Science - Grade Level Descriptions

Science - Grade Level Descriptions

Science Grades Tabs

Course Description

At GMS our girls practice earth science by examining and exploring the interrelated systems and environments of the Earth. We use the Bay area we all share as our workspace. In our yearlong field science program at Filoli the girls observe ecosystems and habitats, collect and analyze data, and propose explanations based on their own observations and evidence. On a larger scale, using scientific inquiry and cutting edge technology, they explore volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics and seafloor vents. Hands-on experiments with ocean currents allow the girls to develop deep understanding of the concept of density and how the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere are interrelated. By the end of 6th grade the girls begin to apply their understanding of Earth systems to the complex topic of climate change. 

Units of Study:

Unit 1 – Biomes of the World

Developing an understanding and awareness of the diverse biomes and ecosystems found on our planet builds the framework for our yearlong deeper study and practice of Earth Science. Using GoogleEarth technology we take a Tour of the Biomes, inspiring questions about climate, plants, animals, ecosystems and adaptations. In small groups girls collaborate to conduct research to answer their questions. They demonstrate and communicate their understanding by building models, drawing and labeling scientific diagrams and reporting on the discovery of a “new” organism, perfectly adapted to survive in its biome. Each project and investigation during the year will utilize these important science skills.

Unit 2 – Field Study

In our yearlong Seasonal Plot Studies program at Filoli GMS girls practice field science in our local, diverse ecosystems. Each team of four girls explores and monitors hula-hoop sized plots in two different ecosystems during three seasons. These explorations, supported by Filoli outdoor education docents, field journals, handheld computers and temperature probes, help girls develop observation documentation, quantitative data collection, graphing, and data analysis skills. Students create formal lab reports and scientific posters to communicate their science. The unit culminates in the spring with a scientific poster session open to the GMS community.

Unit 3 –  Earth in the Solar System

In this unit students briefly explore current theories surrounding the beginning of the universe and formation of galaxies before focusing in on our solar system, specifically planet Earth.  Folk tales and creation myths from around the world provide cross-curricular links to humanities and help to illustrate how human understanding of the Earth’s place in space has changed over time.

Unit 4 -Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics

Students use GoogleEarth as a tool to gather data, explore and draw conclusions about three types of volcanoes and how they work. This understanding is then the foundation for our investigation of plate tectonic theory and the relationships between plate motion, earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain building. The Pacific Ring of Fire that includes California is frequently the type locality we use as the girls learn to differentiate between convergent, divergent, and transform plate boundaries and to understand the role that plate tectonics plays in shaping the Earth. A three-day field experience at Marin Headlands gives them a chance to explore the San Andreas Fault at the tectonic boundary between the North American and Pacific plates.

Unit 5 - Ocean Currents

While studying the causes and patterns of ocean currents, the students also explore the relationships between currents and pollution, climate, fisheries, and sailing. Through experimentation girls investigate the role that wind, salinity, and temperature have on the density and motion of bodies of water. In her final, individual project each girl researches specific currents and practices her geography skills by accurately tracing the path of a hypothetical message in a bottle tossed into the world’s one ocean.

Unit 6 -Seafloor Exploration

In this short, technology centered unit, students explore the seafloor along a plate boundary using indirect observation and data collection techniques (remote sensing). Each student asks her own question, develops a hypothesis, collects real data and analyzes it to draw or infer a conclusion that answers her original question. The project focuses on data analysis and drawing a meaningful conclusion. Each girl utilizes all of the scientific skills she has practiced during the year. Students present their work at an in-class scientific meeting. 

Unit 7 -Life through Time

Students collect evidence about the changes and stability in life and earth processes through the past 4.6 billion years. Each session encourages students to explore the most common flora and fauna of a particular geologic time period, track the locations of the Earth’s tectonic plates, document major evolutionary events, and visualize the relationships among different organisms in the past and today. Students continue their study of the processes of evolutionary change in seventh grade through genetics and natural selection.

Course Description

In 7th Grade Life Science, students use their fall study of evolution as a lens to learn about the rest of the living world, from cells to full organisms.  Observational studies, model building, problem solving, and inquiry help students connect learning to the outside world. Much of the class focuses on humans, touching on students own evolution, anatomy, and genetic traits, which allows students to draw immediate connections between class content and their own experience.  We really examine what makes us tick!


Units of Study:

Ongoing - Investigation and Experimentation

Students practice asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations throughout the year. As a basis for understanding these concepts and addressing course content, students develop their own questions and perform investigations.  Their work culminates in a long term self designed experiment that students share with the community at the 7th Grade Science Exhibition.

Unit 1 – What is life?

What are the common characteristics of life?  This mini-unit serves as an introduction to scientific investigation, and students practice making observations and inferences to derive their own answers.  Students also get a chance to try being wrong with enthusiasm, using new data to amend their hypotheses without fearing mistakes. 

Unit 2 – Evolution

The answer to most "why" questions about how living things work requires a deep understanding of evolution.  Students use examples from the animal kingdom to practice their evolutionary biologist thinking.  In the natural selection lab, students prey on jelly beans to derive the principles of natural selection and apply these concepts to many real world examples.  This unit serves as a foundation we return to often as students explore how living organisms work.

Unit 3 - Cells

All living organisms are composed of cells, from just one to many trillions, whose details usually are visible only through a microscope. This unit follows single cell as it grows into a complete organismstudents through cell structure and function, mitosis and meiosis, and cell differentiation.  Students learn to use microscopes, and by the end of the unit are able to prepare a wet mount of cheek cells and capture a digital image that they revisit in future units. 

Unit 4 - Anatomy and physiology

This unit allows students to explore the structure and function of the human body.  Students start by studying neuroscience, thinking about how they learn, percieve, and experience the world.  Students then trace an oxygen molecule as it travles through the respiratory and circulatory system into a cell.  There, they revisit cell biology as they learn the basics of energy usage. During this unit, students also design, implement, and present their own controlled experiments on a topic of their choosing. 

Unit 5 – Genetics and Heredity

Students spend the final unit of the year learning about their own traits, revisiting meiosis to think about how their parents passed down the unique genome that created them.  After practicing punnet squares, students choose their own challenges by taking on problems of varying difficulties.  We research and share articles on genetic discoveries of the year, always considering the roles of nature and nurture in our own identity.



Course Description

Eighth-grade science introduces students to principles of physics and chemistry: energy, atomic structure, types of bonding, simple chemical reactions, force and motion. Throughout the year, skills specific to the study of science are emphasized, as are effective student learning strategies. A vital component of the 8th grade course is an independent research project students work on that is showcased in the school-wide “Science Exhibition” that occurs in April. Throughout the year, instruction is rooted in hands-on explorations, in which students are primarily asked to “do science” as opposed to “read about science”.


Units of Study:

Unit 1 – Energy

This introductory unit looks at forms of energy and energy transformations. Skills of observation, careful measurements that incorporated estimates of experimental uncertainty, strategies for equation-based problem-solving, and active reading and note-taking of technical sources are introduced.  

Unit 2 – Chemistry

The chemistry unit starts with looking at some examples of how patterns of physical and chemical properties of the elements are embedded in the periodic table, encountering the basic symbolic language of chemistry along the way. We then moves look at the structure of atoms and how patterns in these structures underlie the patterns of chemical and physical properties. This leads to an exploration of how patterns in electron structure specificallynunderlie our understanding of how chemical bonds form different compounds. . This is the only unit that uses a textbook – Living by Chemistry by Angelica Stacy, an outstanding and very well conceived text. Throughout the unit, skills for effectively using a textbook are emphasized and practiced throughout the unit. 

Unit 3 – Science Exhibition Project

The 8th grade science exhibition project in many ways is the capstone project of the girls’ progress through the science program. Each girl is given an option of 1) Designing, conducting, and reporting on a controlled or demonstration experiment of some scientific or engineering principle. 2) Investigating the underlying science of two Exploratorium Exhibits (we visit the museum in the fall). 3) Reporting on any active area of current science research, focusing on the work of one particular researcher or research group. This option requires that the student has a technical journal article as a foundational source for their research. Girls practice technical research skills throughout this project, and are encouraged to “dive deeply” and follow their passions in choosing a topic. Significant classtime and hometime are allocated for this project, which is woven into the course during the  chemistry unit.

Unit 4 – Force and Motion

This unit provides an introductory look at force and motion, with an emphasis on equation-based problem solving. The goal is to provide the girls with an experience similar to what they will encounter at the beginning of a high school physics course.