Find inspiration for your NGSS middle school science curriculum with these phenomenon-based unit bundles.
Inspiration For Your NGSS-Aligned Middle School Science Curriculum
When I started teaching middle school, most of the curricula I explored and/or utilized had titles like Cells, Genetics and Heredity, Ecosystems, and so on. Essentially, these curricula were built on content-focused units that were organized around topics. And so when I began my own foray into writing storylines – even as I understood the shifts toward three-dimensional exploration and a more student-driven flow-of-learning (storylines) – I still fell back on a topical structure. Even as I incorporated phenomena and utilized anchor phenomenon experiences, I tended to bundle my standards around topics… and so I ended up with units that yes, incorporated phenomena but also weren’t quite built from phenomena.
As my understanding of phenomenon-based learning and the idea of a student-owned science experience grew, I realized I needed to shift my approach. In order for storylines to truly be “built from phenomena,” the phenomenon needed to come first! The bundling happened after.
[You can learn more about a phenomenon-first approach in my free workshop series Bring Wonder Back!]
A Flexible Middle School Science Curriculum
And I put this idea to work as I developed the iExploreScience Spark Curriculum Library. Because I designed this curriculum to truly be built from phenomena and to utilize what I call the “Pathways Approach” to science learning, the outline you’ll find linked below is not the super simple “scope and sequences” you may have seen in the past — the kind where each unit “checks off” one standard, and as long as you run through the units, you’ve “covered” all of the standards.
Rather, in the outline you find below, you will find opportunities to address the standards created by investigations into the anchor phenomenon. I call these opportunities “Curiosity Sparks” but basically, you can think of them as your units.
Each Curiosity Spark opens the door to address a number of standards. It’s up to you as the educator (and your students, as they respond to the anchor) to focus in on whatever standards may be most relevant to your classroom needs. With that in mind, this is a flexible middle school science curriculum, because you can tailor each Curiosity Spark as your heart desires
Honestly, it’s probably more of a curriculum “inspiration” than a straight up curriculum scope and sequence.
Why am I telling you this?
How To Use This Flexible Scope And Sequence
Well, in the scope and sequence you find below, you will see some standards are repeated across several Curiosity Sparks (units). You aren’t necessarily intended to address the standard twice (although you could, if you’d like) – but rather, I want to be clear that the anchor experience lends itself toward an investigation relevant to that standard. You could address that standard in that moment, or you could address it elsewhere.
It is up to you.
You can tailor the bundle and create the storyline.
Ordering Units In A Flexible Scope And Sequence
Before we dig in, let’s talk order.
In some schools, the order of topics or standards is dictated by the district or the state. If this is the case for you, my recommendation would be to simply find the Curiosity Spark that addresses the relevant topic and order your units in that way. For example, if atoms and molecules is how you start your school year, you would find the Chemical Kitchen framework and utilize that unit bundle — since that Curiosity Spark lends itself best to investigations into atoms and molecules (and chemical reactions, thermal energy, and engineering design).
On the other hand, some teachers have much greater flexibility. You may have a list of topics or standards you are asked to address, but the order is up to you. In this case, a bit more heavy lifting falls on you. One thing you will want to consider is prior knowledge. Are there any concepts that it would be helpful to understand before diving into another concept? For example, it might be helpful to understand atoms and molecules before digging into photosynthesis and respiration. You may want to give these ideas some thought as you order your units.
That said, (and this is my very humble opinion), I don’t prescribe to the idea that there is a “right way” to order content. If we truly want to create student-driven experiences that reflect the natural learning process, our students might benefit from exposure to more complicated. What does that mean?
Well, I always think about Penny and Sheldon and this clip from the Big Bang Theory television show. In the clip, Penny is interested in learning what her boyfriend Leonard does — she is intrinsically motivated to learn! While Sheldon believes she must learn all the physics things before he can answer her question, she ends up bored and confused and frustrated. When he finally caves and says, “Well, Leonard studies subatomic particles,” Penny is exposed to high level physics concepts. At first, she thinks, “Oh, great. I got it! That doesn’t sound complicated.” But then she realizes she doesn’t know what subatomic particles are! Essentially, it is through her exposure to this high level concept that she develops an intrinsic drive to learn the basics — what atoms and molecules are!
We can use this idea in our classroom, too. While traditional thinking may dictate that students must need to know what sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks are and how they form before moving into concepts like rock strata and fossils… what if we flipped that idea on its head and threw them right into rock strata? We might find that as we dig into the secrets of rock strata, our students begin to wonder, how were these layers formed in the first place? And now they have developed their intrinsic drive to learn the basics of types of rocks and how they form.
In this blog post, Curiosity Sparks are grouped by their focus disciplinary area – life science, earth science, and physical science. While I one hundred thousand percent believe we should be integrating our curriculum (with truly phenomenon-based learning, I don’t know how you can not do that!), oftentimes one disciplinary area or another moves to the forefront. The phenomenon itself lends itself better to certain standards within a certain discipline, and so even within in integrated unit, one discipline seems to “shine” a bit more.
Additionally, the reality is many schools still utilize a discipline-specific approach – assigning one discipline per grade level. For teachers in this situation, organizing the Curiosity Sparks (units) by the focus disciplinary area makes navigating this post a bit easier.
A Middle School Science Curriculum Work-In-Progress
Finally, this flexible middle school science curriculum is a work-in-progress. There are a few standards that are not yet included as I haven’t found my right phenomenon — and basically, I can’t create my unit bundles until I do. I have listed the standards that are not yet included in this scope and sequence at the end of the post.
Please check back periodically to see how these bundles within this middle school science curriculum inspo unfolds!
A Middle School Science Curriculum Framework
All right, now that we have addressed all of those pieces, let’s dig into the framework!
For a full breakdown of each unit bundle – including detailed phenomenon-inspo, essential questions, the targeted standards, and relevant topics, visit NGSS Life Science Unit Bundles.
Unit 1: Body Invaders
In this life science focused storyline for the middle school science curriculum, students dig into the idea that living things are made of cells and that the body is a system of interacting subsystems. This storyline addresses topics like living versus non-living, the characteristics of life, cells, cell theory, and the human body. This unit also opens the door to health science topics like pathogens and infectious disease, as well as public health initiatives.
Unit 2: Endangered Genomes
In this life science focused storyline for the middle school science curriculum, students dive into the topics of heredity and genetics through the lens of conservation and endangered species.
This storyline also sets students up to investigate artificial selection, endangered species and conservation, resource availability and human impacts, and sensory receptors and the brain.
Unit 3: Pollinators & Plants
In this life science focused storyline for the middle school science curriculum, students explore ecosystems, the interactions within them, and the consequences of disruptions to their delicate balance.
This storyline sets students up to dig into concepts like ecosystem roles, ecosystem services, plant reproduction, pollinators and ecosystem interactions, human population growth and changes in ecosystems. The unit opens the door to examine environmental issues like invasive species, land use, modern agricultural practices, and habitat loss.
Unit 1: Rising Tides
In this Earth and space science focused storyline for the middle school science curriculum, students develop an understanding of the Earth-Sun-Moon system, gravity, and climate change.
This storyline also opens the door for students to explore the characteristics of waves through the lens of Earth’s tides and potentially ocean surface waves.
Available Resources For Your Middle School Science Curriculum From iExploreScience
- Rising Tides Storyline Bundle
- Spark Subscription
- Evidence For and Impacts Of Global Warming & Climate Change Bundle
- Ancient Evidence: Earth’s Formation And Its Early History
Unit 2: The Rock Files
In this Earth and space science focused storyline for the middle school science curriculum, students investigate Earth’s geologic history to understand mass extinction events, particularly the sudden loss of life Earth experience 66 million years ago (that spelled the end of the world of dinosaurs). As they explore the theories that explain the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, they gain a better understanding of the significance of today’s declining biodiversity.
This unit bundle sets students up to not only investigate Earth’s past (and the stories rocks hold) but also turn their eyes to the future, understanding disruptions in today’s ecosystems and what may be in store for them as a result of human activities.
Unit 3: Catastrophic Cycles
In this Earth and space science focused storyline for the middle school science curriculum, students dig into primary and secondary sources to understand the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD in order to launch a learning journey into Earth’s geology.
This storyline opens the door for students to explore matter and energy in Earth’s interior, the geoscience processes that shape Earth’s surface, how Earth’s surface has changed over time (plate tectonics), and the interaction between society and these processes.
Unit 4: Solar Energy In The Desert
In Solar Energy In The Desert, students will examine a debate unfolding in the Mojave Desert — should solar farms be installed in delicate desert ecosystems? — in order to develop an understanding of natural resources, including renewable solar energy, and the factors that influence climates.
This bundle also sets the stage to investigate change and stability in ecosystems, particularly the Mojave Desert ecosystem already threatened by climate change.
Unit 5: Dumping Grounds
Launch student learning into the water cycle and our impact on Earth’s water resources (like non-point source and microplastic pollution) with this student-driven storyline bundle. Your storyline will unfold differently depending upon the Anchor Experience(s) you choose to utilize and/or lead with! Resources in this bundle are designed to develop student understanding of the ideas that
- Earth’s water resources are limited (and therefore should be conserved)
- water cycles through Earth’s systems; the movement of water is driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity
- Earth’s lands and water resources are all connected (what happens on land impacts water resources)
- human activities are impacting the quality of water resources and the health of aquatic ecosystems
- access to healthy water resources impacts the growth of organisms and populations
PS-Focused Units Within The Middle School Science Curriculum
Unit 1: Chemical Kitchen
In Chemical Kitchen storyline framework, students investigate matter through the lens of baking cookies. The anchor experience is designed to spark questions related to the basics of matter (properties, atoms, and molecules, mixtures) and open the door to topics like changes in matter, chemical reactions, thermal energy, and energy transfer.
Reminder: This Curriculum Inspiration Is Still Under Construction
A Middle School Science Curriculum Work-In-Progress
Again, this flexible middle school science curriculum is a work-in-progress. There are a few standards that are not yet included as I haven’t found my right phenomenon — and basically, I can’t create my unit bundles until I do. I have listed the standards that are not yet included in this scope and sequence below.
Please check back periodically to see how these bundles within this middle school science curriculum inspo unfolds!
Performance Expectations Not-Yet-Addressed In This Middle School Science Performance Expectations
MS-LS1-7 Develop a model to describe how food is rearranged through chemical reactions forming new molecules that support growth and/or release energy as this matter moves through an organism. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on describing that molecules are broken apart and put back together and that in this process, energy is released.]
MS-LS4-2 Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explanations of the evolutionary relationships among organisms in terms of similarity or differences of the gross appearance of anatomical structures.]
MS-LS4-3 Analyze displays of pictorial data to compare patterns of similarities in the embryological development across multiple species to identify relationships not evident in the fully formed anatomy. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on inferring general patterns of relatedness among embryos of different organisms by comparing the macroscopic appearance of diagrams or pictures.]
MS-LS4-4 Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using simple probability statements and proportional reasoning to construct explanations.]
MS-LS4-6 Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using mathematical models, probability statements, and proportional reasoning to support explanations of trends in changes to populations over time.]
MS-ESS3-1 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distributions of Earth’s mineral, energy, and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how these resources are limited and typically non-renewable, and how their distributions are significantly changing as a result of removal by humans. Examples of uneven distributions of resources as a result of past processes include but are not limited to petroleum (locations of the burial of organic marine sediments and subsequent geologic traps), metal ores (locations of past volcanic and hydrothermal activity associated with subduction zones), and soil (locations of active weathering and/or deposition of rock).]
MS-PS1-5 Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on law of conservation of matter and on physical models or drawings, including digital forms, that represent atoms.]
MS-PS1-6 Undertake a design project to construct, test, and modify a device that either releases or absorbs thermal energy by chemical processes.* [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the design, controlling the transfer of energy to the environment, and modification of a device using factors such as type and concentration of a substance. Examples of designs could involve chemical reactions such as dissolving ammonium chloride or calcium chloride.]
MS-PS2-1 Apply Newton’s Third Law to design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects.* [Clarification Statement: Examples of practical problems could include the impact of collisions between two cars, between a car and stationary objects, and between a meteor and a space vehicle.]
MS-PS2-2 Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on balanced (Newton’s First Law) and unbalanced forces in a system, qualitative comparisons of forces, mass and changes in motion (Newton’s Second Law), frame of reference, and specification of units.]
MS-PS2-3 Ask questions about data to determine the factors that affect the strength of electric and magnetic forces. [Clarification Statement: Examples of devices that use electric and magnetic forces could include electromagnets, electric motors, or generators. Examples of data could include the effect of the number of turns of wire on the strength of an electromagnet, or the effect of increasing the number or strength of magnets on the speed of an electric motor.]
MS-PS2-5 Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to provide evidence that fields exist between objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact. [Clarification Statement: Examples of this phenomenon could include the interactions of magnets, electrically-charged strips of tape, and electrically-charged pith balls. Examples of investigations could include first-hand experiences or simulations.]
MS-PS3-2 Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on relative amounts of potential energy, not on calculations of potential energy. Examples of objects within systems interacting at varying distances could include: the Earth and either a roller coaster cart at varying positions on a hill or objects at varying heights on shelves, changing the direction/orientation of a magnet, and a balloon with static electrical charge being brought closer to a classmate’s hair. Examples of models could include representations, diagrams, pictures, and written descriptions of systems.]
MS-PS4-3 Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on a basic understanding that waves can be used for communication purposes. Examples could include using fiber optic cable to transmit light pulses, radio wave pulses in wifi devices, and conversion of stored binary patterns to make sound or text on a computer screen.]