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It should be a goal of the instructor to foster the development of science process skills. The application of these skills allows students to investigate important issues in the world around them. Inquiry-based units will include many or most of the following process skills. These process skills should be incorporated into students’ instruction as developmentally appropriate.

Classifying–arranging or distributing objects, events, or information representing objects or events in classes according to some method or system

Communicating–giving oral and written explanations or graphic representations of observations

Comparing and contrasting–identifying similarities and differences between or among objects, events, data, systems, etc.

Creating models–displaying information, using multi-sensory representations

Gathering and organizing data–collecting information about objects and events which illustrate a specific situation

Generalizing–drawing general conclusions from particulars

Identifying variables–recognizing the characteristics of objects or factors in events that are constant or change under different conditions

Inferring–drawing a conclusion based on prior experiences

Interpreting data–analyzing data that have been obtained and organized by determining apparent patterns or relationships in the data

Making decisions–identifying alternatives and choosing a course of action from among the alternatives after basing the judgment for the selection on justifiable reasons

Manipulating materials–handling or treating materials and equipment safely, skillfully, and effectively

Measuring–making quantitative observations by comparing to a conventional or non-conventional standard

Observing–becoming aware of an object or event by using any of the senses (or extensions of the senses) to identify properties

Predicting–making a forecast of future events or conditions expected to exist


Working Effectively–contributing to the work of a brainstorming group, laboratory partnership, cooperative learning, group, or project team; planning procedures; identifying and managing responsibilities of team members; and staying on task, whether working alone or as part of a group

Gathering and Processing Information–accessing information from printed media, electronic databases, and community resources; using the information to develop a definition of the problem and to research possible solutions

Generating and Analyzing Ideas–developing ideas for proposed solutions, investigating ideas, collecting data, and showing relationships and patterns in the data

Common Themes–observing examples of common unifying themes, applying them to the problem, and using them to better understand the dimensions of the problem

Realizing Ideas–constructing components or models, arriving at a solution, and evaluating the results

Presenting Results–using a variety of media to present the solution and to communicate the results

STANDARD 1—Analysis, Inquiry, and Design

Students will use mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design, as appropriate, to pose questions, seek answers, and develop solutions

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Key Idea 1:

Abstraction and symbolic representation are used to communicate mathematically.

For example:

  • use eccentricity, rate, gradient, standard error of measurement, and density in context

Key Idea 2:

Deductive and inductive reasoning are used to reach mathematical conclusions.

For example:

  • determine the relationships among: velocity, slope, sediment size, channel shape, and volume of a stream
  • understand the relationships among: the planets’ distance from the Sun, gravitational force, period of revolution, and speed of revolution

Key Idea 3:

Critical thinking skills are used in the solution of mathematical problems.

For example:

  • in a field, use isolines to determine a source of pollution


Key Idea 1:

The central purpose of scientific inquiry is to develop explanations of natural phenomena in a continuing, creative process.

For example:

  • show how our observation of celestial motions supports the idea of stars moving around a stationary Earth (the geocentric model), but further investigation has led scientists to understand that most of these changes are a result of Earth’s motion around the Sun (the heliocentric model)

Key Idea 2:

Beyond the use of reasoning and consensus, scientific inquiry involves the testing of proposed explanations involving the use of conventional techniques and procedures and usually requiring considerable ingenuity.

For example:

  • test sediment properties and the rate of deposition

Key Idea 3:

The observations made while testing proposed explanations, when analyzed using conventional and invented methods, provide new insights into phenomena.

For example:

  • determine the changing length of a shadow based on the motion of the Sun

STANDARD 2 Information Systems

Students will access, generate, process, and transfer information, using appropriate technologies.

Key Idea 1:

Information technology is used to retrieve, process, and communicate information as a

tool to enhance learning.

For example:

  • analyze weather maps to predict future weather events
  • use library or electronic references to obtain information to support a laboratory conclusion

Key Idea 2:

Knowledge of the impacts and limitations of information systems is essential to its effective and ethical use.

For example:

  • obtain printed or electronic materials which exemplify miscommunication and/or misconceptions of current commonly accepted scientific knowledge

Key Idea 3:

Information technology can have positive and negative impacts on society, depending upon how it is used.

For example:

  • discuss how early warning systems can protect society and the environment from natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and volcanoes
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STANDARD 6—Interconnectedness: Common Themes

Students will understand the relationships and common themes that connect mathematics, science, and technology and apply the themes to these and other areas of learning.

Key Idea 1:

Through systems thinking, people can recognize the commonalities that exist among all systems and how parts of a system interrelate and combine to perform specific functions.

For example:

  • analyze a depositional erosional system of a stream

Key Idea 2:

Models are simplified representations of objects, structures, or systems used in analysis, explanation, interpretation, or design.

For example:

  • draw a simple contour map of a model landform
  • design a 3-D landscape model from a contour map
  • construct and interpret a profile based on an isoline map
  • use flowcharts to identify rocks and minerals

Key Idea 3:      

The grouping of magnitudes of size, time, frequency, and pressures or other units of measurement into a series of relative order provides a useful way to deal with the immense range and the changes in scale that affect the behavior and design of systems.

For example:

  • develop a scale model to represent planet size and/or distance
  • develop a scale model of units of geologic time
  • use topographical maps to determine distances and elevations

Key Idea 4:

Equilibrium is a state of stability due either to a lack of change (static equilibrium) or a balance between opposing forces (dynamic equilibrium).

For example:

  • analyze the interrelationship between gravity and inertia and its effects on the orbit of planets or satellites

Key Idea 5:

Identifying patterns of change is necessary for making predictions about future behavior and conditions.

For example:

  • graph and interpret the nature of cyclic change such as sunspots, tides, and atmospheric carbon dioxide
  • based on present data of plate movement, determine past and future positions of land masses
  • using given weather data, identify the interface between air masses, such as cold fonts, warm fronts, and stationary fronts

Key Idea 6:

In order to arrive at the best solution that meets criteria within constraints, it is often necessary to make trade-offs.

For example:

  • debate the effect of human activities as they relate to quality of life on Earth systems (global warming, land use, preservation of natural resources, pollution)

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STANDARD 7—Interdisciplinary Problem Solving

Students will apply the knowledge and thinking skills of mathematics, science, and technology to address real-life problems and make informed decisions.

Key Idea 1:

The knowledge and skills of mathematics, science, and technology are used together to make informed decisions and solve problems, especially those relating to issues of science/technology/society, consumer decision making, design, and inquiry into phenomena.

For example:

  • analyze the issues related to local energy needs and develop a viable energy generation plan for the community
  • investigate two similar fossils to determine if they represent a developmental change over time
  • investigate the political, economic, and environmental impact of global distribution and use of mineral resources and fossil fuels
  • consider environmental and social implications of various solutions to an environ mental Earth resources problem

Key Idea 2:

Solving interdisciplinary problems involves a variety of skills and strategies, including effective work habits; gathering and processing information; generating and analyzing ideas; realizing ideas; making connections among the common themes of mathematics, science, and technology; and presenting results.

For example:

  • collect, collate, and process data concerning potential natural disasters (tornadoes, thunderstorms, blizzards, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions, asteroid  impacts, etc.) in an area and develop an emergency action plan using a topographic map, determine the safest and most efficient route for rescue purposes


Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.

Key Idea 1: 

The Earth and celestial phenomena can be described by principles of relative motion and perspective.

People have observed the stars for thousands of years, using them to find direction, note the passage of time, and to express their values and traditions. As our technology has progressed, so has understanding of celestial objects and events.

Theories of the universe have developed over many centuries. Although to a casual observer celestial bodies appeared to orbit a stationary Earth, scientific discoveries led us to the understanding that Earth is one planet that orbits the Sun, a typical star in a vast and ancient universe. We now infer an origin and an age and evolution of the universe, as we speculate about its future.

As we look at Earth, we find clues to its origin and how it has changed through nearly five billion years, as well as the evolution of life on Earth.

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Key Idea 2:

Many of the phenomena that we observe on Earth involve interactions among components of air, water, and land.

Earth may be considered a huge machine driven by two engines, one internal and one external. These heat engines convert heat energy into mechanical energy.

Earth’s external heat engine is powered primarily by solar energy and influenced by gravity. Nearly all the energy for circulating the atmosphere and oceans is supplied by the Sun. As insolation strikes the atmosphere, a small percentage is directly absorbed, especially by gases such as ozone, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. Clouds and Earth’s surface reflect some energy back to space, and Earth’s surface absorbs some energy. Energy is transferred between Earth’s surface and the atmosphere by radiation, conduction, evaporation, and convection. Temperature variations within the atmosphere cause differences in density that cause atmospheric circulation, which is affected by Earth’s rotation. The interaction of these processes results in the complex atmospheric occurrence known as weather.

Average temperatures on Earth are the result of the total amount of insolation absorbed by Earth’s surface and its atmosphere and the amount of long-wave energy radiated back into space. However, throughout geologic time, ice ages occurred in the middle latitudes. In addition, average temperatures may have been significantly warmer at times in the geologic past. This suggests that Earth had climate changes that were most likely associated with long periods of imbalances of its heat budget.  Earth’s internal heat engine is powered by heat from the decay of radioactive materials and residual heat from Earth’s formation. Differences in density resulting from heat flow within Earth’s interior caused the changes explained by the theory of plate tectonics: movement of the lithospheric plates; earthquakes; volcanoes; and the deformation and metamorphism of rocks during the formation of young mountains.

Precipitation resulting from the external heat engine’s weather systems supplies moisture to Earth’s surface that contributes to the weathering of rocks. Running water erodes mountains that were originally uplifted by Earth’s internal heat engine and transports sediments to other locations, where they are deposited and may undergo the processes that transform them into sedimentary rocks.

Global climate is determined by the interaction of solar energy with Earth’s surface and atmosphere. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and Earth rotation, and the positions of mountain ranges and oceans.

Key Idea 3:

Matter is made up of particles whose properties determine the observable characteristics of matter and its reactivity.

Observation and classification have helped us understand the great variety and complexity of Earth materials.

Minerals are the naturally occurring inorganic solid elements, compounds, and mixtures from which rocks are made. We classify minerals on the basis of their chemical composition and observable properties. Rocks are generally classified by their origin (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary), texture, and mineral content.

Rocks and minerals help us understand Earth’s historical development and its dynamics. They are important to us because of their availability and properties. The use and distribution of mineral resources and fossil fuels have important economic and environmental impacts. As limited resources, they must be used wisely.

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