6th Grade Science

How can we use science and engineering practices to explore energy, climate, body systems, and the growth and reproduction of organisms?
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The Equity in Science Education (ESE) Middle Grades Core Curriculum is a strategically sequenced set of projects that utilizes Groupwork and an integrated progression of Performance Expectations through a 5E instructional model. The course emerged from the successes of the Learning Through Performance curriculum project that was developed with educators from Stanford University School of Education at Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, & Equity (SCALE) and Stanford’s Center to Support Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CSET), San Francisco Bay Area science teachers, and funded by the George Lucas Educational Foundation. (The full research report for the LTP project can be viewed on SCALE’s science website.)

The Equity in Science Education curriculum uses project-based learning and rigorous curriculum-embedded performance assessments so that each and every student is invested in learning science and are supported to master the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Student learning is enhanced with research-proven groupwork strategies.

The curriculum is organized into four levels: course, unit, subunit, and lesson.

Each grade level course includes four project-based learning units with embedded performance assessments that align with the NGSS and an opening unit called, Groupwork that supports students to work as a team. Each of the four units are strategically sequenced to build towards answering the unit’s driving question and ends with a culminating project. Each unit is further divided into subunits that utilize the 5E Instructional Model. With the 5E structure, students progress through different lesson stages: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The 5E Instructional Model allows students to access prior knowledge and to connect their past learning experiences to the present. Students ask questions and define problems about the natural and designed world; design investigations in which they collect and analyze trends and patterns in their data; develop models of physical phenomena; and communicate findings from their investigations. The curriculum emphasizes the use of engineering solutions and evidence-based reasoning for scientific explanations to communicate recommendations to address real-world problems.

Structure of a Unit

The Equity in Science Education Middle Grades Core Curriculum (for each grade 6th, 7th, and 8th) consists of five units: four project based learning units, with embedded performance assessments aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, and an opening unit, Groupwork, that teaches students how to work as a team. Each unit is organized around a Unit Essential Question.

The materials are available as Creative Commons, open educational resources, not for commercial profit resources. To learn more about the project and the materials you can go to our team’s website .

Equity in Science Education Middle Grades Core Curriculum

This is a strategically sequenced set of projects. It is recommended that 6th Grade Science, 7th Grade Science, and 8th Grade Science are taught together.

Structure of a Unit

The Equity in Science Education Middle Grades Core Curriculum (for each grade 6th, 7th, and 8th) consists of five units: four project based learning units, with embedded performance assessments aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, and an opening unit, Groupwork, that teaches students how to work as a team. Each unit is organized around a Unit Essential Question.

The materials are available as Creative Commons, open educational resources, not for commercial profit resources. To learn more about the project and the materials you can go to our team’s website .

Unit Summaries

How can we use science and engineering practices to explore energy, climate, body systems, and the growth and reproduction of organisms?

Unit 0: Groupwork

How do we work productively in groups? Groupwork is an instructional strategy that helps promote equitable classrooms, provide opportunities for student interactions, and increase science discussions to improve student learning.

Groupwork Unit Plan

Unit 1: Energy

How can we design a device to warm something up? Students engineer a device that maximizes thermal energy transfer into a system to meet the needs of one of two possible clients.

Energy Unit Plan

Unit 2: Human Impact on Earth’s Climate

How can we create a plan to meet the SFUSD Sustainability Goals in our school? Students analyze the local impact of climate change and work together to create plans to help their school meet one of the San Francisco Unified School District’s sustainability goals.

Human Impact on Earth’s Climate Unit Plan

Unit 3: Cells and Body Systems

Should SFUSD ban caffeine? Why or why not? Students create a presentation in which they argue whether caffeine should be banned from the San Francisco Unified School District.

Cells and Body Systems Unit Plan

Unit 4: Reproduction and Heredity

How can we design a garden that supports the growth and reproduction of strawberry plants? Students develop an argument that uses evidence to support their plan for a strawberry garden.

Reproduction and Heredity Unit Plan

Research Proven Strategies

The Equity in Science Education Middle Grades Core Curriculum relies heavily on groupwork. The curriculum uses a framework developed by the Program for Complex Instruction at Stanford University to inform the construction of group tasks. Multiple research projects conducted by the Program for Complex Instruction show that increased learning gains are directly proportional to the level of students’ on-task talk while working in small groups. Specific strategies are employed within this groupwork strategy that enhance the level of student engagement and talking. Students are given roles that help equalize participation within the groups and require students to be more active learners. The activities are open-ended and productively “ill-structured”—meaning that there are no step-by-step procedures for students to follow. This open-ended structure allows for multiple “correct” answers, and/or methods for arriving at an answer, and requires students to make choices and determine how the group will accomplish the work. Teachers take on the role of facilitators and content coaches who continuously focus on how well groups interact, probe and challenge students’ thinking during the activities, and monitor students’ learning throughout the process.

Researchers at CSET found that teachers and administrators in middle school have a positive response to the inquiry-based and groupwork components of this project-based curriculum. Results were gathered from teacher and administrator experience in 2018-2019 with the Equity in Science Education Middle Grades Core Curriculum through classroom observations, surveys, focus groups, and administrators. Here’s what they had to say:

“I really like the curriculum. I think that it’s doing the right things to engage kids in collaboration and creativity and discovering science and making it their own and changing how they work together and how they approach learning.” - School Administrator
“Love the 5E’s model — it really breaks down learning for students and it is helping raise their independent learning skills, and it shifts the cognitive load to students more.” - Middle School Teacher
“Getting students engaged with the content. Students really enjoy the labs and being able to problem solve through trial and error.” - Middle School Teacher
“Students enjoy labs and are conversing with peers from other periods as well, asking how hot/cold their packs got.” - Middle School Teacher
“Kids are a lot more engaged in our science units! They really enjoy the engage and explore sections of it.” - Middle School Teacher
“Students are engaged and enjoy the more hands on nature of the class. I also liked to do a lot of labs in my class and appreciate that they are now more built into the curriculum. Students are asking good questions and more actively seeking out understanding more.” - Middle School Teacher
“Students are learning the concepts and are able to demonstrate their conceptual understanding through dialogue, written reflections and project based learning.” - Middle School Teacher
“The collaboration is going well. The engage and explore activities are usually fun and get the kids excited.” - Middle School Teacher