Physical Science

Objects have observable properties that can be measured.

Benchmark: Measurement Tools & Units

Measure temperature, volume, weight and length using appropriate tools and units.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in Lay Terms

Measurement tools help describe objects and their properties.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea

Objects can be described in terms of their shape or the shapes of their parts.

Length can be thought of as unit lengths joined together, area as a collection of unit squares, and volume as a set of unit cubes.  Source

Objects can be described in terms of their properties.  Some properties, such as hardness and flexibility, depend upon what material the object is made of, and some properties, such as size and shape, do not.  Source

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks  Measure temperature, volume, weight and length using appropriate tools and units.

The Essentials


  • NSES Standards:

Young children begin their study of matter by examining and qualitatively describing objects and their behavior. The important but abstract ideas of science, such as atomic structure of matter and the conservation of energy, all begin with observing and keeping track of the way the world behaves. When carefully observed, described, and measured, the properties of objects, changes in properties over time, and the changes that occur when materials interact provide the necessary precursors to the later introduction of more abstract ideas in the upper grade levels.

CONTENT STANDARD B: As a result of their activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of properties of objects and materials.


  • AAAS Atlas:

All materials have certain physical properties, such as strength, hardness, flexibility, durability, resistance to water and fire, and ease of conducting heat.

Objects can be described in terms of their properties. Some properties, such as hardness and flexibility, depend upon what material the object is made of, and some properties, such as size and shape, do not.


  • Benchmarks of Science Literacy

Make sketches to aid in explaining procedures or ideas (Habits of Mind, Gr 3-5)

Use numerical data in describing and comparing objects and events (Habits of Mind, Gr 3-5)


Objects can be described in terms of the materials they are made of (clay, cloth, paper, etc.) and their physical properties (color, size, shape, weight, texture, flexibility (Structure of Matter, Gr K-2)

All materials have certain physical properties, such as strength, hardness, flexibility, durability, resistance to water and fire, and ease of conducting heat. (Structure of Matter, Gr 3-5)

No matter how parts of an object are assembled, the weight of the whole object is always the same as the sum of the parts; and when an object is broken into parts, the parts have the same total weight as the original object. (Structure of Matter, Gr 3-5)


Common Core Standards:

Language Arts:

Craft and Structure 4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Math: Measurement and Geometry:

Name, describe, classify and sketch polygons.

Describe, classify and sketch triangles, including equilateral, right, obtuse and acute triangles. Recognize triangles in various contexts.

Describe, classify and draw quadrilaterals, including squares, rectangles, trapezoids, rhombuses, parallelograms and kites. Recognize quadrilaterals in various contexts.


Student Misconceptions 
  • When an object's appearance changes in several dimensions, elementary students focus on only one.  Source
  • Research on students understanding of materials suggests that the tasks of classifying objects according to what they are made of and of comparing properties of materials can be challenging for early elementary-school children. In addition, elementary-school children may have limited knowledge or hold misconceptions about the origins and transformations of materials.

Source: misconception from Atlas of science literacy


Miss Ruler was preparing a science activity for her fourth grade class.  She placed a variety of shells on paper plates and collected rulers, hand lenses, and scales.  When her students came back from lunch she explained to her class that they had a challenge.  The student groups needed to come up with as many ways as possible to classify (or sort) the shells at their table spots.  They needed to physically move the shells and record the classification titles they tried.  After ten minutes of work time, the class was called together to share the various ways they classified the shells.  Miss Ruler recorded each way as the students explained their reasoning behind their sorting ideas.  Miss Ruler then asked her class:  How many senses did you use to do your classifying?  How many tools did you use to do your classifying?  The class quickly realized they had relied solely on their sense of sight and had not used any scientific tools to aid their work.  This conclusion lead the students to discuss the advantages of using tools and classifying objects into groups based on many properties.  Students were then sent back to their work tables to use additional senses and tools to sort the shells in new ways.

The next day, students were given a sheet of paper with nine boxes printed on it.  The students had to label each box with a specific property, such as red, bumpy, or metallic.  They recorded in their science notebooks why they choose each property type.  The students were then given a collection of rocks to sort into their boxes.  Students recorded their observations and results.  Some boxes had no rocks, while other boxes were full.  These opening activities helped Miss Ruler's students learn more about observing properties in objects.


Instructional Notes 

Suggested Labs and Activities

- Measuring and Comparing Matter.  Lesson Summary: Students will measure a variety of different materials from the classroom to determine how much matter is found in these materials. Using the same volume for each type of material they investigate, students will determine the mass of these materials by using an elementary balance. The data (the masses of the different materials) will be compiled in graph form and analyzed to determine which materials contain more matter. The investigative results will be shared with other classmates using a gallery approach as students walk around the room looking at other students' graphs and charts. Students will then draw conclusions from the data about mass, volume, and density during a class discussion and write about their findings in a science journal.  Lesson Source

- Sorting Practice. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 and give each group a collection of items (about two dozen familiar objects, such as bolts, string, rocks, paper clips, and cloth) Have each group organize the objects into categories, using one or more classification schemes.  When everyone is finished, ask each group to explain its scheme. Which attributes did they use to place an object in a certain category (shape, color, function, type of material, other)? Compare and contrast how each group chose to classify the objects.  Explore with students the idea that one classification system is not intrinsically better than another. The utility of a given classification system depends on what the classifier wants to know. Devise some simple questions that might be answered by classifying the objects. For example: What colors are present? How many different shapes are there (name them)? How might these objects be used? The students will need to regroup the objects based on the question asked.  Idea adapted from this source

Sorting Practice. As a whole class demonstrate activity. Lay out the objects and tell the children that you have chosen one and are going to describe it. Have a child sort the objects into those that match the criteria and those that don't. Tell the children a second descriptive word from the list and again ask a child to identify those objects that fit the criteria for both the first and second words. Continue until the children have correctly identified the object.

As a whole class demonstrate second activity. 3 children play. The first child puts one on the table and the second child has to choose an object and say what it has in common with the object on the table (ex. they are both shiny) All have 2 turns then start again, choosing different objects. Source

- Classroom Phenology. Using the Environment as a Source of Data and Observations.  Students will record daily temperatures, precipitation amounts, observations of weather patterns, shadow length of a set object, and other observations. Students will also do a season-long weekly observation of a schoolyard tree. Students will maintain a classroom phenology binder as a class, and create individual nature journals for their own observations. The data students collect will be used for various extension activities in math and science. For example, students will compare their data through graphing and calculations with the data found in the Weatherguide calendar. Students will also use this data to support science texts about seasons, phases of the moon, and weather phenomena in urban Minnesota.  Lesson Plan Source

- Investigating Rocks.  In this classroom guided inquiry lesson, students will become geologists. They will investigate rocks and the properties we can use to describe them. Students will observe, record, and reflect on their findings. They will record their observations in their science notebooks throughout the lesson. After the investigation, students will develop a hypothesis as to what they think rocks are made of. Students will draw a conclusion later on in the unit after they study minerals.  Lesson Plan Source

Instructional suggestions/options:

- Hands-on experiences are important for learning the different measuring tools.

- Stress accuracy and precision when students are measuring.

- Comparing and contrasting activities can help students learn about object properties.

- Describe and compare observations made of objects using the naked eye, magnifying glass, and a microscope.

- Use measurement lessons from your district math curriculum to support this standard.

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources

- Investigating Trees: Using a dichotomous key to identify local tree types

Lesson Plan Source

- AAA Math: Measurement Practice

- Measure It!: Online practice for reading a metric ruler

- The Ruler Game: Online practice for reading a standard ruler

New Vocabulary 


Anemometer =  a tool used to determine wind speed

Attribute = a characteristic or property of an object, such as size, color, or shape

Balance = a tool used to accurately measure the weight o f an object

Classification = a systematic arrangement in groups or categories according to established criteria

Matter = everything in the universe that has mass and takes up space

Mass = the amount of matter something contains

Property = a characteristics of a substance

Ruler =  a tool used measure short/medium distances/lengths

Thermometer = a tool that measures temperature

Volume = the amount of space that an object or substance takes up

Weight = a measure of the force of gravity upon an object

Technology Connections 

Characteristics of Materials - online interactive game

Online Measurement Practice

Online Measurement Practice (links to a variety of sites

Cross Curricular Connections 

- Students learn estimation, measuring skills, proportion, and ratios by hand-drafting a floor plan of their classroom to scale. See this page.

- Create a botanic field guide which includes the common and scientific names for plants (trees, shrubs, wildflowers, plants) typically found in their surroundings. A photo, drawing, or actual sample of the plant itself will be presented along with its description, one plant to a page. Included will be where the plant was found, its height, colors, leaf shape, and one or two sentences of grammatically correct description. Students will be asked to share their field guides with others, and perhaps take them on a nature hike.  Lesson Plan Source. Connect with math curriculum when possible.  Gather data through science investigations and learn to analyze and graph the data during math instruction.

- Students can gather online data of temperatures or rainfalls around the world.  They can analyze the data, graph it, and share their findings with others through a poster or Voice Thread.


Assessment of  Students

Make a list of three or more properties of an object that you can measure (Level 1).

1.       What tool is used to measure length? (Level 1)

a.       Measuring Tape

b.       Graduated Cylinder

c.        Balance

2.       There is a torn umbrella.  Which of the 3 materials would you suggest to use to repair it and why?   A. Plastic   B. Newspaper    C. T-shirt  (Level 2)

4.  Which property of an object allows it to bend? (Level 1)

a. color

b. flexibility

c. mass

d. size

5.  Which tool would be most useful for observing the details of an insect's wings? (Level 1)

a. thermometer

b. balance

c. hand lens

d. graduated cylinder

6. Some properties of a ball and a block are listed below. (Level 2)

Ball                  Block

rubber              red

red                   300 g

sphere              rough

300 g               cube

smooth            wood

Complete the Venn diagram below to compare and contrast the ball and block. Use all of the properties listed above.

Assessment of Teachers

1.  There is a torn umbrella.  Which of the 3 materials would you suggest to use to repair it? Explain your thinking.   A. Plastic   B. Newspaper    C. T-shirt  (Level 2)

2.  Make a list of observable properties for a (rock, shell, etc.).  Rank the properties in order of importance to the object's uniqueness.  Explain your thinking.  (Level 3)

3.  For each tool, explain how it could be used to describe an object's properties. (Level 2)

            Ruler               Balance           Thermometer               Graduated Cylinder


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk

Additional exposure or pre-exposure to activities can be helpful.

Activity 1 - As a whole class demonstrate activity. Lay out the objects and tell the children that you have chosen one and are going to describe it. Use one of the words from the list and get a child to sort the objects into those that match the criteria and those that don_t (put away those that don_t). Tell the children a second descriptive word from the list and again ask a child to identify those objects that fit the criteria for both the first and second words. Continue until the children have correctly identified the object.  Children work in groups of 3, one child thinks of an object and the other 2 have to identify it from the clues.

Activity 2 - One student closes his/her eyes, the other children in the group give him/her one of the objects and s/he has to guess which it is by using sense of touch.  Children play the game in groups of 3, taking turns to chose their eyes.  Version 2 - the other children in the group choose an object and use appropriate vocabulary to describe it to the student with his/her eyes closed, who guesses the object without touching it.

Activity 3 - Show the students two hula-hoops which lay on the floor to make a Venn diagram. Have studetnts sort objects using the physical boundaries of the hula-hoops. It is a great way to see how things are alike and different and really helps teach compare/contrast and the students love to place their objects in the Venn Diagram.

English Language Learners 

General guidelines include...

Emphasize visual literacy - Regardless of linguistic background, people around the world can interpret mathematical equations and musical scores. In addition, they can also interpret pictures, and with minimal linguistic skills, can interpret charts and graphs. Visual literacy, or the ability to evaluate, apply, or create conceptual visual representation, is relatively independent of language, and is therefore invaluable to learning science and English simultaneously.

Graphic Organizers - Graphic organizers are a means of introducing and assessing concepts in a manner that encourages meaningful learning. Graphic organizers are diagrams or maps that show the relationship between new and existing concepts, thereby facilitating integration of new and familiar ideas. They require minimal language and are therefore helpful tools when teaching science to English language learners.

Group projects & cooperative learning - Group work and cooperative learning provide opportunities for students to exchange, write, and present ideas.

Model laboratory activities - Demonstrate activities in front of class to ensure that English language learners can see the procedures before engaging in an activity.

Picture glossary - One of the best ways to learn the vocabulary of a new language is with pictorial flash cards. A picture of the concept is on one side while the term (in the language to be learned) is on the reverse. The student learns to correlate concepts directly with words, eliminating the need for translation.

Word wall - Post new vocabulary terms on the wall in an organized, grouped manner.


Extending the Learning 

Students can extend the observable properties that can be measured by identifying a substance as an acid (i.e., vinegar or lemon juice) or a base (i.e., soap or baking soda).  A lesson source is: Kitchen Chemistry


Classes can study measurement tools that come from different countries.

- Students can bring in an artifact from their home/culture to observe and record physical properties.

Special Education 

Extra Time - A student may great difficulty working with numbers and may be easily confused by the symbols used in measuring tools. Consequently, the child may need additional time to complete assignments. You need to keep this in mind for class assignments and when implementing wait time for students to answer a question.

Modified Work - Students with a math disability do not learn math the same way as other students, and so need their work modified in order to be successful. This may mean changing the assignment to something more appropriate.

Use of Calculator or Other Aid - Depending on the severity of the disability, a student may be allowed the use of a calculator or electronic measuring tool.



Classroom Observation 


Administrators should look for teachers to provide students with hands-on opportunities to use appropriate tools to measure objects.  There should be time to explore the tools and then time to use them to accomplish a task.  Administrators should make sure teachers are ensuring students are using the tools accurately and safely.


- Make a Simple Thermometer

- Use cooking tools with your child and discuss the ingredients' properties as you bake.

- Make a rain gauge.  Construct a rain gauge and place it here your home/yard to monitor the amount of preciptation over a period of time.  Source