Smithsonian Science for the Classroom
The Smithsonian Science for the Classroom program, which is setting the standard for 3-D learning and 3-D assessment, is a new fully integrated STEM curriculum developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center. It is designed to engage students in phenomenon-based learning through coherent storylines, inspire teachers with point-of-use support, and connect students firsthand to the world around them. It was developed in consultation with teachers and technical experts and field tested in a range of schools with diverse populations. It draws on the latest findings and best practices from educational research with proven results.
For decades, the Smithsonian Science Education Center has been a leader in providing curriculum, professional development, and leadership development in support of inquiry-based science education.
We developed Smithsonian Science for the Classroom to:
- be designed from the ground up to meet the Next Generation Science Standards
- be educative for teachers as they learn to implement new standards
- incorporate findings from education research on how students learn
- be centered on coherent storylines with a logical flow from lesson to lesson as students work toward explaining phenomena or designing solutions to problems
- broaden access to world-class Smithsonian collections, experts, and resources
- include instructional supports to ensure all students can meet the standards
- incorporate a comprehensive assessment system to monitor student progress
Our approach is grounded in published research and informed by practitioner feedback.
Features of Smithsonian Science for the Classroom
Smithsonian Science for the Classroom is designed to be a comprehensive core science program for grades 1–5. We divided the NGSS Performance Expectations (PEs) into four “bundles” that correspond to four modules in each grade. If all four modules are used within the year, then students should be prepared to meet all the NGSS PEs at that grade level. Within a grade level, the modules may be used in any sequence that suits your district or school’s needs.
The modules are further organized into four topical “strands”: life science, Earth and space science, physical science, and engineering design. There is one module in each strand per grade level. While the strands serve as organizing themes, the modules themselves are interdisciplinary and always include PEs from at least one other topic.
Crucially, all modules in the engineering design strand also include science PEs—many of which are only covered within the engineering modules. The intent of the NGSS is for students to learn science and engineering in an integrated way that reflects the real-world practices of scientists and engineers. Our program honors this intent by never treating engineering design in isolation from the scientific knowledge it is based on.
The module titles are all phrased as questions. These questions serve to motivate students and tie together the concepts within the module’s PE bundle. The questions for the life, Earth, and physical science modules invite students to construct scientific explanations for natural phenomena, while the questions for the engineering design modules invite them to design solutions to practical problems. All modules have a culminating challenge—a science challenge or design challenge, depending on the strand—that serves as a performance assessment.
|Example Science or Design Challenge
|How Can We Stay Cool in the Sun?
|K-2-ETS1-1 • K-2-ETS1-2 • K-2-ETS1-3 • K-PS3-1 • K-PS3-2
| Defining problems can be used in designing and build portable shade devices.
Students ask questions to help define the problem around sunlight at a zoo exhibit. They research existing solutions. Then they design, build, and compare portable shade devices.
|How Can We Send a Message Using Sound?
|K-2-ETS1-1 • K-2-ETS1-2 • K-2-ETS1-3 • 1-PS4-1 • 1-PS4-4
|Different solutions need to be tested to see which one best solves the problem.
Students carry out research into parts of a banjo. They build a banjo by testing different banjo parts and argue from evidence which materials make the best banjo sound.
|How Can We Stop Soil From Washing Away?
|K-2-ETS1-1 • K-2-ETS1-2 • K-2-ETS1-3 • 2-ESS2-1 • 2-ESS1-1
|Designs are useful in communicating ideas for a solution to the erosion problem.
Students define the problem of saving the sand towers from destruction caused by water. They design a solution that is based on understanding of all the components of the system the sand towers are a part of and that works within set limits and is based on evidence from prior tests.
|How Can We Protect Animals When Their Habitat Changes?
|3-5-ETS1-1 • 3-5-ETS1-2 • 3-5-ETS1-3 • 3-LS4-1 • 3-LS2-1 • 3-LS4-3 • 3-LS4-4
|Problems are defined in terms of their criteria and constraints.
Students define the problem of salamanders being killed on roads and work together to design a prototype that, as a complete system, meets the constraints and criteria of the problem.
|How Can We Provide Energy to People’s Homes?
|3-5-ETS1-1 • 3-5-ETS1-2 • 3-5-ETS1-3 • 4-PS3-4 • 4-PS3-2 • 4-ESS3-1
|Electrical devices are designed to meet specific needs.
In a written assessment, students design a solution for a family interested in installing solar panels. Their solutions weigh environmental effects and use models of energy flow. Groups begin their design challenge, developing a plan for solving the problem and using models to document their plan.
|How Can We Provide Freshwater to Those in Need?
|3-5-ETS1-1 • 3-5-ETS1-2 • 3-5-ETS1-3 • 5-ESS2-1 • 5-ESS2-2 • 5-ESS3-1
|Communication with peers is an important part of the design process.
Groups of students evaluate information about a specific town in order to design a solution for accessing and treating water that meets specified criteria and constraints. Students analyze and interpret data to figure out effects of design choices in previous testing.
|What Do Plants and Animals Need to Live?
|K-LS1-1 • K-ESS2-2 • K-ESS3-1 • K-ESS3-3
| Predictions and models can be used to choose a design for a play area.
Students assess proposed play area plans to be built at a school. They will then predict whether caterpillars, woodpeckers, plants, and trees will get what they need. Students use their schoolyard model and their predictions to choose which plan they think the school should adopt.
|How Do Living Things Stay Safe and Grow?
|1-LS1-1 • 1-LS1-2 •1-LS3-1 • K-2-ETS1-1
|Animal behavior and external body parts help plants and animals survive.
Students engage in argument from evidence and construct an explanation of how patterns of behavior and the structure and function of plants and animals can help living things survive.
|How Can We Find the Best Place for a Plant to Grow?
|2-LS2-1 • 2-LS2-2 •2-LS4-1 • K-2-ETS1-1
|Plants can be placed in habitats that provide what they need to live, grow, and reproduce.
Students analyze and interpret information about plants and use a map to make suggestions about where to plant them using knowledge about what causes each plant to grow, how seeds will be dispersed based on their structure, and how the plant will be a part of the habitat system.
|What Explains Similarities and Differences Between Organisms?
|3-LS1-1 • 3-LS3-1 • 3-LS3-2 • 3-LS4-2 • 3-ESS2-2
|Guppies are brighter orange in one stream than in another, and the streams vary in a number of environmental factors.
Students analyze data from field notes about the environmental conditions in two streams where their guppies live and ask questions about their possible effects.
|How Can Animals Use their Senses to Communicate?
|4-LS1-1 • 4-LS1-2 • 4-PS4-2 • 4-PS4-3 • 3-5-ETS1-1
|Scientific arguments are based on evidence.
Students use data from testing with a model to develop an argument about whether fireflies with more distinct flash patterns are better at communicating.
|How Can We Predict Change in Ecosystems?
|5-LS1-1, 5-LS2-1, 5-PS1-1, 5-PS3-1
|Sea squirts often hitchhike on boats and become invasive species.
Students analyze and interpret data to develop and compare food web models of matter and energy flow in two coastal ecosystems.
|How Can We Be Ready for the Weather?
|K-ESS2-1 • K-ESS3-2 • K-PS3-1
| Observations of weather forecasts can be used to plan for a day.
Students make observations from weather forecasts and obtain information from a digital simulation to choose what to pack on a field trip to stay safe and comfortable with the weather that is predicted for the day.
|How Can We Predict When The Sky Will Be Dark?
|1-ESS1-1 • 1-ESS1-2 • 1-PS4-2
|Develop and use a model to guide an investigation of light sources.
Students develop and use a model of the Sun’s daily pattern of motion to identify the times of the year that it will be dark when kids walk to and from school and then students explain how different light sources cause objects to be seen.
|What Can Maps Tell Us about Land and Water on Earth?
|2-ESS2-2 • 2-ESS2-3 • 2-PS1-1
|Models and patterns on Earth can help in making maps.
Students develop a model by making a map that represents the patterns in three dimensional models they have built.
|How Do Weather and Climate Affect Our Lives?
|3-ESS2-1 • 3-ESS2-2 • 3-ESS3-1 • 3-5-ETS1-1
|Climate and weather data can be used to plan events.
Students analyze and interpret patterns in climate data to make a claim about which month would be best to host a kids’ tournament in a particular city.
|What Is Our Evidence That We Live on a Changing Earth?
|4-ESS1-1 • 4-ESS2-1 • 4-ESS2-2 • 4-ESS3-2 • 4-PS4-1 • 3-5-ETS1-1
|Evidence of a changing Earth comes in many forms and can be found all around us.
Students apply their understanding of evidence of change to new locations. They communicate information about patterns of fossils and rock features and patterns in map locations to explain that landscapes change.
|How Can We Use the Sky to Navigate?
|5-ESS1-1, 5-ESS1-2, 5-PS2-1, 3-5-ETS1-1
|Observations of the sky can be used to navigate a boat.
Students engage in argument about the plausibility of Polynesians sailing long distances
without instruments by using evidence that the patterns of the Sun and stars can be used to navigate.
|How Can We Change an Object's Motion?
|K-PS2-1 • K-PS2-2 • K-2-ETS1-3
|2-D and 3-D models can be used to determine what makes a ball change direction.
Students share initial ideas and develop a 2-D model of what they think is inside the Mini Golf feature. Then students develop 3-D models that they test before revising their 2-D models of the Mini Golf feature.
|How Can We Light Our Way in the Dark?
|1-PS4-2 • 1-PS4-3 • 1-LS1-1 • K-2-ETS1-1
|Light can interact with a material to make an object visible.
Students investigate how light interacts with new materials and explain how the effects could be used to make a path to safety visible in a dark room. Students then explain the need to make the pathway to a door visible in a dark room and how a material from their investigation can serve the function of making the pathway to safety visible.
|How Can We Change Solids and Liquids?
|2-PS1-1 • 2-PS1-2 • 2-PS1-3 • 2-PS1-4 • K-2-ETS1-1
|Characteristics of materials can be used to create a replica gemstone.
Students record information and use observations to identify a pattern of materials that are transparent and solid and argue from evidence for which material is the most transparent and the most like a solid.
|How Can We Predict Patterns of Motion?
|3-PS2-1 • 3-PS2-2 • 3-PS2-3 • 3-PS2-4 • 3-5-ETS1-1
|Magnetic forces acting between objects that are not in contact with each other can be used to influence patterns of motion in predictable ways.
Students ask questions about how magnets affect the pattern of motion of a steel pendulum.
|How Does Motion Energy Change in a Collision?
|4-PS3-1 • 4-PS3-2 • 4-PS3-3 • 4-LS1-1 • 3-5-ETS1-1
|Speed and surface affect how far an object will slide in a collision.
Students plan and carry out an investigation to determine how speed and surface affect how far an object slides in a collision.
|How Can We Identify Materials Based on Their Properties?
|5-PS1-1 , 5-PS1-2 , 5-PS1-3, 5-PS1-4 , 5-LS1-1
|Unknown solids can be identified by comparing properties.
Students carry out an investigation using a fair test to identify four unknown solids based on similarities and differences in properties.