Lesson Guide for “The Four Elements”

Content area and grade levels
Big question
Lesson overview

Content area and grade levels
Physical sciences for grades 6-8.

Big question
How did ancient people make sense of the physical world?

Lesson overview
The ancient Greeks believed that everything in the Universe was composed of four elements: fire, air, earth and water. Highlights include:

  • Important Greek philosophers (Aristotle, Democritus, Empedocles, Plato, Socrates)
  • The School of Athens and the influence of its teachers on students
  • Interactive activity that presents a riddle about the four elements to be solved


Illinois Learning Standards for middle/junior high school

Illinois Learning Standard 13B: Know and apply concepts that describe the interaction between science, technology and society.

13.B.3b Identify important contributions to science and technology that have been made by individuals and groups from various cultures.


National Science Education Standards content standards for 5th-8th grade

Unifying Concepts and Processes Standard: Evidence, Models, and Explanation

Content Standard A Science as Inquiry: Understandings about Scientific Inquiry

• Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects and phenomena; and some involve making models.
• Scientific explanations emphasize evidence, have logically consistent arguments, and use scientific principles, models, and theories. The scientific community accepts and uses such explanations until displaced by better scientific ones. When such displacement occurs, science advances.
• Science advances through legitimate skepticism. Asking questions and querying other scientists' explanations is part of scientific inquiry. Scientists evaluate the explanations proposed by other scientists by examining evidence, comparing evidence, identifying faulty reasoning, pointing out statements that go beyond the evidence, and suggesting alternative explanations for the same observations.

Content Standard B Physical Science: Transfer of Energy

• A substance has characteristic properties, such as density, a boiling point, and solubility, all of which are independent of the amount of the sample. A mixture of substances often can be separated into the original substances using one or more of the characteristic properties.


Content Standard D Earth and Space Science: Structure of the Earth System

• Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic material from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found in layers, with each having a different chemical composition and texture.
• 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 moves to higher elevations, condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soil, and in rocks underground.

Content Standard E Science and Technology: Understandings about Science and Technology

• Many different people in different cultures have made and continue to make contributions to science and technology.

Content Standard F Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Science and Technology in Society

• Science influences society through its knowledge and world view. Scientific knowledge and the procedures used by scientists influence the way many individuals in society think about themselves, others, and the environment. The effect of science on society is neither entirely beneficial nor entirely detrimental.
• Science and technology have advanced through contributions of many different people, in different cultures, at different times in history. Science and technology have contributed enormously to economic growth and productivity among societies and groups within societies.
• Science cannot answer all questions and technology cannot solve all human problems or meet all human needs. Students should understand the difference between scientific and other questions. They should appreciate what science and technology can reasonably contribute to society and what they cannot do. For example, new technologies often will decrease some risks and increase others.


Content Standard G History and Nature of Science: Science as Human Endeavor

• Women and men of various social and ethnic backgrounds--and with diverse interests, talents, qualities, and motivations--engage in the activities of science, engineering, and related fields such as the health professions. Some scientists work in teams, and some work alone, but all communicate extensively with others.
• Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skill, and creativity--as well as on scientific habits of mind, such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, and openness to new ideas.

Content Standard G History and Nature of Science: History of Science

• Many individuals have contributed to the traditions of science. Studying some of these individuals provides further understanding of scientific inquiry, science as a human endeavor, the nature of science, and the relationships between science and society.
• In historical perspective, science has been practiced by different individuals in different cultures. In looking at the history of many peoples, one finds that scientists and engineers of high achievement are considered to be among the most valued contributors to their culture.
• Tracing the history of science can show how difficult it was for scientific innovators to break through the accepted ideas of their time to reach the conclusions that we currently take for granted.