Nature of Science & Engineering

Nature of Science & Engineering
Interactions Among Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Society

Designed and natural systems exist in the world. These systems are made up of components that act within a system and interact with other systems.

Benchmark: Parts in Natural Things

Observe that many living and nonliving things are made of parts and that if a part is missing or broken, they may not function properly.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in lay terms:   Things are made of parts and all the parts together make a whole.  This is true for living and nonliving things, natural and human-made things.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea: Designed Systems

Students in the elementary grades acquire the experiences that they will use in the middle grades and beyond to develop an understanding of systems concepts and their applications. They also can begin to observe what affects what. Frequent discussion of how one thing affects another lays the ground for recognizing interactions. Another tack for focusing on interaction is to raise the question of when things work and when they do not - owing, say, to missing or broken parts or the absence of a source of power (batteries, gasoline).

Students should practice identifying the parts of things and how one part connects to and affects another. Classrooms can have available a variety of dissectible and rearrangeable objects, such as gear trains and toy vehicles and animals, as well as conventional blocks, dolls, and doll houses. Students should predict the effects of removing or changing parts.

Project 2061

Parts to Whole

Everything is made from something and properties of things can change when they are combined.  Parts to whole

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks : Observe that many living and nonliving things are made of parts and that if a part is missing or broken, they may not function properly.


Quote  - The whole is more than the sum of its parts.


Read more: Brainy Quote


NSES Standards:  Science and Technology Content Standard E:  As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop abilities of technological design.  "Over the course of grades K-4, student investigations and design problems should incorporate more than one material and several contexts in science and technology. A suitable collection of tasks might include making a device to shade eyes from the sun, making yogurt and discussing how it is made, comparing two types of string to see which is best for lifting different objects, exploring how small potted plants can be made to grow as quickly as possible, designing a simple system to hold two objects together, testing the strength of different materials, using simple tools, testing different designs, and constructing a simple structure. It is important also to include design problems that require application of ideas, use of communications, and implementation of procedures - for instance, improving hall traffic at lunch and cleaning the classroom after scientific investigations."  NSES

AAAS Atlas:  

Most things are made of parts.  11A/1

Something may not work if some of its parts are missing.  11A/2

Something many not work as well (or not at all) if a part of it is missing, broken, worn out, or misconnected.  11A/2

Describe and compare things in terms of their number, shape, texture, size, weight, color, and motion.


Benchmarks of Science Literacy 

Most things are made of parts. 11A/P1

Something may not work if some of its parts are missing. 11A/P2

When parts are put together, they can do things that they couldn't do by themselves. 11A/P3  Benchmarks of science literacy

Common Core Standards


Use basic concepts of measurement in real-world and mathematical situations involving length, time and money. Measure the length of an object in terms of multiple copies of another object. 

Language Arts Standard:  With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to find answer a question.

Social Studies Standards:  I. U.S. HISTORY C. Many Peoples and Cultures Meet in the Making of North America.  The student will demonstrate knowledge of the people who settled in North America.

1.  Students will understand that large and diverse American Indian nations were the original inhabitants of North America.

2.  Students will demonstrate knowledge of European exploration and settlement of the North American continent and the resulting interaction with American Indian nations.

1.  Regional variations of Indian cultures (Woodland, Plains, Sourthwest, Pacific Northwest, and Arctic; Ojibwe, Dakota

2.  Scandinavian, Spanish, Dutch, French and English explorations, conflict cooperation, trade disease; Leif Eriksson; Christopher Columbus; Powhatan, Pocahontas and John Smith: Squanto and Pilgrims.


Student Misconceptions 

"Upper elementary and middle-school students who can use measuring instruments and procedures when asked to do so often do not use this ability while performing an investigation.  Typically a student asked to undertake an investigation and given a set of equipment that includes measuring instruments will make a qualitative comparison even though she might be competent to use the instruments in a different context  (Black 1990).  It appears students often know how to take measurements but not what measurements to make or when."  AAAS


Ms. Fey asks her first grade students, "What is your favorite toy?"

Ms. Fey begins writing the list of students' favorite toys on the interactive whiteboard:  PSP (Play Station Portable), Barbie, basketball, etc.

"Let's think about one of these toys; how about the PSP?  What is a PSP made of?"  Ms. Fey inquires.  "Turn and talk to a partner about what the PSP is made of and what are the parts?"

After students discuss for a few mintues, Ms. Fey counts down, "5,4,3,2,1: So what are some of the parts of a PSP?"

Kong raises his hand and says, "The buttons and the screen."

Christine reminds, "The PSP won't work if it doesn't have batteries!"

After a number of parts have been listed, Ms. Fey, asks how the PSP would work if there were no batteries. 

"No, it wouldn't turn on," says Kayla.  "You couldn't use it at all."

"What if there was no screen?" Ms. Fey wonders out loud.

"Oh, that wouldn't be fun at all.  You wouldn't be able to play the game because you wouldn't be able to see what was happening,"  answers Jose.

"Yes," Ms. Fey agrees, "if a part is broken or missing, the PSP won't work the way we want it to work."

Ms. Fey asks students how they think something like a PSP is made, and where the idea for PSP came from.  After taking a few ideas from students, she tells them that engineers are people that make toys and other objects like the PSP possible.  She tells them, "Today you are going to have a chance to be engineers.  You will make a car out of LEGOS.  Every student will get the same number and kind of parts.  You may use as many parts as you need to make a car that can roll when you push it." 


Instructional Notes 

Instructional suggestions/options

1.  A lesson illustrating the concept of parts and wholes.  Things are made of parts lesson

2.  FOSS Balance and Motion:  Investigation-Rollers.  Students use cups or straws and discs to make wheel and axle systems.  Students are challenged to make wheel and axle systems that can roll in different ways.  FOSSweb Balance and motion

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links

1.  Children's books

Kowalczyk, C., & Sharp, G. (1985). Purple is part of a rainbow. Chicago: Childrens Press.

Arnold, T. (1997). Parts. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

2. '97 Framework:

Science and Technology providing opportunities for all students to investigate designed products and begin to develop the ability to design a solution to a problem.

Science as Inquiry engaging all students in teacher guided experiences that develop the ability to ask questions, make observations, use simple tools to investigate, collect data and communicate their findings.

K-4 students are curious and learn through active experiences. They are eager to know more about the world and are developing strategies for learning about it. Educators can capitalize on and nurture the natural curiosity of students in the classroom. Through the study of science, young learners can expand their learning strategies as they develop an appreciation for science and begin to develop an understanding of fundamental science concepts. 

All K-4 students should have active science experiences that include all of the content areas, including inquiry, physical science, life science, earth and space science, science in personal and social perspectives, science and technology, and the history and nature of science. As they participate in explorations of the world around them, they learn basic skills and gain understanding through systematic investigations of familiar materials and objects. 

During the elementary years, science should be a frequent and meaningful part of the academic experience of all students. Science concepts can be woven into the curriculum (see Chapter 4: Connections).  When students read fiction and nonfiction literature, write about their scientific encounters, and draw and graph what they observe and measure, science concepts can be reinforced and clarified and connections made between what they are learning in other subjects and everyday life. 

It is essential that the science taught to children in grades K-4 is developmentally appropriate. The content, instruction and assessments must meet the student at his/her developmental level. This Framework, along with the Minnesota Graduation Standards and the National Science Education Standards provides guidance for making these decisions. 

Because K-4 students are building a picture of how the natural world works, they need to have multiple  opportunities to observe, compare, categorize, order, record, and communicate. Using their senses and simple tools, students can recognize characteristics of objects and the environment and describe them in pictures, words, and with actions. They also compare and contrast their observations about these objects and the environment with what they already know about the world. K-4 students can focus their attention, use logical reasoning, and understand and use language as a tool for communicating in science.

Direct experience is essential for elementary students and the classroom is a busy place where their curiosity is met with an array of materials to explore and discuss. But science must be more than just a collection of "hands-on" activities. Science experiences should relate to the standards, make connections with the student's world, and be developmentally appropriate. Students need time to talk and think about their work. Doing alone is not enough. Through these experiences students learn to relate their ideas to evidence, gain an understanding of science concepts, and experience the excitement of an "Aha!" in learning.

New Vocabulary 


Parts: The smaller pieces that build one object to make it whole.

Whole: Complete object that has all its parts.

Technology Connections 

1.  LEGO Robotics - a website that describes the products available through LEGO to facilitate children's opportunities to design and build robots. LEGO robotics

2.  "This educational web site is designed for classroom use by teachers and students in Kindergarten through grade 4. It is also designed for homeschool use, and for use by those who are interested in learning more about rotorcraft. The web site is actually an on-line, interactive book about one girl's visit with her mother to the rotorcraft research center where her mother works (using a take your daughter to work scenario). While shadowing her mother at work, Robin Whirlybird learns about the kind of work being done at a NASA rotorcraft facility. She also learns about the structure and function of different types of rotorcraft and about the science of flight as it pertains to rotorcraft."   NASA whirly bird lesson

Cross Curricular Connections 

A cross-curricular lesson on the nature of school designed for first graders.  The science part concentrates on how living things are made of parts.  Cross-curricular lesson on parts of the school day



1.  What are the parts of soil?  (Direct connection to earth science standard.)   An insect?  (Direct connection to life science standards.)  Your LEGO car?  (Direct connection to the parts of a whole lesson.) Draw and label the parts.           

2.  How would any of the objects above be different if one of their parts was missing?  (More specifically, how would soil be different if there were no dead animals or leaves in the soil?  How would the insect be different if one of the wings was broken or missing?  How would your LEGO car be different if one of the wheels was missing?)

3.  Name jobs where people help fix things that are broken or replace missing parts.


1.  What is engineering education?  Summary of concepts of K-12 Engineering Education:

Engineering education What are tools scientists and engineers use to help them do their work?

2.  What are systems and their components?

3.   How do the individual components affect the overall performance of a system?


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk:

This page shares ideas for teaching specific math and science topics to struggling and at risk students: Science and math strategies for at-risk students.

English Language Learners 

A. From: Corder, G. (2008) Supporting English Language Learners' Reading in the Science Classroom. In E. Brunsell (Ed), Readings in science methods, K-8: An NTSA press journals collection (pp. 223-227). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Corder discusses three ideas to support English Language Learners in the Classroom: 

1. Setting a Language Objective. 

In general, stating an explicit objective for a lesson is considered a good teaching practice.  An example of an objective in a science classroom might be "The student will determine the density of the sample."  This example is a content objective and identifies "what a student should know and be able to do" (Echevarria et al. 2004, p. 21).  English language learners' needs, however, extend beyond the science content alone.  They need opportunities to listen, speak, write, and read English.  Research suggests inclusion of language objectives along with content objectives. (Echevarria, Vogt, and Short 2004, p. 22).  Language objectives range from lower order, such as, "The student will underline unfamiliar words in the passage," to higher order such as "The student will read the four authors' descriptions and synthesize a model."  The language objective's level should vary based on the language proficiency of your students.  All objectives must be comprehensible and explicitly communicated to students.  The manner in which you direct students to an objective will determine its effectiveness: First, post the objective in a location that gives students access; second, orally state the objective; third, refer to the objective at the beginning and end of an exercise that demands reading.

2.  Supplying Background Information. 

Many English language learners enter our classrooms with a different set of experiences than their fluent English-speaking counterparts (Echevarria, et al. 2004). This means that many of them lack the background knowledge required for reading that many texts may take for granted.  Therefore, teachers must supply that necessary background knowledge.

It may be necessary for you to "model how to follow steps of directions needed to complete a task" (Echevarria et al. 2004, p. 25) such as a lab or project.  As you model, you can think aloud by orally stating the objects you are manipulating and your thought process as you proceed.  Modeling supplies English language learners with a visual image and accompanying terminology from which they can draw when encountering those terms and concepts in a reading passage.

When students encounter unfamiliar words, a reading passage becomes more difficult for them (Dale and Chall 1948; Klare 1974). To counter this, you can pre-teach key vocabulary.  All difficult terms should be considered, even those that are not considered science vocabulary.  For example, you can create and maintain a word wall by defining, discussing, and posting words that students identify as unfamiliar.  This technique provides valuable pre-reading instruction, while creating a resource to which students can quickly refer and reinforce English language gains.

3.  Linguistic Modification of Text

Researchers have identified several specific characteristics that affect a text's level of difficulty, and you can draw on their findings when simplifying your own texts:

First, passages with longer words and longer sentences are more difficult to read (Bormuth 1966; Flesch 1948; Klare 1974). 

Second, passive voice is not always as clear as active voice ( Forster and Olbrei 1973; Savin and Perchonock 1965; Slobin 1968).  An example of passive voice is "The cause had been identified by scientists."  An example of active voice is "Scientists identified the cause."

Third, a long string of consecutive nouns elevates reading difficulty (King and Just 1991; MacDonald 1993).

Fourth, a coordinate, or independent, clause is more difficult to read than a subordinate, or dependent, clause (Botel and Granowsky 1974; Wang 1970).  A coordinate clause can stand by itself as a sentence, while a subordinate clause cannot.

Fifth, an abstract statement is more challenging to comprehend than a concrete statement (Cummins et al. 1998).  An example of an abstract statement is "Record your data."  An example of a concrete statement is "Record the volume of the cylinders in Table 1."

B. "Kit Inventory" Activity

Michael Klentschy, superintendent of El Centro Public Schools, El Centro, California, taught this activity at the NSTA Science and ESL conference in St. Louis, MO, April 2007. 

Before teaching, collect the materials that will be used in a unit or lesson.  Have cards ready to write the name of the materials for a word wall and designate a portion of the room for the word wall.  You could also display the word wall on a display board for future use. 

Divide the class into teams of three or four students.  Have one student volunteer to introduce the first item.  Show this one student the item and have them answer the following questions: What color is it? Where have you seen it before? What is it used for?  Put the object in an opaque bag and the student then shares with the class the answers to the above questions.  The student groups have 1 - 2 minutes to predict what they think the object is.  Student groups share their ideas.  Then the object is revealed and posted along with its word card on the word wall.  Keeping the object or a picture of it next to the word card provides a resource for students as they proceed through the unit of study and need to find words for objects in the lesson.

Extending the Learning 

What If? Young Inventors Curriculum available through online registration at: Invention curriculum


A. From: Brown, P. L., & Abel, S. K. (2008) Science for All. In E. Brunsell (Ed), Readings in science methods, K-8: An NTSA press journals collection (pp. 215-217). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Gay (2000) describes culturally responsive teaching as having these characteristics:

It acknowledges the legitimacy of cultural heritages of different ethnic groups.

It builds bridges of meaningfulness between home and school experiences as well as between academic abstractions and lived sociocultural realities.

It uses a wide variety of instructional strategies that are connected to different learning styles.

It teaches students to know and praise their own and each others' cultural heritages.

It incorporates multicultural information, resources and materials in all the subjects and skills routinely taught in schools.

Culturally responsive instruction should include authentic activities.  Authentic activities provide students with the opportunity to explore how the subject under study is socially relevant and connected to their everyday lives.  Instruction should move away from using a collection of disconnected hands-on activities and toward interaction and manipulation of ideas that are valuable beyond the school walls. 

B.  From: Allen-Sommerville, L. (2008). Capitalizing on Diversity. In E. Brunsell (Ed), Readings in science methods, K-8: An NTSA press journals collection (pp. 221-222). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Eight Successful Field Tested Strategies:

  1. Assume that students can learn.
  2. Use exciting and challenging hands-on activities.
  3. Talk to students about their learning styles.
  4. Develop a repertoire of content strategies and activities.
  5. Learn about the history and culture of the various groups.
  6. Help students see themselves as future scientists and appreciate the multicultural history of science.
  7. Build opportunities for success into the curriculum and create climates conducive to learning.
  8. Provide diverse learning experiences.

C.  Display posters depicting scientists from the students' cultural background doing science in the classroom.  An easy way to do this is to take photos of your students doing science.

Special Education 

From Brunsell, E. (Ed.). (2008). Readings in science methods, K-8. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press:

Steele lists a number of ideas for teaching strategies to be used with special education students: 

1. Collaborate with special education and general education teachers. 

2. Create lessons based on themes or big ideas. 

3. Incorporate explicit instruction on the lesson topics. 

4. Use graphic organizers and visual representations. 

5. Model behaviors and strategies you want students to follow.

Study strategies include:

1. Study guide use. 

2. Material review tips. 

3. Note-taking practices. 

4. Reduce the number of parts students need to know and label.  Reduce the number of designed objects students need to know.


Classroom Observation 


When observing this standard, administrators will see students engaged in a process of testing and re-testing products they are designing or analyzing.  Students will likely be communicating with other students about what changes to make to improve their product or object.  Students will be recording changes made to their objects by drawing and writing in a journal. 


What If? Young Inventors Curriculum available through online registration at:  Invention convention registration

"Design Squad," a public television program for children about engineering. PBS kids

This resource introducing a summer library program incorporating math and science provides a tutorial for parents on how to teach math and science:  A Tutorial for parents to support science learning at home.