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Earth and Space


Earth and space science is the field of study concerned with the planet Earth or one or more of its parts. Earth and space science includes the science used to study the lithosphere (the solid portion of the earth), the atmosphere (the gaseous envelope surrounding the earth), the hydrosphere (the ice, water, and water vapor at or near the earth’s surface), the biosphere (the zone at or near the earth’s surface that supports life), and space beyond the atmosphere. It is the interactions between these parts, how they impact life on the planet and how we can use observations today to discover what forces created the surface features of the planet centuries ago that form a central portion of this study. Climate, weather, environmental issues, soil science and water quality are all open areas of inquiry in this field.

Earth and space science instruction must include the inquiry knowledge and skills described in the inquiry section of the Iowa Core Curriculum for Science. Instruction should be engaging and relevant and strong connections must be made to students' lives.


Kindergarten-Grade 2

Essential Concepts and/or Skills

Understand and apply knowledge of properties of earth materials
Earth materials are solid rocks and soils, water and the gases of the atmosphere. The varied materials have different physical and chemical properties. 

Soils have properties of color and texture, capacity to retain water, and ability to support the growth of many kinds of plants, including those in our food supply. 

Understand and apply knowledge of observable information about daily and seasonal weather conditions
Weather changes from day to day and over the seasons.

The sun provides the light and heat necessary to maintain the temperature of the earth.

Understand and apply knowledge of events that have repeating patterns
Seasons of the year, day and night are events that are repeated in regular patterns.

The sun’s position in the sky can be observed and described.

The sun can only be seen during our daylight hours. We are unable to see the sun at night because of the rotation of the earth.


Grades 3-5

Essential Concepts and/or Skills

Understand and apply knowledge of properties and uses of earth materials
The different physical and chemical properties of earth materials make them useful in different ways, for example, as building materials, as sources of fuel, or for growing the plants we use as foods.

Understand and apply knowledge of processes and changes on or in the earth’s land, oceans, and atmosphere
The surface of the earth changes. Some changes are due to slow processes, such as erosion and weathering, and some changes are due to rapid processes such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods and earthquakes.

Understand and apply knowledge of fossils and the evidence they provide of past life on earth
Fossils provide evidence of plants and animals that lived long ago and the nature of the environment at that time.

Understand and apply knowledge of weather and weather patterns
Weather is always changing and can be described by measurable quantities such as temperature, wind direction and speed and precipitation.

Large masses of air with certain properties move across the surface of the earth. The movement and interaction of these air masses is used to forecast the weather.

Understand and apply knowledge of the properties, movements, and locations of objects in our solar system
Most objects in the solar system are in regular and predictable motion. The rotation of the earth on its axis every 24 hours produces the day-and-night cycle. To people on the earth this turning of the planet makes it seem as though the sun, planets, and stars are orbiting the earth once a day.

The sun appears to move across the sky in the same way every day. Its apparent path changes slowly across the seasons.

The moon’s orbit around the earth once in about 28 days changes what part of the moon is lighted by the sun and how much of that part can be seen from the earth – the phases of the moon.

Eight planets and many other objects revolve around our Sun in predictable patterns. These planets and objects are composed of varied materials.


Grades 6-8

Essential Concepts and/or Skills

Understand and apply knowledge of the structure and processes of the earth system and the processes that change the earth and its surface
The solid earth consists of layers including a lithosphere; a hot, convecting mantle and a dense metallic core.

Tectonic plates constantly move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle. Major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, are results of these plate motions.

Land forms are the result of a combination of constructive and destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive forces include weathering and erosion.

Some changes in the earth can be described as the “rock cycle.”  Rocks at the earth’s surface weather, forming sediments that are buried, then compacted, heated, and often re-crystallized into new rock. Eventually, those new rocks may be brought to the surface by the forces that drive plate motions, and the rock cycle continues.

Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic matter from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found in layers, with each having a different chemical composition and texture.

Living organisms have played many roles in the earth system, including affecting the composition of the atmosphere, producing some types of rocks, and contributing to the weathering of rocks.

Understand and apply knowledge of the water cycle, including consideration of events that impact groundwater quality
Water, which covers the majority of the earth’s surface, circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is known as the “water cycle.” Water evaporates from the earth’s surface, rises and cools as it rises to higher elevations, condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soil and in soil and rocks underground.

Water is a solvent. As it passes through the water cycle, especially as it moves on the earth’s surface and underground, it dissolves minerals and gases and carries them to the oceans, rivers, and other surface water.

Natural and human forces can contribute to contamination of surface water and groundwater.

Understand and apply knowledge of earth history based on physical evidence
The earth processes we see today including erosion, movement of tectonic plates, and changes in atmospheric composition are similar to those that occurred in the past.

Earth history is also influenced by occasional catastrophes such as the impact of an asteroid or a comet.

Fossils provide important evidence of how life and environmental conditions have changed.

Understand and apply knowledge of the earth’s atmospheric properties and how they influence weather and climate
The atmosphere is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gasses that include water vapor. The atmosphere has different properties at different elevations.

Global patterns of atmospheric movement influence local weather. Oceans have a major effect on climate because water in the oceans holds a large amount of heat.

Clouds, formed by the condensation of water vapor, affect weather and climate.{/slide}

Understand and apply knowledge of the components of our solar system
The earth is the third planet from the sun in a system that includes the moon, the sun, seven other planets and their moons, and smaller objects, such as asteroids and comets. The sun, an average star, is the central and largest body in the solar system.

Gravity is the force that keeps planets in orbit around the sun and governs the rest of the motion in the solar system. Gravity alone holds us to the earth’s surface and explains the phenomena of the tides.

The sun is the major source of energy for phenomena on the earth’s surface, such as growth of plants, winds, ocean currents, and the water cycle. Seasons result from variations in the amount of the sun’s energy hitting the surface, due to the tilt of the earth’s rotation on its axis and the length of the day.

Most objects in the solar system are in regular and predictable motion. Those motions explain such phenomena as the day, the year, phases of the moon, and eclipses.


Grades 9-12

Essential Concepts and/or Skills

Understand and apply knowledge of energy in the earth system
Principles that underlie the concept and/or skill include but are not limited to:

  • Internal sources of energy
  • External sources of energy
  • Plate tectonics
  • Energy transfer in the atmosphere and ocean

Earth systems have internal and external sources of energy, both of which create heat. The sun is the major external source of energy. Two primary sources of internal energy are the decay of radioactive isotopes and the gravitational energy from the earth’s original formation.

The outward transfer of Earth’s internal heat drives convection circulation in the mantle that propels the plates comprising the earth’s surface across the face of the globe.

Heating of the earth’s surface and atmosphere by the sun drives convection within the atmosphere and oceans, producing winds and ocean currents.

Global climate is determined by energy transfer from the sun at and near the earth’s surface. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and the earth’s rotation, and static conditions such as the position of mountain ranges and oceans.

Understand and apply knowledge of Geochemical cycles
Principles that underlie the concept and/or skill include but are not limited to:

  • Elements/atoms within Earth reservoirs: Solid Earth, oceans, atmosphere, and organisms
  • Movement of elements/atoms between reservoirs

The earth is a system containing essentially a fixed amount of each stable chemical atom or element. Each element can exist in several different chemical reservoirs. Each element on Earth moves among reservoirs in the solid Earth, oceans, atmosphere, and organisms as part of geochemical cycles.

Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by the earth’s internal and external sources of energy. These movements are often accompanied by a change in the physical and chemical properties of the matter. Carbon, for example, occurs in carbonate rocks such as limestone, in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas, in water as dissolved carbon dioxide, and in all organisms as complex molecules that control the chemistry of life.

Understand and apply knowledge of the origin and evolution of the earth system
Principles that underlie the concept and/or skill include but are not limited to:

  • Formation of solar system
  • Geologic time
  • Interactions among hydrosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere
  • Life: origin, evolution, and effect on Earth systems

The sun, the earth, and the rest of the solar system formed from a nebular cloud of dust and gas 10 to 15 billion years ago. The early Earth was very different from the planet on which we live today.

Geologic time can be estimated by observing rock sequences and using fossils to correlate the sequences at various locations. Current methods for measuring geologic time include using the known decay rates of radioactive isotopes present in rocks to measure the time since the rock was formed.

Interactions among the solid Earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and organisms have resulted in the ongoing evolution of the earth system. We can observe some changes such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on a human time scale, but many processes such as mountain building and plate movements take place over hundreds of millions of years.

Evidence for one-celled forms of life—the microbes—extends back more than 3.5 billion years. The evolution of life caused dramatic changes in the composition of the earth’s atmosphere, which did not originally contain oxygen.

Understand and apply knowledge of the origin and evolution of the universe
Principles that underlie the concept and/or skill include but are not limited to:

  • Age and origin of the universe
  • Universe and galaxies
  • Star formation

The origin of the universe remains one of the greatest questions in science. The “big bang” theory places the origin between 10 and 20 billion years ago, when the universe began in a hot dense state: According to this theory, the universe has been expanding ever since.

Early in the history of the universe, matter—primarily the light atoms hydrogen and helium — clumped together through gravitational attraction to form countless trillions of stars. Billions of galaxies, each of which is a gravitationally bound cluster of billions of stars, now form most of the visible mass in the universe.

Stars produce energy from nuclear reactions, primarily the fusion of hydrogen to form helium. These and other processes in stars have led to the formation of all the other elements

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on April 20, 2014 at 5:39pm.