Introduction to Earth's Systems: Preassessment

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SWBAT demonstrate their prior knowledge about Earth's systems.

Big Idea

What do students already know about Earth's Systems? Students take a pre-assessment that will be used to inform instruction.

Unit Explanation

Unit Rationale

This unit builds upon the previous units of matter, and the flow of matter and energy through ecosystems.  Students investigated the concepts of matter and non-matter, and that matter is constructed of particles that are too small to be seen.  Students were also introduced to the idea that matter can neither be created nor destroyed.  Then, in a subsequent unit, students traced the flow of matter and energy through ecosystems.  In this unit, students learn that Earth is comprised of many systems which interact and affect one another.  While a basic understanding of the concepts of matter and ecosystems are helpful for this unit, they are not a pre-requisite for instruction.  

Big Ideas In This Unit 

#1 Earth is a complex system in which matter and energy are moved from one part to another.

#2 Earth is a water planet, and water is found everywhere on Earth.

Note:  The assessment boundaries for 5th Grade for the Next Generation Science Standards is limited to the interaction of two systems at a time, and does not include the idea of water in the atomosphere. However, as those topics are addressed in Middle School Standards, they will be introduced in this Unit.

Next Generation Science Standards Addressed by this Unit:

Disciplinary Core Ideas:

5-ESS2.A Earth's major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments) the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans).  These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's surface materials and processes.  The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate.  Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather.

5-ESS2.C Nearly all of Earth's available water is in the ocean.  Most fresh water is in glaciers or underground; only a tiny fraction is in streams, lakes, wetlands, and the atmosphere.

Crosscutting Concepts:

Scale, Proportion & Quantity

Standard units are used to describe and measure physical quantities such as weight and volume.

Systems and Systems Models

A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions.


50 minutes

Introduce the Unit

I tell my students that today we are beginning a new unit:  Plaid Pete is Modeling Earth's Systems.  

I explain that while in the unit previous to our engineering design unit we looked at ecosystems on Earth, in this unit we will be looking at a much larger picture of Earth - the overall systems that make up the planet we live on.  

I tell them that just like with our previous unit, I need to have some understanding of what they already know.  They are now accustomed to my pre-assessments and understand that this is not graded.


I hand out the Plaid Pete Models Earth's Systems Pre-Assessment to my students.  I want to ensure that reading is not a barrier to their understanding, so I read the assessment to them and ask them to complete it to the best of their ability.  

Common Misconceptions

There are some common misconceptions that students have regarding Earth's Systems that I will keep in mind as I teach this unit.  They include the following:

  • Earth's core is hollow.
  • Earth has always been the way it is now.
  • Earth's systems operate independently and do not affect each other.
  • Events that happen on one part of Earth (e.g. weather patterns) do not affect other parts of Earth.
  • Earth will never have another ice age.
  • The atmosphere is made up solely of air.
  • Ocean systems tend to be constant through time.


I collect the written assessments and score them by comparing them to the Learning Progression Rubric for Earth's SystemsIn this screencast of a student's pre-assessment, I discuss the student's responses and compare them to the Learning Progression Rubric.

In order to create this Learning Progression, I have simply copied the Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts of The Next Generation Science Standards in a format so that I can compare my students' responses to determine where their understandings fall on the continuum between what they should already know, the ideas they need to master this year, and what they will be expected to master in the next few years in Middle School.

Setting the Stage

15 minutes

Science Notebooks

We prepare our Science Notebooks for our new unit.  First, we write the unit name and big ideas on the first page of the unit (For this first unit, this will be on the next clean page of our Science Notebooks).  At the end of the unit, students will come back and create an illustration(s) representing what they learned in this unit.  

Since this unit will have 2 big ideas, I have students watch as I model dividing  the page in half and writing the following on the top section:  

Big Idea #1:  Earth is a complex system in which matter and energy are moved from one part to another.

Then on the bottom half I write:

Big Idea #2:  Earth is a water planet, because water is found everywhere on Earth.