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What Are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?

April 11th, 2023 | 8 min. read

Mike Cescon

Mike Cescon

With past experience in teaching, a couple of degrees in writing, and an upbringing immersed in medical jargon, Mike is positioned well to hear out the most common questions teachers ask about the iCEV curriculum. His goal is to write content that quickly and effectively answers these questions so you can back to what matters - teaching your students.

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Whether you’re looking to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), or are already using them in class, understanding them more completely is key to making the most of their structure.

So what is NGSS? Who created these standards, and what high school topics do they cover? 

In this article, you’ll learn answers to some of the most common questions high school teachers ask about the NGSS: 

  • What Are the NGSS and Why Were They Created? 
  • How Are the NGSS Structured?
  • What Subject Areas Do the NGSS Cover? 

By the end of this article, you’ll better understand NGSS, so you can implement them correctly in your class. 

What Are the NGSS and Why Were They Created?

The Next Generation Science Standards are a collection of course standards followed by schools nationwide.  These standards guarantee that science education is high-quality and grounded in the latest research. 

In particular, the NGSS were created to prepare students for college and careers by allowing them to apply their scientific knowledge via practical experiments and hands-on projects. 

The NGSS were developed by a coalition of states and interested organizations seeking to provide better quality standards for science programs. These groups include the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

These groups believe that the best way for students to learn science is to practice concepts firsthand. To accomplish this, they employed some of the world’s most well-known scientists to come together and develop the Framework for K-12 Science Education, which they later adapted into the NGSS.

How Are the NGSS Structured?

The Next Generation Science Standards’ structure may seem confusing at first. However, they become much easier to read with a bit of explanation. 

Each standard consists of two critical parts, Performance Expectations and Foundations. See the example below, and continue reading to learn what you can expect from these sections.

Performance Expectations

The most essential elements of the NGSS are the Performance Expectations, which include knowledge and skill requirements that students should be able to meet after taking an NGSS-aligned course.

These Performance Expectations are located in the white box at the top of each set of standards. For many schools, this is the only section of the standards that teachers need to read and adhere to, and the other sections are disregarded. 


Next up are the colorful Foundations, which consist of three components used as the baseline to create the Performance Expectations above. 

In other words, the Performance Expectations are a condensed form of the Foundations. Because of this, you’ll likely see some information repeated between these two sections. 

The three Foundations you can find in each standard are: 

  • Science and Engineering Practices - These are located in the blue box on the left side of the standards. They consist of the scientific skills and practices students must apply to meet course requirements.
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) - These are located in the orange box in the center, and are perhaps the most important of the Foundations. They comprise the key concepts and ideas students must learn to consider themselves educated in the sciences. 
  • Crosscutting Concepts - These are located in the green box on the right side of the standards. They consist of concepts that link across the different scientific domains, and can be applied in many science or engineering contexts. 

While you can use the Performance Expectations independently as the “standards” your district follows, it’s recommended you view them in tandem with these Foundations to gain a complete picture of your requirements.

For a more in-depth explanation of the structure of these standards, check out the NGSS webpage on Understanding the Standards

What Subject Areas Do the NGSS Cover?

When it comes to high school, the Next Generation Science Standards cover four general subject areas

  • Physical Science
  • Life Science
  • Earth and Space Sciences
  • Engineering, Technology, and Applications

In turn, each of these four subjects divides into subcategories, which cover specific skills and areas of proficiency. 

1. Physical Science

In the Physical Science subject area, students build upon their middle school knowledge and learn and apply the foundational concepts behind sciences like chemistry and physics. Along the way, students develop models, conduct investigations, analyze data, and more. 

The Physical Science subject area is divided into five subcategories: 

  • Structure and Properties of Matter - Where students develop an understanding of the structure of atoms and the nature of radioactivity, and use the periodic table in their examination of the elements. 
  • Chemical Reactions - Where students explain the causes of chemical reactions and apply that knowledge in an engineering context or to understand other physical properties of the universe. 
  • Forces and Interactions - Where students learn about the laws of physics, the nature of momentum, the various universal forces that can affect matter, and how to use these concepts in a practical experiment. 
  • Energy - Where students learn more about energy, including defining it, knowing how it is transferred, how universal forces affect it, and how to apply these ideas in engineering. 
  • Waves and Electromagnetic Radiation - Where students learn more about the nature of electromagnetism, as well as how it is used in computing to transmit information over long distances. 

2. Life Science

In the Life Science subject area, students further their understanding of core concepts in biology and physics. They also apply this knowledge practically for research and engineering purposes. 

The Life Science subject area divides into five subcategories: 

  • Structure and Function - Where students learn about the structures of cells and how they enable life, as well as the hierarchical systems of organisms. 
  • Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems - Where students observe how energy cycles through ecosystems and how organisms obtain and use this energy. 
  • Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems - Where students study the interactions between organisms in nature and how these affect the survival of a species or individual. 
  • Inheritance and Variation of Traits - Where students learn more about genetics, including the nature of DNA, chromosomes, and how traits are passed from one generation to the next. 
  • Natural Selection and Evolution - Where students study the environment to learn more about how environmental factors impact natural selection and evolution.

3. Earth and Space Sciences

In the Earth and Space Sciences subject area, students demonstrate basic knowledge of astronomy, astrophysics, meteorology, and more. Along the way, students analyze data and use engineering concepts to theorize solutions to global problems facing humans.. 

The Earth and Space Sciences subject area divides into five subcategories: 

  • Space Systems - Where students learn about the interactions and processes that govern the workings of the solar system and universe as a whole, including the creation of stars and planets. 
  • History of Earth - Where students demonstrate knowledge of geology, biology, and astronomy to better understand the history of the planet. To do so, students make inferences, construct explanations, and use historical models and data. 
  • Earth’s Systems - Where students study the interactions between the fundamental forces of Earth, including volcanism, weather, water erosion, the carbon cycle, and human activities. 
  • Weather and Climate - Where students learn more about the conditions and systems that control weather and climate, including climate change.
  • Human Sustainability - Where students grow their understanding of humanity’s relationship with the Earth’s systems, studying natural hazards and the environmental impact of human activities. 

4. Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science

In the Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science subject area, students use their science and engineering knowledge to analyze data and develop a solution to a complex, real-world problem. 

This subject area consists of only one subcategory called Engineering Design. In Engineering Design, students demonstrate their analytical thinking in three stages: 

  • Defining a Problem - Where students use data and research to identify challenges that human society faces or will face in the near future.
  • Developing Possible Solutions - Where students break down major problems into smaller pieces that can be more easily prioritized and solved. 
  • Improving Designs - Where students model potential engineering solutions to simulate how they might affect the world. In so doing, students learn to anticipate their solution's impacts on human society or the environment.

Need a Curriculum that Aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards? 

In this article, you've discovered more about the Next Generation Science Standards, including why they matter, how they're structured, and what high school topics they cover. With this information in mind, you should be better able to implement these standards in your class. 

But how do you go about using the NGSS in your classes? The best way to incorporate these standards is to use materials that align with the NGSS, such as iCEV’s STEM curriculum!

This STEM curriculum is completely aligned with Next Generation Science Standards. It comes equipped with lesson plans, assessments, and interactive lab and engineering projects to test your students on essential scientific concepts:

Discover STEM Curriculum