The four fifth grade units have students develop a sophisticated understanding of the natural world's complex systems at micro and at grand scales. Students learn about the particle nature of matter in the food they eat and in the water they drink, then they follow the progress of energy through a food web in larger ecosystems. They also consider how a traveler can identify Polaris from any point on the Northern Hemisphere, and what properties of light and sight make that possible.
Unit 5.1 Ecosystems
In the first project, students explore the question: “Why do some animals need the land unchanged, and some animals change the land?” They create a food web and terrain map based on evidence they gathered about decomposition, food chains, and energy transfer. Then students expand their map into a three-dimensional model and consider the potential human impact on a healthy ecosystem.
Unit 5.2 Chemistry of Taste
“How do I create a new taste?” is the driving question for the second project. Students create a scientific model to describe patterns in taste that they notice in foods. Through the lens of stability, change, and scale, students adapt their models to consider what happens when two tastes are mixed together or when sugar is added. The project culminates with students creating their own recipe for a new taste and a corresponding marketing plan.
Unit 5.3 Shadows and Stars
In the third project, students develop solutions to answer the question: “How could we travel 1,000 miles in the same direction, without a compass, map or phone?” Students gather seasonal outdoor shadow data to figure out a mystery location. They consider the positions of the Sun and Earth and the relationship between the direction and the length of shadows and the angle of the light source. Students use data, mathematical thinking and modeling to communicate their discovery of the mystery location and how to then travel north 1,000 miles.
Unit 5.4 Fresh Water
In the fourth project, students develop and test a solution that will conserve nearby freshwater or prevent it from becoming unhealthy to humans and animals in order to figure out: “How can I help my community always have clean and healthy water?” Students collect and investigate water samples and analyze data to determine sources of water quality problems that could affect their community such as bioaccumulation in food chains and runoff pollution. Students share their findings and solutions with stakeholders in their community.