Middle School Earth and Space Science

Each of our self-paced mini units covers one NGSS standard and includes student slides and work packets, assessment projects with rubrics, extension activities and complete educator lesson plans.

Additional resources, helpful websites and phenomena ideas are found for each unit listed below. You can get a copy of our suggested Earth and space unit order with storylines and mini unit descriptions here.

Print your copy of our complete curriculum guide here.

Earth’s Systems Unit Storyline and Suggested Mini Unit Order

How does the third big rock from the sun recycle its water and rock resources? How are these resources important to me?

We begin this unit with the resource students are most familiar with: Water! In The Water Cycle mini unit, students track their personal water use and research where their local water comes from. Then, they build their own personal water cycle using everyday materials.

After making personal connections to the water they need and use, students identify rocks and minerals essential to their lives. In The Rock Cycle mini unit students hypothesize how different rocks form based on their observations. Then, they write the life story of a rock from the rock’s point of view!

Finally, in the Earth’s Resources mini unit, students analyze evidence and determine if resources are renewable or nonrenewable. Then, students choose one specific natural resource that is important to them and create a public service announcement to educate others.

Weather and Climate Unit Storyline

What's the weather like on the third big rock from the sun? Why does the climate differ from place to place and how is our climate changing?

Whether you love sun or snow, everyone has an opinion about the Weather! We begin this unit with students describing their perfect weather day. They investigate density differences in fluids, model air pressure and create a local weather prediction based on evidence. Then, students build their own barometer and compare their data with the local weather.

Once students have a basic understanding of their local weather patterns, they move on to analyzing climates around the world. In the Climate mini unit, students investigate how latitude, altitude, wind and water affect regional climate patterns. Then, students choose an area of the world they are interested in and take a deeper look at the causes of their region’s climate.

Finally, students move on to the big picture of Climate Change. They generate questions from graphs of average temperatures and carbon dioxide levels and build models to compare the atmospheres of Earth, Mars and Venus. To end this unit, students set aside the negative news and focus on all the positive things happening in their homes, schools and communities to combat climate change.

History of Earth Unit Storyline

Third big rock from the sun: Present, past and future. What does Earth look like now? What did it look like in the past? What will it look like in the future? How do we know?

We begin this unit with the Earth students already know. Signs of weathering, erosion and deposition are everywhere once you start looking for them. In Geoscience Processes (Weathering, Erosion, Deposition), students make personal connections to Earth's changing surface as they model weathering with plaster, a balloon and a freezer; run water down a stream table; take pictures of weathering in their neighborhood and write a professional email.

Once students notice the small changes around them, they move on to the bigger, more spectacular changes on Earth’s surface. The Geoscience Processes (Mountains, Earthquakes, Volcanoes) mini unit asks students analyze actual earthquake data and construct their own understanding of how plates move on Earth. They use hot water, food dye, paper and cardboard to develop models of convection currents and plate boundaries and they write a travel brochure to an active volcano or rift valley.

After Earth’s current state is understood, students look back in The Geologic Time Scale mini unit. They follow a recipe to make play dough, use their dough to demonstrate superposition and relative age and determine if it is a good idea to bring back the extinct woolly mammoth!

The Past Plate Motion mini unit offers a deeper look at the evidence of Earth’s history. Students plot fossil evidence over continents, analyze the age of ocean sediment and write a claim, evidence and reasoning to explain how Earth has changed over time and how we know. Using their newly acquired knowledge, students then predict what Earth will look like 200 million years in the future.

Earth’s Place in the Universe Unit Storyline

How does being on the third big rock from the sun impact what I see in the sky? Why do things move in the sky? How do we know?

We begin this unit with a simple question: What do you see in the sky? In The Night Sky mini unit, students choose a favorite constellation, figure out how to find north and record their observations of the night sky. They share their findings with an adult and make a video to summarize what they learned.

After making a personal connection with their view of the night sky, students move on to the Solar System Objects mini unit. They learn how to navigate the immense amount of information online, create a giant Venn diagram and determine how humans could live on Mars!

Once students have a good understanding of what is in our night sky, they answer this question: If Earth was the size of a basketball and the moon was the size of a tennis ball, how big would the sun and other plants be? In the Earth, Moon and Sun mini unit, students calculate the diameter of a basketball to determine if it would qualify for the NBA then build a scale model based on their findings!

In the Gravity and Motion in the Solar System mini unit, students play with magnets and a ball on a string, use a PhET simulation to change the force of gravity, give a speech and determine if anything in Star Wars (or their favorite space movie) is true!

Finally, in the Moon Phases, Eclipses and Seasons mini unit, students make models with flashlights, tennis balls, globes and their heads! They write a postcard to share what they learned with family or friends. Then, students research how cultural groups (Lakota people, Ancient Egyptians) use observations of the sun, moon and stars.

Human Impacts Unit Storyline

How does Earth impact me and how do the choices I make impact Earth?

In Natural Hazards, students dive into the hazards that significantly impact humans (severe storms, blizzards, landslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, forest fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis). Students then choose one natural hazard to learn more about and create a safety poster for their hazard. Finally, students design two structures to test on an earthquake shaker (building directions included) and answer the question, “How can I build a structure to better withstand earthquakes?”

After reflecting on how Earth impacts them, students flip their perspective and observe Human Impacts on the Environment, both the good and the bad. They choose one local issue to investigate, become experts on their issue, analyze solutions and implement an action project to make a difference! Students are highly engaged and passionate about the projects they choose. This is a highlight of their year!

Students wrap up this unit as they explore Human Population Impacts on food and Earth’s natural resources. They trace the path of ingredients to their area and determine just how much of an impact one hamburger has on water, land, air and energy resources. Then, students create a lower-impact menu. Finally, they imagine a sustainable home that allows them to live off the land. A perfect project to end the year!