The sixth-grade course investigates core ideas and connections through study of the Earth, examining the processes by which scientists ask questions and study the world. Students explore the Earth and its history from the perspective of an astronomer, a seismologist, an evolutionary biologist, a physical oceanographer, and a population demographer. Throughout the year students learn about and practice the ways in which scientists study the world, collect and analyze data, and propose explanations based on observations and evidence, known as scientific inquiry.
Units of Study:
Unit 1 – What is Science?
The first unit is a brief introduction to the work of science. Through consumer product testing of different paper towel brands, the students learn to design controlled experiments, measure using the metric system, make detailed observations, and record, graph, and analyze data. The culmination of the unit is the student’s first scientific lab report, which follows a standard form throughout her three years in science at GMS.
Unit 2 – Earth in the Solar System
Students briefly explore current theories surrounding the beginning of the universe before focusing in on our solar system. Students read folktales and creation myths from around the world to help illustrate how human understanding of the Earth’s place in space has changed over time before discussing the most current understandings about the solar system.
Unit 3 – 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.
Unit 4 - Plate Tectonics
Students learn about plate tectonic theory and the relationship between plate motion, earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain building, particularly in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Students learn to distinguish different types of volcanoes based on shape, tectonic setting, and lava viscosity through hands-on activities. They also differentiate between convergent, divergent, and transform plate boundaries to understand the role that plate tectonics plays in shaping the Earth.
Unit 5 - Ocean Currents
While studying the causes and patterns of ocean currents, students also explore the relationships between currents and pollution, climate, fisheries, and sailing. Through experimentation, students investigate the roles that wind, salinity, and temperature have on the density and motion of bodies of water. In their final project students research specific currents and practice geography skills by accurately tracing the path of a hypothetical message in a bottle tossed into the world’s ocean.
Unit 6 - Inquiry/Field Study
In teams and individually, students continue to practice their scientific inquiry skills, which include asking testable questions, formulating hypotheses, developing logical and repeatable procedures, collecting and analyzing data, measuring using the metric system, communicating scientific findings orally and in writing, and safely using field and lab equipment and techniques through a student-directed scientific field study conducted at a local park or refuge. Students create formal lab reports, scientific posters, and Powerpoint presentations, and the unit culminates in a scientific poster session open to the GMS community.