Tilden’s science program is an inquiry-based, material-rich program with hands-on experimentation, developing self-directed learners through a process of encountering, exploring, investigating, reflecting, explaining, and applying discoveries. Throughout their work, the students are introduced to the skills, tools, and language for communicating scientific information. We use a variety of effective and research-based science kits, including Insight Guides, Science & Technology for Children (STC), Full Option Science System (FOSS), and the Lawrence Hall of Science’s (University of California, Berkeley) GEMS kits.


The year begins with an introduction to the most fundamental scientific tool—the senses. Studying their senses, Kindergartners learn to become careful and accurate observers and reporters. The next unit (Comparing and Measuring by STC) further develops observation and measurement skills. Using the GEMS kit Elephants and Their Young, Kindergarteners further their study of the senses. As students learn about elephant body parts and function, they also learn math concepts such as weight and volume. This unit focuses on kinesthetic learning with role playing, model building, and storytelling.

Having developed these basic science skills, the students apply them to the exciting world of life science with the FOSS Animals 2×2 curriculum. Students observe and describe fish, snails, worms, isopods, and mealworms, comparing the structure and function of the different parts of the classroom animals. Students also learn to respect and handle animals gently.

In each unit, after exploring and investigating, students reflect and explain their thinking in their science notebooks, developing expository writing skills. Students use a variety of writing aids—sentence starters, writing frames, copying, drawing, and inventive spelling—to complement their individual abilities and to help them become effective scientific writers.

By the end of Kindergarten, students learn to label scientific illustrations, write simple observations in complete sentences without the use of writing aids, use scientific tools safely, and record what they actually observe, not what they expect to be happening. These skills prepare the Kindergarteners to run their own experiments independently in first grade.

The science program is frequently augmented in core classroom studies throughout the year with additional language arts, visual art, dramatic play, and math work.

First Grade

First graders begin by studying physical science with the Insight Guide unit Balls and Ramps. They study force and motion using simple but effective hands-on investigations. A strong underlying theme of this unit is learning scientific method: specifically, strengthening students’ understanding of conducting fair tests, collecting quantitative and qualitative data, and recording accurate observations.

In the STC unit Organisms, students learn what living things need and what specifically separates living and non-living things. In the spring, they learn how to scientifically observe weather and record those observations. In May, they study volcanoes in preparation for the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens on May 18.

The first grade year concludes with a mystery festival, introducing forensic science with a GEMS kit. Students try to solve a mystery by performing tests on clues found at a mock crime scene. This entertaining unit helps students learn to not jump to conclusions, and to develop logical explanations from physical evidence.

Second Grade

The goal for the second graders is to observe carefully, keep accurate records, and synthesize information from multiple investigations—skills they will use throughout their years at Tilden. Students begin the year studying soil (not dirt) in the STC unit Soils. They observe how worms help old plants decompose and become part of soil, and use simple tests to identify sand, clay, and humus in soil. They conduct a long-term investigation to explore how roots grow in various soils.

They hone their quantitative data-gathering skills with the STC unit Balancing and Weighing. Students measure, calibrate, and observe balance beams and equal-arm balances.

Finally, second grade students study liquids. They experiment with three different liquids to understand that liquids have a variety of characteristics, and attempt to identify common properties of all liquids. They explore how objects sink or float. Students use corn oil, corn syrup, and water to conduct experiments that help them understand factors that influence interactions between the liquids.

Third Grade

We begin the year studying plants in the STC unit Plant Growth and Development. Growing Wisconsin Fast Plants®, the students are able to observe the life cycle of a plant. Students are responsible for planting, tending, watering, and pollinating their plants. They also harvest the seeds at the culmination of the unit, completing the cycle. Students learn that the plants go through distinctive stages of development and that plants depend on other living things to survive and thrive. Building on their experiences in first and second grade, the class conducts an experiment to further their understanding of scientific method. The class chooses a manipulated variable for their experimental group of plants, and students carefully observe both control groups and experimental groups to test their hypothesis.

We then explore how rocks and minerals are formed and what role rocks and minerals play in our own lives. The students observe the properties of twelve rocks and twelve minerals. By practicing field identification techniques, including hardness, luster, magnetism, transparency, color, and streak tests, students are able to test three new minerals and correctly identify them.

Our final area of study is sound. Students learn that sound is produced by vibrating objects and vibrating columns of air. They investigate the length of a vibrating object as a variable that affects pitch, and discover that volume and pitch are two properties of sound. Students build harps and guitars, and observe that by changing the characteristics of a vibrating string, they are able to affect both volume and pitch.

Fourth Grade

By fourth grade students are adept at scientific labeling and illustrating. We begin to build on their classroom skills by connecting them to global issues and events. Our fourth graders start the year with STC’s Ecosystems unit. Students discover the complex relationships of living and non-living things in an ecosystem. Building connected terrariums and aquariums allows students to observe both aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Understanding and observing the two separate ecosystems of land and water together as a single ecosystem helps introduce the students to Systems Theory. They begin to understand that scientists do not just reduce a complex system to its individual parts, but work to understand how all the individual parts work together as a part of a complex system.

Students continue to build their understanding of scientific method by conducting an extensive experiment involving their eco-columns. By polluting a set of experimental groups, students observe the damaging effects caused by three major types of pollution: acid rain, fertilizer run-off, and road salt spray. The culminating project for this unit is a round-table debate on water use and rights in the Puget Sound area. Each group of students is assigned a role: commercial fisherman, recreational boater, land developer, etc. Students then debate how to have a sustainable ecosystem while meeting the needs of each group.

Having explored concrete ideas such as living systems, the students begin to delve into more abstract ideas of physical science by studying electricity and circuits. STC’s Electric Circuits and Insight’s Circuits and Pathways are combined into a comprehensive unit on electricity. Students build their own parallel and series circuits with D-Cells, light bulbs, and wires. They also use scientific method to design their own experiments, studying the effect of wire length and wire gauge on the brightness of their lighted bulb.

The fourth graders finish the year with an STC unit Motion and Design. Students use K’NEX to build vehicles, testing various attributes of their design and how it affects the vehicle’s ability to roll. Students build simple machines, and are introduced to the concepts of how simple machines can help do work. As a final project, the class works as a team to build a major K’NEX construction project called the Ball Factory. The students will never forget this lesson in teamwork and troubleshooting!

Fifth Grade

Fifth grade is the final step integrating classroom science with real-world experiences. We begin the year with the STC unit Land and Water. Using stream tables, students can see firsthand how water and land interact to shape their world. They explore big ideas, such as the water cycle and watersheds, both with their models in the classroom and with field trips. The fifth graders take time during this unit to volunteer with the Nature Consortium on a watershed restoration volunteer project. They spend an entire day doing trail work, invasive species removal, and native plant re-population. It is a long and tiring day, but students will be forever connected with their local watershed. Back in the classroom, students continue to learn scientific method, designing experiments on how slope affects soil erosion and deposition.

The fifth graders take a mid-year four-day trip to IslandWood, an environmental learning center on Bainbridge Island. This trip is a comprehensive environmental learning experience where students learn about the local ecosystem and its rich history.

Models and Design, an Insight Guide unit, teaches students about engineering, troubleshooting, and critical thinking. Completing a variety of projects, students learn how models can give scientists a deeper understanding of the universe.

Our final unit in the fifth grade takes us off the ground and into the world of rockets. Students learn about air and how its properties affect objects moving through it. They build a variety of models to help them further understand the forces of flight. Each student designs, builds, and launches his or her own rocket. Pairs of students use the computer rocket-design software RockSim to design a rocket. Each pair alters one variable to see how that specific variable affects the rocket’s maximum altitude. Students also learn about the math involved in measuring altitude, and they build their own tools to measure their rocket’s maximum altitude. With this capstone, students are not only learning how to think beyond their immediate community with their environmental studies, but now can think beyond our world with their study of rockets.


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