What Are the Next Generation Science Standards?

What Are the Next Generation Science Standards?What Does NGSS Stand For? NGSS refers to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which are used in some form by 44 US states and territories to shape instruction and excite the next generation of scientists and engineers. Developed by prominent scientists and teachers, the NGSS aims to inspire curiosity and engagement for students who might otherwise lose ambition for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as they enter middle school.

When taught effectively, STEM plants the seeds of critical thinking — growing creative, evaluative, and analytical skills that are transferrable, cross-disciplinary, and valuable to students within the classroom and beyond. After graduation from high school, the higher-order skills cultivated by a successful STEM program can give a student a leg-up through workforce development, college, and career options.

Beyond aiming to advance STEM education, the Next Generation Standards ensure students receive progressive science education from kindergarten through high school graduation. What’s key here is that NGSS do not prescribe a science curriculum. Rather, they are standards designed to guide educators in devising a K-12 classroom experience that inspires and prepares students for careers in science and engineering.

Let’s examine how to use NGSS so you can tackle curriculum mapping that sets your students up for success.

What is NGSS? Understanding the Framework

The authors of NGSS believe there are three critical components of a complete science education. They are:

1. Science and Engineering Practices ( SEP )

Scientific inquiry incorporates both skill and knowledge. “Practices” include the skills scientists use as they test their theories about questions and problems they’ve identified. Science and engineering practices ( SEPs ) aim to give students the skills to participate in the discipline of STEM. The “Practices” also equip students to act as scientists and engineers, as a way of learning.

2. Crosscutting Concepts ( CCC )

“Crosscutting concepts” ( CCCs) are ideas that unite STEM content across different domains of science. Mastering crosscutting concepts means students have developed deep reasoning skills to be able to generalize the way one phenomena manifests itself to understand an entirely different phenomenon. The seven NGSS crosscutting concepts are:

  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect
  • Scale, proportion, and quantity
  • Systems and system models
  • Energy and matter
  • Structure and function
  • Stability and change

3. Disciplinary Core Ideas ( DCI )

These disciplinary core ideas ( DCIs ) are the contexts students will explore and connect. DCIs are broken into different domains including life science, earth and space science, and physical science which form the basis that guides choices of anchor phenomena and big ideas that form lessons and units of study. Prior to NGSS former science standards focused on facts, which are an element of disciplinary core ideas, but they are more conceptual aimed at helping students to understand the context of the world they live in.

How are the NGSS structured?

It is important to understand how to read the NGSS standards properly. The first step is understanding the System Architecture of each of the Next Generation Standards.

Performance Expectations

NGSS standards are Performance Expectations. They define what students should be able to demonstrate to be considered proficient for their grade level.

For instance, students in kindergarten have an Earth & Space Science standard focused on Weather and Climate. A Performance Expectations for this standard is “[To be able to] ask questions to obtain information about the purpose of weather forecasting to prepare for, and respond to, severe weather.”

A strand contains more than one Performance Expectation (PE). For example, MS-PS4 “Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer” has three PEs: MS-PS4-1, MS-PS4-2, and MS-PS4-3.

Each PE also has a Clarification Statement and Assessment Boundary written in red text beneath it. The first of these offers additional explanation of the PE.

For instance, K-PS2-2 asks students to “analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.” The Clarification Statement for this PE is “Examples of problems requiring a solution could include having a marble or other object move a certain distance, follow a particular path, and knock down other objects. Examples of solutions could include tools such as a ramp to increase the speed of the object and a structure that would cause an object such as a marble or ball to turn.”

An Assessment Boundary, in turn, is designed to set limits for assessment without limiting learning. The correlating Assessment Boundary to K-PS2-2 is “Assessment does not include friction as a mechanism for change in speed.”

Foundation Boxes

Science and Engineering Practices

In it original form you’ll find the NGSS standards have a blue box on the left-hand side below the performance expectation focused on Science and Engineering Practices. As mentioned above, these are the skills and processes used across scientific disciplines.

Let’s take, for instance, the Weather and Climate standard in middle school. One of the Science and Engineering Practices within this standard is “Asking Questions and Defining Problems.” The foundations link between grade levels so you will find middle school students are expected to continue developing this Practice as they move from K-5 into middle school.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In the middle of the Foundation Boxes is an orange box that lists Disciplinary Core Ideas. These are the most important concepts within a discipline that students should understand.

If we look at the Energy standard for fourth graders, we see that one Disciplinary Core idea is to have them understand that: “Energy and fuels that humans use are derived from natural sources, and their use affects the environment in multiple ways. Some resources are renewable over time, and others are not. (4-ESS3-1).”

Disciplinary Core Idea ESS3-1 has already been developed before the fourth grade and will continue being developed in the fifth grade and beyond.

Cross-Cutting Concepts

The last of the Foundation Boxes is the green box on the righthand side that includes Cross-Cutting Concepts. These are overarching ideas that connect across disciplines, like patterns, stability and change, and cause and effect.

Connection Boxes

Below these Performance Expectations and Foundation Boxes are Connection Boxes.

The first box suggests related concepts that could be taught around the same time in a course. As the NSTA explains, “…both physical sciences and life sciences performance expectations contain core ideas related to photosynthesis and could be taught in relation to one another.”

The next box describes the Disciplinary Core Ideas students have learned prior to this level, as well as how they will continue developing the Idea when they move onto the next grade levels.

The final box links the NGSS to Common Core State Standards at this grade level in other disciplines, including ELA and math.

Implementing a Curriculum Based on the NGSS

If you’re wondering: “What are the Next Generation Science Standards?” It’s important to understand that the NGSS ensures that K-12 science education is hands-on, develops skill and understanding, and remains relevant to students and their future careers. Teachers can use the standards to develop classes that effectively prepare students to become scientists or engineers and, engage in science throughout their lives.

Reading the Next Generation Standards is only the first step in implementing a dynamic science curriculum for all levels of students. If you’re interested in discovering unique teaching practices based on the NGSS, download our eBook Mastering the Next Generation of Science Standards or talk to one of our curriculum experts.

Next Generation Science PD Session Resources for Teachers

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