3rd Grade Science

This course is designed to enhance students’ curiosity about the natural world.
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Multiple Literacies In Project-Based Learning (ML-PBL)

In order to adequately support elementary students in their pursuit of scientific knowledge, teachers need an interdisciplinary approach that integrates science, literacy, and mathematics. An interdisciplinary approach aids students in developing knowledge they can use, perceiving science as important to their lives, and building confidence that they have the skills to do science.

With the goal of meeting this need, an interdisciplinary team from the Michigan State University CREATE for STEM Institute, with partners at the University of Michigan, designed and tested rigorous project-based learning units for the upper elementary grades that engage students in sense-making using language literacy and mathematical tools to develop usable science knowledge.

Multiple Literacies in Project-Based Learning (ML-PBL) resources focus on science teaching and learning to build literacy and mathematical capabilities in students, and to create access for diverse learners. ML-PBL integrates academic and social and emotional (SEL) learning goals related to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as well as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Literacy and Mathematics to support student learning. These materials reflect a significant interdisciplinary approach by integrating science, literacy, and mathematics.

This work is supported by the Educurious. The materials are available as Creative Commons, open educational resources, not for commercial profit resources. To learn more about the project and the materials you can go to our team's website.

Learn More About PBL

For more information on project-based learning, please visit this section of our site.

Unit Summaries

U3.1 Squirrels / Adaptation

Students observe squirrels in their community, and plan and conduct investigations and develop models to explain how the squirrels interact with other organisms in their environment to meet their needs for survival, exploring the question: Why do I see so many squirrels, but I can find any stegosauruses? For the final artifact, students create a model to explain that as the environment changed, some animals (mammals) were able to adapt and others (dinosaurs) died out. They expand the model in writing or performance.

Squirrels Table of Contents

U3.2 Toys / Forces and Motion

Students make prototypes of moving toys then observe and develop models to describe the pattern of motion to explore: How can we design fun moving toys that other kids can build? For the final artifact, students revise their models and develop engineering solutions, then produce a design portfolio to show how they have incorporated what they have learned.

Toys Table of Contents

U3.3 Birds / Biodiversity

Students conduct fieldwork to gather information about the birds that live near the school. They make claims that the birds' physical and behavioral traits are adapted to the habitat they live in to explore: How can we help the birds around our school grow up and thrive? For the final artifact, students design bird feeders that take into account the physical and behavioral traits, the changing weather, the features of the environment, and the needs for reproduction of the focal bird.

Birds Table of Contents

U3.4 Plants / Weather / Climate

Students ask questions, make observations, investigate, and model how plants' traits affect their survival to explore: How can we plan gardens for our community to grow plants for food? The final artifact includes planning a garden, and designing, testing, and making claims about the merits of a solution (tool or process) to protect the garden plants from weather-related hazards or changes in the environment.

Plants Table of Contents

ML-PBL Research Results

ML-PBL researchers carefully measured the effects of ML-PBL implementation by designing a cluster randomized trial of the Grade 3 ML-PBL science units in Michigan. The study included 23 treatment schools and 23 control schools with 2,019 students. We randomized and balanced treatment and control schools based on state administrative data. The treatment consisted of the ML-PBL program, while the control condition received professional development on the NGSS only and continued science "business-as-usual." The schools represent different regions of the state and over sample low income and minority students.

To measure the impact we completed observations, videos, interviews, assessments and social and emotional learning surveys. Following the guidelines of the What Works Clearinghouse (IES, 2017), we administered a summative assessment using items developed by the State of Michigan that aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards for 3rd grade. Standard statistical procedures show a positive substantial main effect for the treatment. Students in ML-PBL classrooms received test scores significantly higher than those in control classrooms with the main effect not differing by socioeconomic status, race or gender. Students in the treatment group also showed significant positive changes with respect to growth in social and emotional learning, in ownership, self-responsibility and collaboration.

What Practitioners and Students are Saying about ML-PBL

After one year with ML-PBL, I feel like a science teacher again. - Grade 3 teacher in Michigan (teaches all subjects)
Science is when we learn the most, more than other times because we want to learn about the animals we don't know a lot about. - Grade 3 Student, Wisconsin
Sometimes other people say things, scientists, like that the dinosaurs died because the meteor hit and they say that it was a volcano and they argue about things. I like the unit because it teaches me more about how to do the same kind of arguing. Using evidence and reasoning to back up my claims. Like scientists, they argue using evidence, reasoning and they back up what they say. - Grade 3 Student, Wisconsin

There's no going back.

It's changed the way I have taught throughout the day, it just makes me a better teacher.

The kids just get so much more excited about it… My administrators … can tell I am more excited about my job in general.

The units are so relatable; it's empowering for me as a teacher.

- Grade 3 teacher in Michigan
Science is when we learn the most, more than other times because we want to learn about the animals we don't know a lot about. - Grade 3 Student, Wisconsin