Your middle schooler and science
From body systems to solar systems, find out which scientific concepts middle schoolers are expected to master.
By GreatSchools Staff
Science isn’t just a body of knowledge — it's a way of acquiring scientific concepts and principles, and the best middle school programs get students interested in investigating the world around them. As children learn facts and vocabulary, they develop the ability to ask scientific questions, plan experiments to answer these questions, and develop reasonable explanations based on their observations.
Quality middle school science is more important than ever, as the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed eighth-graders’ science scores stagnating on a national average and declining by 12th grade.
Science standards vary widely from state to state and school to school, but the thinking skills taught by science are universal. The topics below are examples taken from several states and therefore merely guidelines. To see how your child's schoolwork compares, check out your state's science standards.
What does good science instruction look like?
An international video study of eighth-grade science teaching practices in the United States found key differences between our country and nations that performed better on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study test (TIMSS) in 1999.
The good news is that U.S. students are engaged in a variety of science activities — hands-on experiments, class discussions, and independent reading and writing. The bad? These activities aren't necessarily linked to larger science ideas, and content is typically organized as discrete bits of information.
The study found that lessons in Australia and Japan, for example, focused on a small number of core ideas and engaged students in hands-on activities to explore and reinforce those ideas. In the United States, by contrast, students worked on activities designed to be fun and engaging.
In one lesson on building rockets described in the report, an eighth-grade teacher spent 10 minutes collecting permission slips for a field trip and talking about unrelated topics. Then the students got out their rockets and directions for building them and worked on them for 25 minutes, consulting with the teacher and classmates for help. There was no mention of any science ideas during the lesson.
What is taught in science?
State science standards vary widely, and when a panel of scientists reviewed them for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, they gave nearly half the states Ds or Fs. You can check here to see how your state measured up and look at which states’ standards received A grades.
Generally speaking, most middle school science classes cover the following topics:
Students of physical science brush up on the laws of motion, force, speed, and the transfer of energy. Middle-schoolers should understand the effect of friction on objects, as well as the difference between friction and inertia. In science class, kids have the opportunity to learn about the properties of a range of materials, studying size, weight, and shape. Middle school students should conduct experiments, use tools to gather and organize data, and learn how to make graphs to present their findings.