Classification Linnaeus System

Ongoing - Investigation and Experimentation

Students learn how scientific progress is made through asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students:
  1. Select and use appropriate tools and technology (including calculators, computers, balances, microscopes, Vernier probes) to perform tests, collect data, and display data.
  2. Use a variety of print and electronic resources to collect information and evidence as part of a research project.
  3. Communicate the logical connection among hypotheses, science concepts, tests conducted, data collected, and conclusions drawn from the scientific evidence.
  4. Construct scale models, maps, and diagrams to communicate scientific knowledge (e.g., atom and cell structure).
  5. Communicate the steps and results from an investigation in oral presentations and written reports.

Unit 1 – Evolution

Biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations. As a basis for understanding this concept; students:
  1. Learn why genetic variation and environmental factors are causes of evolution and diversity of organisms.
  2. Study the reasoning used by Charles Darwin in reaching his conclusion that natural selection is the mechanism for evolution.
  3. Discern how independent lines of evidence from geology, fossils, and comparative anatomy provide the bases for the theory of evolution.
  4. Discover how to construct a simple branching diagram to classify living groups of organisms by shared derived characteristics and how to expand the diagram to include fossil organisms.
  5. Learn that the extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient for its survival.

Unit 2 – Chemistry

Each of the more than 100 elements of matter has distinct properties and a distinct atomic structure. All forms of matter are composed of one or more of the elements. As a basis for understanding this concept; students:

  1. Study the structure of the atom.
  2. Discover how compounds are formed and that these compounds have properties that are different from their constituent elements.
  3. Understand the difference between chemical and physical changes in matter.
  4. Discern that states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) depend on molecular motion.
  5. Learn how to use the periodic table to identify elements in simple compounds.

Unit 3 – Cells

All living organisms are composed of cells, from just one to many trillions, whose details usually are visible only through a microscope. As a basis for understanding this concept; students:

  1. Learn why cells function similarly in all living organisms.
  2. Research the characteristics that distinguish plant from animal cells.
  3. Discover that the nucleus is the repository for genetic information in cells.
  4. Explore how mitochondria liberate energy for the work that cells do and that chloroplasts capture sunlight energy for photosynthesis.
  5. Ascertain that cells divide to increase their numbers through a process of mitosis.
  6. Discern that as multi-cellular organisms develop, their cells differentiate.

Unit 4 – Genetics and Heredity

A typical cell of any organism contains genetic instructions that specify its traits. Those traits may be modified by environmental influences. As a basis for understanding this concept; students:
  1. Learn about Mendel's work and how he derived his theory.
  2. Ascertain that sex cells reproduce in the process of meiosis.
  3. Ascertain how sexual reproduction produces offspring that inherit half their genes from each parent.
  4. Learn that inherited traits are determined by one or more genes.
  5. Discern that cells contain many thousands of different genes and typically have two copies of every gene. 
  6. Discover that DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the genetic material of living organisms and is located in the chromosomes of each cell.

Course Description

Eighth-grade science utilizes the core themes while introducing students to principles of physics and chemistry: energy, circuits, atomic structure, types of bonding, simple chemical reactions, force and motion. Throughout the year, skills specific to the study of science are emphasized. A vital component of the 8th grade course is an independent research project students work on that is showcased in the school-wide “Science Exhibition” that occurs in April. Throughout the year, instruction is rooted in hands-on explorations, in which students are primarily asked to “do science” as opposed to “read about science”.


Units of Study:

Unit 1 – Energy

This introductory unit looks at forms of energy and energy transformations. Skills of observation, careful measurements that incorporated estimates of experimental uncertainty, strategies for equation-based problem-solving, and active reading and note-taking of technical sources are introduced.  

Unit 2 – Circuits

Based on the CASTLE curriculum (Capacitor-aided system for teaching and learning electricity), this unit uses a very constructivist model in its approach. Students are given batteries, bulbs, wires, a compass, and a capacitor and, through a series of guided explorations, build up a model of “what is going on inside the wires” to be able to accurately predict and understand simple circuit behaviors.  A strong emphasis is placed on careful observation and on then using this detailed evidence to develop and describe the rationale behind different aspects of the emerging model. The skill of effectively using evidence and analysis in writing is a major skill target in this unit.

Unit 3 – Chemistry

The chemistry unit starts with the basic model of the atom that has been previously introduced in the 7th grade. From this starting point, we begin with a detailed look at patterns in the periodic table and connect that with the patterns in atomic structure that are embedded within, learning the basic symbolic language of chemistry along the way. This leads to an understanding of how patterns in electron structure underlie our understanding of how chemical bonds form different compounds. We finish the unit with an introductory look at representing chemical reactions. This is the only unit that uses a textbook – Living by Chemistry by Angelica Stacy. An outstanding and very well conceived text, skills of effectively using a textbook are emphasized and practiced throughout the unit. 

Unit 4 – Science Exhibition Project

The 8th grade science exhibition project in many ways is the capstone project of the girls’ progress through the science program. Each girl is given an option of 1) Designing, conducting, and reporting on a controlled or demonstration experiment of some scientific or engineering principle. 2) Investigating the underlying science of two Exploratorium Exhibits (we visit the museum in the fall). 3) Reporting on any active area of current science research, focusing on the work of one particular researcher or research group. This option requires that the student has a technical journal article as a foundational source for their research. Girls practice technical research skills throughout this project, and are encouraged to “dive deeply” and follow their passions in choosing a topic. Significant classtime and hometime are allocated for this project, which is woven into the course during the circuit and chemistry units. 

Unit 5 – Force and Motion

This unit provides an introductory look at force and motion, with an emphasis on equation-based problem solving. The goal is to provide the girls with an experience similar to what they will encounter at the beginning of a high school physics course.