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Building Blocks of Science® A New Generation: Earth and Space Systems

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Grade 5. In Earth and Space Systems, students are provided a variety of concrete experiences that allow them to explore how Earth is both part of a larger system and is itself composed of interconnected systems. Students gain experiences with modeling, scale, and cause-and-effect relationships, while identifying Earth's major spheres, how they interact, and how water circulates through all of Earth's other major spheres. Students learn that water is key to life on the planet.

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Grade 5. In Earth and Space Systems, students are provided a variety of concrete experiences that allow them to explore how Earth is both part of a larger system and is itself composed of interconnected systems. As a pre-unit assessment, students consider Earth's place in space. Students then examine the nearest and most familiar bodies to Earth and consider the observable effects they have on Earth.

In a series of hands-on lessons, students gain experiences with modeling, scale, and cause-and-effect relationships. Students are encouraged to record their investigations, observations, and new questions and ideas in their science notebooks, a process that helps prepare them to conduct their own investigations.

Students identify Earth's major spheres and investigate how they interact. As most of Earth's surface is covered in water, as water circulates through all of Earth's other major spheres, and as water is key to life on the planet, two lessons are dedicated entirely to water, in its observable cycle and in the world ocean.

Students work independently, in pairs, in small groups, and on larger teams at various times throughout the unit. They are challenged to share what they have learned to help classmates construct knowledge and to build their own understanding from information that classmates share. As a culmination, students revisit activity sheets from the unit to develop and then answer questions to unite content and reinforce the concept of the interrelationship of systems.

The Earth and Space Systems unit addresses the following standards:
Next Generation Science Standards K–5
Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars
  • ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System
  • ESS2.A: Earth Materials and Systems
  • ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes
  • PS2.B: Types of Interactions

Crosscutting Concepts

  • Patterns
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Common Core State Standards
Language Arts


American Association for the Advancement of Science BenchmarksThe Universe

  • Planets change their positions against the background of stars.
  • The earth is one of several planets that orbit the sun, and the moon orbits around the earth.
  • Stars are like the sun, some being smaller and some larger, but so far away that they look like points of light.
  • A large light source at a great distance looks like a small light source that is much closer.

The Earth

  • Things on or near the earth are pulled toward it by the earth's gravity.
  • The earth is approximately spherical in shape. Like the earth, the sun and planets are spheres.
  • The rotation of the earth on its axis every 24 hours produces the night-and-day cycle. To people on earth, this turning of the planet makes it seem as though the sun, moon, planets, and stars are orbiting the earth once a day.
  • When liquid water disappears, it turns into a gas (vapor) in the air and can reappear as a liquid when cooled, or as a solid if cooled below the freezing point of water. Clouds and fog are made of tiny droplets or frozen crystals of water.
  • Air is a material that surrounds us and takes up space and whose movement we feel as wind.

Earth and Space Systems

  • The weather is always changing and can be described by measurable quantities such as temperature, wind direction and speed, and precipitation. Large masses of air with certain properties move across the surface of the earth. The movement and interaction of these air masses is used to forecast the weather.

Processes that Shape the Earth

  • Waves, wind, water, and ice shape and reshape the earth's land surface by eroding rock and soil in some areas and depositing them in other areas, sometimes in seasonal layers.


  • In something that consists of many parts, the parts usually influence one another.

Constancy and Change

  • Often the best way to tell which kinds of change are happening is to make a table or graph of measurements.
  • Some things in nature have a repeating pattern, such as the day-night cycle, the phases of the moon, and seasons.

Lesson-by-Lesson Summary

This unit offers several ways to assess students, including a pre- and a post-unit assessment opportunity. Teachers can also use class discussions and charts to assess each lesson. Student activity sheets and science notebook entries—including drawings, writings, and dictated statements—can be used to gauge individual understanding of objectives and key vocabulary throughout the unit. Finally, a general rubric is provided to help teachers evaluate individual students at any point in the unit. The rubric provides a progression of skills and understanding that covers exploration, vocabulary, concept building, and notebook entries.

Lesson 1: What Is Earth's Place in the Universe? To stimulate prior knowledge, students begin by discussing the systems in space of which Earth is a part. They complete a class concept map as a pre-unit assessment, relating space systems and the interactions of their parts to patterns that are observable on Earth. Students produce a model to relate the distance from Earth to relative brightness of the Sun and other stars. Then students calculate the difference in size of the Sun and Earth and design scale models that accurately represent the ratio of their relative size.

Lesson 2: How Do the Sun, Earth, and Moon Interact? Students add the Moon to their evaluation of objects in Earth's space system, first examining scale. Through interactive demonstrations, they learn about the effects of gravity and examine how Earth's spherical shape and orbit around the Sun are caused by the pull of gravity. Students construct a clay model to represent the revolution of Earth around the Sun and the revolution of the Moon around Earth. They explore the cause of seasons by measuring the angle of Earth's tilted axis and modeling the planet's changing position relative to the Sun throughout the year.Lesson 3: What Patterns Do Earth's and the Moon's Movements Cause? Through graphing and hands-on activities, students explore how movements of Earth and the Moon cause observable patterns. They review the concepts of rotation and revolution, then organize and analyze data on the changing number of daylight hours during the year to relate this pattern with the changing position of Earth in its orbit around the Sun. Students use a model to explore Moon phases. Then they investigate and graph how shadows change throughout a day.

As a mid-unit assessment, students revisit the concept map from Lesson 1 and suggest changes based on what they have learned so far.

Lesson 4: How Do Earth's Major Systems Interact? Working in groups, students take a jigsaw approach to learning about the characteristics of Earth's major systems and their interactions. They conduct research individually (or in pairs) about their assigned system and share their findings with their group. As a group, they merge what they have learned and use it to plan, prepare, and deliver a presentation through which they educate the class about their assigned system. Student pairs demonstrate understanding of some ways Earth's systems interact by making a terrarium.

Lesson 5: Where Is Water Found on Earth? Students calculate to determine the ratio of fresh water to salt water on Earth and use their calculations to make a circle graph. Then they use additional data to make a bar graph of Earth's freshwater distribution. Students access prior knowledge of water cycle processes, and through hands-on investigation, develop a model of the water cycle to observe and record evidence of the processes of evaporation and condensation. Through demonstration and class discussions, students analyze environmental consequences of water cycle processes.

Lesson 6: What Is the Role of Earth's Ocean? Students use data to recognize that nearly all of Earth's available water is in the ocean, and then complete a map of Earth's ocean regions. They model how ocean waves form and observe a demonstration to infer how deep ocean currents form. Students examine a map of the ocean floor and a diagram of ocean-floor landforms, and they make models of the ocean floor, exchanging models to explore and infer the shape of ocean floor features.

Working in groups, students take a jigsaw approach to learning about the characteristics of ocean zones and their organisms. They conduct research individually about an assigned zone and share findings within their groups. Groups then merge what they have learned and use it to complete and present a graphic organizer. Through their own research, and by listening to and recording information presented by other groups, students gain survey-level knowledge of a variety of ocean zones and organisms.

Lesson 7: What Have We Learned About Earth and Space Systems? Prompted by sets of key terms, students develop questions that, taken together, survey the content of the unit. They work independently to produce models or example displays that answer their questions and then join their projects in a class display.

As a post-unit assessment, students revisit and expand the concept map from Lesson 1.

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