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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:

Physical science

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.

Comments from readers

"Not only Science teachers but more activities between schools for scientific porjects, expositions, science fairs."
"This article is right on the money. After teaching science for 20 years our new Governor forced us to 'teach the test'. That doesn't work! Since organizing your thoughts, being precise, accurate, and detailed in your presentation of data is so important I spent time teaching my middle schoolers how to write and present a paper. If you a unable to properly share your findings your research will be of no benefit to anyone."
"Very good article. We need good Science teachers stressing the Scientific Method.Observing, recording, classifying, recording, graphing data and comparing results."
"this is a great artical i think you should post the study guids for there next test it would help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!;]];]];]]"
"this is great ideas for my science so i can pass it. i want to learn more can you please email me more input about science."
"Thank you for the report. It was very useful and had great links for help."
"A good addition to the math help and also relevant to this article would be to add a science help unit on the front page."
"This is a great article! We have been looking into an MST middle school for our son, as opposed to a humanities magnet. This article convinces me that the MST would be better suited to his interests. Thank-you!"