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Why is Activate Learning PRIME the Right Choice for K-5 Science?

Investigation-Centered, 3-Dimensional Learning

  • Aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
  • Flexibility to meet ALL State Standards
  • Literacy Focus: reading, writing, talking, and doing science
  • Crosscutting Concepts with Scientific Practices
  • Engages students in “doing science” to foster authentic learning

Instructional Design with Teachers in Mind

  • Teacher Edition: lesson plans, discussion questions, differentiation strategies, and background information
  • Interactive Digital Edition that integrates with leading Learning Management Systems
  • Embedded Content and Pedagogical Support
  • Interactive Student Notebook

Professional Development

  • Online Teacher Support and Webinars
  • Lesson Modeling
  • Educational Resource Specialists


A product of UChicago STEM Education, Activate Learning PRIME™ is the product of a rigorous iterative development process by an author team comprised of both content and classroom specialists and is designed to be educative for elementary school teachers, as well as for students. The program engages children in learning science by doing science, with a focus on developing discourse and critical thinking skills alongside disciplinary content knowledge and science and engineering practices to help students make sense of engaging hands-on explorations.
The goals of the Activate Learning PRIME program are to preserve the curiosity and open mindedness that children bring to their environment and to link hands-on explorations in the real world with accurate science content through thinking, reflection, and discussion. Throughout the program, students ask questions, explore materials, share and refine ideas, solve problems, and, ultimately, use critical thinking to make informed decisions.
Activate Learning PRIME was developed to address known challenges to teaching science in elementary classrooms, including 1) limited science background and content knowledge of many teachers, 2) minimal time for and focus on science in elementary schools, and 3) usability challenges inherent in a hands-on science environment. It is designed to be an educative curriculum for teachers as well as for students.


Grade K: Tracking the Weather

The Tracking the Weather topic encourages children to build on their natural sense of wonder and curiosity about the world while they: 

  • Make drawings of weather scenes, themselves wearing indoor and outdoor clothing, clouds and precipitation, and wind. 
  • Record daily weather conditions and look for patterns in the weather data during each season and over the entire year. 
  • Create seasonal Weather Books that contain a variety of their drawings. 
  • Explore severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes, and learn how to prepare for them to stay safe.
Grade K: Plants and Animals

The Plants and Animals topic encourages children to look at the living things around them in new ways while they:

  • Create books about animals that interest them. The books will show that animals get the things they need from the places where they live, and that animals can change their environments.
  • Discover what plants need, and how plants get what they need in the places where they live.
  • Consider how people meet their needs and how they use resources from their environment.

Grade K: Pushes and Pulls

Throughout the Pushes and Pulls topic, children participate in activities where they discover that changes in motion are caused by pushes or pulls. The children:

  • Figure out different ways to make a toy car start moving and a ball change direction.
  • Compare the effects of big and small pushes and pulls on the motion of objects.
  • Experiment with collisions, noting that when one object hits another, the motion of both objects may change. 
  • Play games where they use pushes and pulls with different strengths and directions to make balls or other objects move the way they want them to move. 
  • Use materials like cardboard and string to engineer solutions to motion challenges. 

Grade 1: Watching the Sky

The Watching the Sky topic encourages children to be aware of what is in the sky above as well as how these objects appear to move. During this topic, the children: 

  • Draw and label what the sky looks like during the day and what they think it looks like at night. 
  • Draw the sky at night. 
  • Learn when the sun, moon, and stars are visible. 
  • Discover that the sun and the moon appear to move in a predictable pattern in the sky. 
  • Observe that there is more daylight in early fall than in winter. 
  • Discover that the hours of daylight decreases between fall and winter and then increases between winter and spring. 
  • Try to watch at least one sunrise and sunset every month. 

Grade 1: Examining Living Things

The Examining Living Things topic encourages children to think and work as biologists. During this topic, the children: 

  • Learn about what it means to be a biologist, and engage in a biologist’s practices of exploring the world. 
  • Discover that the structures of plants and animals are related to their functions. 
  • Observe and record patterns in the structures of different plants, and in the structures and behaviors of different animals. 
  • Appreciate that by mimicking how other living things meet their needs, humans can look to the natural world to design solutions to our problems. 
  • Model and create a nature-inspired solution to a human problem. 

Grade 1: Light and Sound

The Light and Sound topic encourages students to discover the presence of light and sound in the world around them, and to engage in design thinking. During this topic, the children:

  • Act as “sound detectives” to heighten awareness of sounds all around. 
  • Discover that all sounds are produced by vibrations. 
  • Investigate how well sound transmits through the air and a variety of materials. 
  • Use cup-and-string telephones to explore how sound vibrations travel. 
  • Identify sources of light and ways to light up a dark space. 
  • Investigate how light travels until it hits something. 
  • Observe how light interacts with materials. 
  • Learn that materials can block light, let some light through, or let most light through. 
  • Discover that some materials tend to redirect more light than others. 
  • Investigate how shadows are produced. 
  • Work with a partner to design a communication device and test ways to send and receive messages. 
  • Describe how the device works, why they settled on their design, and the problems they solved along the way.

Grade 2: Land, Water, and Wind

The Land, Water, and Wind topic encourages children to develop a view of the earth’s surface as dynamic and constantly changing. During this topic, the children:

  • Discover some of the landforms and bodies of water that make up Earth’s surface . 
  • Build models of landforms and bodies of water . 
  • Examine and create maps that identify where different landforms and bodies of water are located . 
  • Explore how water and wind change the shape of land . 
  • Design solutions to prevent water and wind erosion . 
  • Observe how some changes to Earth’s surface are quick, while most other changes take place over a long period of time.

Grade 2: Diversity in Habitats

The Diversity in Habitats topic encourages children to observe the amazing diversity of life around us and think about the relationships between the organisms found within them. During this topic, the children:

  • Identify a habitat as the place where an organism can satisfy its survival needs. 
  • Explore the ways that different organisms survive in their habitats. 
  • Discover the diversity of life in different habitats. 
  • Experiment with pea seeds to test how much light and water they need to survive. 
  • Model relationships between plants and animals.

Grade 2: Solids, Liquids, and Gases

The Solids, Liquids, and Gases topic opens children’s eyes to the materials around them and the way things change. During this topic, the children:

  • Learn about the properties of objects, such as size, weight, color, and texture. 
  • Identify the different materials that make up common objects, and think about the properties that make each material useful. 
  • Discover that different objects can be made from the same set of pieces. 
  • Identify solids, liquids, and gases in their own environment. 
  • Compare different materials to explore the properties that help us classify things as solids or liquids. 
  • Explore how water (and other things) can change from a liquid to a solid, and back to a liquid—over and over. 
  • Discover that some changes caused by cooling and heating are reversible, and other changes are irreversible.

Grade 3: Weather and Climate

The Weather and Climate topic encourages children to explore new ways to look at the weather and climate that affects their lives.  Weather’s dynamic and unpredictable character gives children insight into the wonderful complexity of nature. During this topic, the children:

  • Observe, analyze, and describe scenes of various weather conditions. 
  • Locate places that have ideal weather conditions for an activity. 
  • Build and use tools to collect weather data. 
  • Create and compare graphs of weather measurement data and identify patterns in that data. 
  • Create a weather map of the United States.
  • Explore severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes. 
  • Interpret graphs and observe scenes in nature to classify climate zones. 
  • Observe tree rings to describe climatic conditions over a historic period.

Grade 3: Inheritance and Variation

The Inheritance and Variation topic encourages children to develop a new understanding of the phenomena and processes that govern the characteristics and features of living things and impact their ability to survive in their habitat. During this topic, the children:

  • Look carefully at dogs to understand what a trait is and how traits can have variations within the same kind of organism. 
  • Observe and describe the similarities and differences between parent animals and plants and their offspring to learn that organisms inherit traits from their parents. 
  • Read about the environmental influences on traits and use that information to identify the differences in offspring they observe.
  • Read case studies about flamingos, frogs, and snowshoe hares and then use those to support a claim that the environment can affect animals’ traits. 
  • Look at how variation in traits of frogs and mice affect their ability to survive in their habitats. 
  • Create bar graphs to analyze data about frogs. 
  • Play a game where they act as predators to understand how variation in color affects survival.

Grade 3: Changing Environments

The Changing Environments topic helps children appreciate that they can learn about the past by closely observing and understanding fossils; that some organisms might not be able to meet their survival needs in certain environments; and what happens to organisms in response to environmental change. During this topic, the children:

  • Observe a mystery object and use their prior knowledge to come up with ideas of what it might be.
  • Discover that fossils are rocks that reveal information about ancient plants, animals, or other organisms.
  • Develop an understanding that some fossils have modern counterparts and some do not, because those organisms have gone extinct. 
  • Obtain information from varied media about how fossils can reveal information about past environments and how the environment has changed.
  • Consider how various behaviors, including social behaviors, and physical traits help organisms meet their survival needs. 
  • Consider why some organisms might not be able to meet their survival needs in certain environments.
  • Explore what happens to organisms in response to environmental change.
  • Compare the benefits and drawbacks of different solutions, and real-world constraints such as costs, as they recommend solutions to a community.

Grade 3: Patterns in Life Cycles

The Patterns in Life Cycles topic builds on children’s natural curiosity about life’s diversity as they discover that birth, growth and development, reproduction, aging, and death are the basic elements of a life cycle. During this topic, the children:

  • Learn about the life stages shared by all living organisms: birth, growth, reproduction, and death.
  • Discover that the details of each life cycle vary from organism to organism.
  • Observe the complete life cycle of pea plants in the classroom.
  • Examine a wide variety of flowers and learn how flowers grow into fruits and seeds.
  • Observe the entire life cycle of Painted Lady butterflies in the classroom.

Grade 3: Forces in Action

The Forces in Action topic encourages students to develop a new understanding of the forces that govern our everyday lives, as well as the design process. During this topic, the children:

  • Discover that a force is a push or a pull. A force is always needed to get something to start to move. 
  • Learn that forces have strength and direction and that friction and gravity are forces.
  • Predict motion of marbles, swings, and tetherballs based on past motion. 
  • Discover that magnets cause a force on some materials and not others and can do this without touching the material. 
  • Design, sketch, and build a magnetic device to solve a problem they think up. 
  • Use balloons and other objects to experience how static electricity causes a force between objects, and that the force between electrically charged objects varies with the distance apart. 

Grade 4: Our Geosphere

The Our Geosphere topic helps students discover the wonders of Earth including Earth’s surface and the forces beneath the surface that create landscapes. During this topic, the students:

  • Walk the school grounds to discover evidence of change to the landscape. 
  • Become familiar with the diversity of landscapes on Earth. 
  • Explain what happens to rocks over time by conducting an investigation about abrasion. 
  • Model glaciers to explore glacial abrasion of rock and the erosion of Earth’s surface, and to see how glaciers deposit the sediment they carry. 
  • Plan and conduct investigations to model the effects of erosion by either water or wind. 
  • Explore how tectonic plate movements create various landscapes.
  • Plot data about earthquakes to identify patterns and see the relationship between their location and tectonic plates. 
  • Explain how the Grand Canyon was formed. 
  • Create a model to describe where fossils are located within different layers of the Earth. 

Grade 4: Energy Transfers

The Energy Transfers topic encourages students to be aware of the many ways in which they depend upon and use energy. It also offers students a glimpse of how energy transfers function in the natural and human-built worlds. During this topic, the students:

  • Discover that energy is everywhere; at home, at school, and in the natural world. 
  • Observe and map energy transfers in toys. 
  • Experiment with the energy of light. 
  • Design and conduct their own energy transfer experiments. 
  • Investigate the transfer of energy between moving objects such as marbles. 
  • Use their imagination and new understanding of energy to design a machine that uses the power of energy transfers.

Grade 4: Structures in Living Things

The Structures in Living Things topic encourages students to think about the many ways that organisms are similar and different. During this topic, the students:

  • Discuss the different structures that plants and animals have, and how these structures help them survive, grow, and reproduce. 
  • Model how different structures work together in systems that serve different functions, in both plants and animals. 
  • Closely observe earthworms, noticing their structures and behaviors. 
  • Investigate how earthworms sense and respond to their environment.
  • Closely observe various plants, noticing their structures.

Grade 4: Technology and Energy

The Technology and Energy topic helps students discover the wonders of electricity, other forms of energy, and the relationship of energy to making technology work. During this topic, the students:

  • Try out ideas about how to light a bulb with a battery and wires. 
  • Recognize and use the components in a battery-bulb circuit. 
  • Build a circuit with a battery and motor. 
  • Explore conductors and insulators of electric current. 
  • Recognize electrical hazards and the safe use of electricity. 
  • Build and use light bulb holders. 
  • Draw circuit symbols and schematics. 
  • Learn about parallel and serial circuits.
  • Design, build, and demonstrate a circuit that solves a problem.
  • Explore different types of stored energy and fuels. 
  • Read about renewable and non-renewable energy and power. 
  • Discover how our use of energy impacts our world. 
  • Explore energy efficiency.

Grade 4: Waves

The Waves topic encourages students to develop a new understanding of waves and their behavior. During this topic, the students:

  • Create wave patterns in water and learn that waves form in a regular pattern. 
  • Learn that waves require a source and travel through a medium. For example, the source of water waves is a motion somewhere. The medium for waves in the ocean is water. 
  • Produce waves on a rope and a slinkyTM to discover the properties of waves and that waves transfer energy from place to place. 
  • Build models of waves using chenille stems.
  • Look closely at deep and shallow water waves to recognize floating objects are moved differently by waves in deep water and shallow water. 
  • Explore how sound waves travel and can cause objects to move.

Grade 5: Earth’s Systems

The Earth’s Systems topic encourages students to be aware of the various interactions between different Earth’s systems, including the ways that humans impact those systems. During this topic, the students:

  • Discover that Earth’s systems are the hydrosphere (water), the geosphere (solid rock), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things). 
  • Observe and record interactions between the different Earth’s systems. 
  • Model an Earth’s system and the way it interacts with another system. Then present their models to the class. 
  • Describe how water can be on Earth’s surface, underground, or in the air. 
  • Model how Earth’s water circulates through the hydrologic (water) cycle. 
  • Explain some of the ways we use and can conserve water. 
  • Investigate ways to clean polluted water. 
  • Investigate ways that humans impact the environment in both positive and negative ways.

Grade 5: Ecosystems

From bacteria to plants to fungi to animals, students are always inspired by the diversity of life on Earth. The Ecosystems topic helps students to make sense of the dynamic nature of our biosphere by understanding how living things interact within ecosystems. During this topic, the students:

  • Study the ecosystems around the school. 
  • Describe the matter and energy found on food nutrition labels. 
  • Explain how matter and energy flow in food chains and food webs in an ecosystem.
  • Discover that plants get their materials for growth mostly from air and water and they get their energy from the sun. 
  • Compare how plants grow in organic versus inorganic soil.
  • Discuss why the world isn’t covered in nature’s waste and remains. 
  • Examine organic remains and ponder where they came from and what will happen to them. 
  • Explore the sequence of decomposition in a variety of organisms. 
  • Model how nutrients cycle through an ecosystem.

Grade 5: Earth in Space

The Earth in Space topic helps students discover the wonders of our planet and its relationship to objects in space, such as the sun and other stars. During this topic, the students:

  • Draw models of Earth and compare their models with the models scientists use. 
  • Discover that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed toward the center of Earth. 
  • Draw their ideas about the causes of daytime and nighttime. 
  • Explain how a shadow’s shape and direction are related to the sun’s position in the sky. 
  • Record, graph, and analyze data about the sun’s position in the sky and how shadows change during the day. 
  • Discover that the sun appears to travel in an arc across the sky. 
  • Create models of the causes of daytime and nighttime. 
  • Describe how the Earth’s rotation around its axis causes the sun's daily pattern in the sky, as well as the pattern of stars’ movement across the night sky. 
  • Explain that the sun appears larger and brighter than other stars because it is closer. 
  • Model why we see stars at night, but not during the day. 
  • Create charts that show when different constellations are visible in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Grade 5: Investigating Matter

The Investigating Matter topic recognizes that to understand their world, students must have many experiences with matter. During this topic, the students:

  • Define matter and identify many of its common properties. 
  • Become familiar with the common states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas.
  • Plan and conduct an investigation to prove that air has weight. 
  • Conduct investigations to show that materials can be identified based on their properties. 
  • Show that the weight of matter doesn’t change when heated or cooled or when mixed with other substances. 
  • Discover the differences between physical and chemical changes. 
  • Plan and conduct fair tests involving chemical changes to show that the weight of matter stays the same during these changes. 
  • Discover how unusual mixtures have properties, unlike other materials they explore in the topic.


This document charts the alignment between Activate Learning PRIME lessons and the Next Generation Science Standards’ (NGSS) performance expectations with which they most highly correlate.

It is important to note that no single activity should be thought of as meeting an NGSS performance expectation (PE). Meeting a PE requires carefully sequenced activities, investigations, readings, discussions, and lessons that support students in building understanding of a disciplinary core idea, crosscutting concept, and the multiple scientific practices involved in “making sense” of complex ideas.

In contrast to the old practice of checking off a standard as “met” because it was taught on a given day, new standards demand a very different approach.

Click here to download the PDF full version of the Activate Learning PRIME NGSS Overview with descriptions.