Thinking & Learning

What’s Going On With Science and Social Studies?

In elementary school, it can feel like literacy and math are The Big Subjects, with science and social studies taking a back seat. But by middle school, your child should have both science and social studies as a consistent part of their school day. The curriculum can vary widely by school, but you can still expect your child to be learning a core set of skills in each subject.

In elementary school, you might’ve noticed that your child only had science or social studies, maybe on an alternating schedule. They certainly didn’t have as much exposure to these subjects as they did to literacy and math. But in middle school, that changes, and you might find that your child is blossoming as they discover a new passion for one of these awesome subjects—especially if they’re lucky enough to have a great teacher.

Here’s what you can expect your middle school scientist to be working on:


They’re learning how to investigate a scientific question or problem. Middle school science is all about building the skills of scientific inquiry that your child will need in their more advanced high school science courses. They’re becoming familiar with the scientific method and doing hands-on experiments—but hopefully those experiments are connected to larger scientific concepts that they’re also reading and talking about. They’re learning how to form a hypothesis based on what they know, test that idea, collect evidence, and rethink if their hypothesis is proved wrong.


They’re reading and writing about science. They should be reading plenty of scientific texts and articulating their scientific knowledge in writing. They’re building critical thinking skills here just as they do in English class.


They’re using math in science, too. Their math skills are going to come in handy in science class, where hopefully they’re practicing how to use math in practical ways through science. They’ll also start to see graphs and diagrams in science class and use those to solve problems, just like they do in math class.


They’re building the foundations of core areas of scientific study, like earth and life science. When they get to high school, they’ll probably have to meet some basic science course requirements, and then they’ll have the option to delve more deeply into subjects like chemistry, physics, or biology. Hopefully they’ll get a taste of all of those subjects in middle school, so they can begin to build the foundations for deeper knowledge—and also start to get a sense of what areas of science are most interesting to them.

To learn more about what to expect in middle school science, the Next Generation Science Standards are a good place to start. You can ask your child’s teacher how they use the standards and what your child is currently working on.

What about history and social studies?


They’re practicing critical thinking. Whatever topics they’re studying in social studies, they’ll be reading multiple sources with different perspectives, learning how to synthesize big ideas, and distinguishing between fact and opinion. They’re learning how to ask questions to investigate complex issues and use evidence to inform their perspectives.


They’ll learn how to interpret and analyze primary sources. Your middle schooler should get some experience looking at primary sources and understanding them in historical context. They should be using both primary and secondary sources in their writing and presentations.


They’re building a foundation in core areas of social studies. As in science, your middle schooler should be exposed to key content areas, including US history, world history, and geography. They may also explore big topics like politics and government, human migration, civil rights, and globalization. While they’ll only scratch the surface of all these content areas in middle school, they’ll start to develop areas of interest that can help them choose more advanced courses in high school.

If you’re wondering how your child’s social studies curriculum matches up to what social studies experts recommend for middle schoolers, you can talk to your child’s teacher about how they use the National Council of Social Studies standards.

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