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Overview: Course

The specification for junior cycle science focuses on the development of students’ knowledge of and about science through the unifying strand, Nature of science, and the four contextual strands: Physical world, Chemical world, Biological world, and Earth and space. It has been designed for a minimum of 200 hours of timetabled student engagement across the three years of junior cycle. 

Figure 1: The strands of the specification for junior cycle science


Nature of science  

This is the unifying strand; it permeates all the strands of the specification. The elements of this strand place a focus on how science works; carrying out investigations; communicating in science; and developing an appreciation of the role and contribution of science and scientists to society. There is a strong focus on scientific inquiry. There is no specific content linked to the Nature of science strand itself, and its learning outcomes underpin the activities and content in the contextual strands. The learning outcomes are pursued through the contextual strands as students develop their content knowledge of science through scientific inquiry. In doing so, students construct a coherent body of facts, learn how and where to access knowledge, and develop scientific habits of mind and reasoning skills to build a foundation for understanding the events and phenomena they encounter in everyday life. This makes the science classroom a dynamic and interactive space, in which students are active participants in their development. They can engage not only in experimental activities and discussion within the classroom, but also in researching and evaluating information to look beyond claims and opinions to analyse the evidence which supports them.

Chemical world  

This strand involves the study of matter and the changes it undergoes. As students study this strand they will develop understandings of the composition and properties of matter, the changes it undergoes, and the energy involved. They learn to interpret their observations by considering the properties and behaviour of atoms, molecules, and ions. They learn to communicate their understandings using representations, and the symbols and conventions of chemistry.  Our way of life depends on a wide range of materials produced from natural resources. In this strand students will learn about assessing the resources used to produce a material over its lifecycle (extraction, use, disposal and recycling). Using this, they are better able to understand science-related challenges, such as environmental sustainability and the development of new materials, and sources of energy.

Earth and space  

This strand provides an ideal setting for developing generalising principles and crosscutting concepts. To develop a sense of the structure of the Universe and some organising principles of astronomy, students explore relationships between many kinds of astronomical objects and evidence for the history of the universe.  Students use data to discern patterns in the motion of the Sun, Moon, and stars and develop models to explain and predict phenomena such as day and night, seasons, and lunar phases. The cycling of matter, with carbon and water cycles as well-known examples, provides a rich setting for students to develop an understanding of many physical and chemical processes including energy conservation and energy resources, weather and climate, and the idea of cycling itself. They will come to appreciate the impact of human activity on Earth and explore the role and implications of human space exploration.

Physical world  

This involves the exploration of physical observables, often in relation to motion, energy, and electricity.  Students gain an understanding of fundamental concepts such as length, time, mass and temperature through appropriate experiments. This allows them to develop simultaneously a sense of scaling and proportional reasoning, to recognise the need for common units, and to select and use appropriate measuring equipment.  Exploring concepts such as area, density, current, and energy helps students develop the ability to identify and measure a range of physical observables, and through experimenting, to investigate patterns and relationships between them.  Students also design and build simple electronic circuits. Students develop an understanding of the concept of energy and how it is transformed from one form to another without loss.  They also research sustainability issues that arise from modern physics and technologies, and our generation and consumption of electricity.

Biological world  

This strand leads students to an understanding of living things and how they interact with each other and the environment. In this strand students are introduced to the cell as the basic unit of life, and how characteristics are inherited from one generation to the next. Students develop an understanding of the diversity of life, life processes and how life has evolved. Students will explore body systems and how they interact, and learn about human health. They will investigate living things and their interdependence and interactions with ecosystems. They will learn about issues of social importance, such as the impact of humans on the natural world.


While the learning outcomes associated with each strand are set out separately here, this should not be taken to imply that the strands are to be studied in isolation. To give further emphasis to the integrated nature of learning science, the outcomes for each of the contextual strands are grouped by reference to four elements: Building blocks, Systems and interactions, Energy, and Sustainability (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The elements of the contextual strands and the unifying strand, showing the integrated nature of the specification


Within each strand, content areas and skills have been selected that all students should engage with while maintaining a balance between depth and breadth.  


Table 4: The elements of the contextual strands




Building blocks

Focuses on the essential scientific ideas that underpin each strand.

Systems and interactions

Examines how a collection of living and/or non-living things and processes interact to perform some function/s: there is a focus on the input, outputs, and relationships among system components.


A unifying concept that students can develop across the strands: it is an obvious integrating element as all phenomena we observe on earth and in space involve the transformation and variation of energy. 


Focuses on the concept of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.