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Your fifth grader and science

Fifth graders get an up-close view of animal and plant life by examining the structure of cells.

By GreatSchools Staff

Science isn’t just a body of knowledge — it's a way of acquiring scientific concepts and principles, and the best elementary 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.

Science standards vary widely from state to state and school to school, but the thinking skills taught by science are universal. Most elementary schoolers will get an introduction to sound, electricity, plants, animals, and the three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas). The National Science Education Standards — the jumping-off place for many states — lists important topics and thinking skills for kindergarten through high school.

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 science topics will my fifth grader learn?

In fifth grade, students explore life science, earth science, and physical science. Through hands-on investigations, they try out the kind of work that professional scientists do, helping them understand the foundations of science and inspire curiosity about the subject. Fifth-grade classes sometimes supplement classroom work by visiting science museums and observatories or taking trips to the ocean.

Life science

Life science is the study of the structure and behavior of living organisms. Expect students in fifth grade to examine cells under a microscope and learn to identify the different parts of the cell, including the cell membrane and nucleus. Children should also learn about the systems of the body and how they work together. They might be asked to draw life-size human figures, labeling the organs inside.

Fifth-grade teachers should introduce the concept of ecosystems — and the interdependence of animals and plants within them. Many students do population counts of a designated area, making a list of the plants and animals living there. Another common fifth-grade science project involves diagramming the energy flow in a food web, identifying the producers, decomposers, consumers, predators, and prey. Finally, students learn about the five major kingdoms (plants, animals, fungi, protists, and monerans) and should be able to describe and cite examples from each kingdom.

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