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Building Blocks of Science® A New Generation: Changing Earth

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Grade 4. The Changing Earth Unit Kit includes a Teacher’s Guide and supplies and apparatus for a 30-student class. In the unit, students learn how the distinct features of Earth came to be. Students explore how earthquakes, volcanoes, and the movement of the continents shape the earth’s surface. They investigate tectonic plates, the rock cycle, and the effects of erosion and deposits of sediment. Students design a model with landforms similar to those on Earth.

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Grade 4. The Changing Earth Unit Kit includes a Teacher’s Guide and enough supplies and apparatus for a class of 30 students. During Changing Earth, students explore how the distinct features of Earth came to be. Through purposeful exploration, students recognize the causes of events—such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and the movement of the continents—that shape the earth’s surface. They investigate how the tectonic plates of the earth’s solid crust move around on top of the molten rock of the mantle below by manipulating objects with similar properties. Students explore the processes of the rock cycle to develop an understanding of how sedimentary rock leaves a record of the sequence in the relative age of the rock layers. Students also have opportunities to observe the long-term effects of wind and water erosion and deposits of sediment by investigating the movement of a steady stream of water in a stream table. In a final culminating activity, students combine the information they have learned with their natural engineering skills to design a model of a world that has landforms that are formed by the same processes as those that shape Earth.

The Changing Earth unit addresses the following standards:
Next Generation Science Standards
Disciplinary Core Ideas

LS1.A: Structure and Function
LS1.D: Information Processing
LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer
PS4.B: Electromagnetic Radiation

Crosscutting Concepts
Cause and Effect
Systems and System Models
Energy and Matter: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation
Structure and Function
Energy and Matter
Stability and Change

Engineering Practices
Asking Questions and Defining Problems
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Developing and Using Models

Common Core State Standards
Language Arts
SL.4.1c, d

American Association for the Advancement of Science Benchmarks
The Living Environment
Diversity of Life

  • A great variety of kinds of living things can be sorted into groups in many ways using various features to decide which things belong to which group.
  • There are millions of different kinds of individual organisms that inhabit the earth at any one time—some very similar to each other, some very different.

Evolution of Life

  • Different plants and animals have external features that help them thrive in different kinds of places.
  • Individuals of the same kind differ in their characteristics, and sometimes the differences give individuals an advantage in surviving and reproducing.

The Human Organism Basic Functions

  • People have different external features, such as the size, shape, and color of hair, skin, and eyes, but they are more like one another than like other animals.
  • People need water, food, air, waste removal, and a particular range of temperatures in their environment, just as other animals do.

Scientific Inquiry

  • Scientific investigations may take many different forms, including observing what things are like or what is happening somewhere, collecting specimens for analysis, and doing experiments.
  • One reason for following directions carefully and for keeping records of one’s work is to provide information on what might have caused differences in investigations.
  • Scientists’ explanations about what happens in the world come partly from what they observe, partly from what they think.
  • Sometimes scientists have different explanations for the same set of observations. That usually leads to their making more observations to resolve the differences.
  • Scientists do not pay much attention to claims about how something they know about works unless the claims are backed up with evidence that can be confirmed, along with a logical argument.

The Scientific Worldview

  • Sometimes similar investigations give different results because of differences in the things being investigated, the methods used, or the circumstances in which the investigation is carried out, and sometimes just because of uncertainties in observations. It is not always easy to tell which.
  • Science is a process of trying to figure out how the world works by making careful observations and trying to make sense of those observations.


  • In something that consists of many parts, the parts usually influence one another.
  • Something may not work well (or at all) if a part of it is missing, broken, worn out, mismatched, or misconnected.

Manipulation and Observation

  • Keep written or electronic records of information so that the records are understandable weeks or months later.

Lesson-by-Lesson Summary
Lesson 1: Adaptations

This unit begins with a brainstorming session to assess what students know about plants and animals and the environments in which they live. Students are introduced to physical attributes that enable arctic animals to live in extreme temperatures. They observe how the structures of a carnivorous plant help it catch insects to get nutrients.

Lesson 2: Animal Structures
Students observe characteristics of different animals and classify them by one of the most basic characteristics used for classification of animals, the backbone. After determining the difference between an endoskeleton and exoskeleton, students design a hermit crab body and select a shell to simulate on their models the added protection hermit crabs have to protect their soft abdomens. Students then investigate how animals use their senses to respond to their surroundings by investigating the usefulness of the sense of sound. Students use their sense of hearing identify different objects based on the sound each makes.

Lesson 3: Plant Structures
By upper elementary, students have a basic understanding of the structures of a plant. This lesson helps build a stronger understanding of the functions of these structures as they investigate the survival needs of a plant. Students test and observe the development of structures and the effects of water and sunlight as they grow their own plants.

Starting with planting a seed at the beginning of a plant life cycle, students observe and record changes as a seed develops into a plant. They test and observe how plants take in water through the roots and sunlight through leaves by conducting controlled experiments. Students record observations and track changes in their science notebooks that will help them to draw conclusions at the end of this unit.

Lesson 4: Animal Reproduction
Students refer to the animals they discussed in Lesson 2 and determine which hatch from eggs and which do not. They then learn that there is an incubation period in which a chick develops inside the egg before it is hatched. Students track the changes to the chick inside the egg during that time using pictures. Students compare the difference in the incubation periods among birds, and discover that beneath the hard shell of an egg is a clear membrane that also helps to protect the egg.

Lesson 5: Plant Reproduction
This lesson starts with the beginning of the life cycle of a plant, the seed. Students look inside a seed and discover that the inside of a seed looks similar to a plant. Students closely examine the characteristics of different seeds and investigate the way seeds are dispersed. Finally, students observe a real-life example of the beginning development stages of the plant life cycle by focusing their observations on the seed they planted in Lesson 3.

Lesson 6: Light Up Your Life
Students observe a reaction their own bodies experience when they are exposed to the sun—that their pupils shrink when exposed to light—and that this reaction occurs because light enters the eye. Students then observe the changes made by the sun on construction paper. They investigate ways to prevent the sun from causing damage.

Lesson 7: Plant Light
Students apply what they have learned about plant structures to how plants use those parts to capture energy from the sun. Students observe a sun tracking behavior in their lima bean seedlings as they “follow” the sun throughout the day. As a culminating activity, students will test and observe the differences between a plant that is exposed to the sun and a plant that is deprived of the sun.

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