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What to Teach in First Grade

Deciding what science topics to cover in first grade can feel overwhelming. But with the right tools, the task can be enjoyable and chillax’ing. Start by familiarizing yourself with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). You can find complete information here.

In general, the current science education standards are grouped into three distinct groups about teaching and learning. The first category is practices. In this set of standards, the overarching goal is for children to understand how scientists and engineers go about investigating phenomena and problems.

There are eight practices:

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

The second category is, disciplinary core ideas. These are the minimum scientific ideas children should master in each of the following disciplines:

  1. Physical sciences
  2. Life sciences
  3. Earth and space sciences
  4. Engineering, technology, and application of science

In each discipline, the standards gives a list of concepts/ideas children should be able to explain using age appropriate sources of evidence.

The third and last category is, crosscutting concepts. These are the standards that guide instruction to help learners notice patterns and concepts/ideas across multiple disciplines. In other words, this category is the thread that joins practices and disciplinary core ideas.

 

What should children learn in first grade?

In first grade, the main focus is for children to continue developing inquiry skills that began in Kindergarten. Specifically, NGSS emphasizes the goal of guiding children to ask productive questions and learning how to plan an investigation. 

We can help children meet this standards by centering the science curriculum on three themes/units.

The first theme is, Light and Sound Waves. Children will have to do many investigations so they can arrive to the following disciplinary core ideas:

  • Sound can make matter vibrate.
  • Vibrating matter can make sounds.
  • Objects are visible when light illuminates them.
  • Some materials allow light to go through.
  • Some materials absorb light.
  • Some materials allow only some light go through.
  • Mirrors reflect light.
  • Light and sound waves can help people communicate over a long distance.

You can download the overview for this theme here. 

1stGrade_LightSound

The second theme is, Force and Motion. Just like in theme one, students work on asking, testing, and demonstrating understanding of concepts. The the following are the core ideas:

  • Pushes and pulls can have different strengths and directions.
  • Pushing and pulling can change the speed and/or direction of the object.
  • When objects collide they push on each other.
  • A bigger push can make things speed up or slow down more quickly. 

These ideas are then grounded in the context that scientists and engineers can use knowledge to improve quality of life. 

Here is the summary for second theme. 

1st_ForceMotion

The third and last theme is, Structures and Functions of Plants and Animals. This theme is most likely to take place during Spring and the classroom should be the outdoors. In addition, this is the most intensive science work students in first grade do during the year. 

Again, following the NGSS recommendations for the grade level, children should be observing and playing in nature to demonstrate that, 

  • All organisms have external parts.
  • All organisms have internal parts.
  • Organisms’ internal and external parts help them survive, grow, and reproduce.
  • Adult plants and animals can have an off-spring. 
  • Animals and plants have receptors that receive, decode, and transfer information.
  • Young animals are very much, but not exactly, like their parents.
  • Individuals of the same plant or animal family can be very similar but also different in many ways.

1st_StructuresFunctions

You can download this theme’s overview here

We hope these themes, for first grade, are helpful to you. If you are interested in deciding what to teach in kindergarten go to this blog post. And, if you want to decide what to teach in second grade go to this blog post. Share with us your story.

Published by Reizelie Barreto, PhD

Reizelie is a former homeschool parent and a trained science and Montessori teacher with a passion for curriculum development. She loves learning and teaching and on her spare time she helps families create home environments that enrich a child's learning. Reizelie has a PhD in science education and has been working in the field of education for the last 19 years. She loves helping teachers, schools, and homeschooling families improve their science curriculum in ways that are authentic to scientists' work.

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