Reading the Next Generation Science Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards were released in 2013 and provide a holistic and three-dimensional approach to teaching science. This guide is intended to help you understand the purpose of the standards and how to read each element of those standards.

What are the NGSS Standards?

The Next Generation Science Standards are K-12 science content standards that provide research-based and flexible learning standards to be implemented in the classroom. They were developed to provide a flexible and three-dimensional approach to science that are intended to not only teach science content, but provide students with an opportunity to partake in scientific practices.

There are three dimensions in the standards, and each dimension is equally important when implementing in the classrooms. In my own experiences, I have found that these standards provide a great deal of flexibility and can be easily implemented based on the needs and available resources of the teacher.

According to the NGSS website, “A high-quality science education means that students will develop an in-depth understanding of content and develop key skills—communication, collaboration, inquiry, problem solving, and flexibility—that will serve them throughout their educational and professional lives.”

The Three Dimensions

The three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards are science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Each dimension holds equal weight for each standard and should be given equal consideration when developing classroom instruction.

Disciplinary Core Ideas are the key concepts to be covered with each performance expectation. The core ideas are the concepts that need to be covered in order for the student to meet those expectations as outlined by each standard.

Crosscutting concepts provide connections between all the scientific practices and allow students to relate their experiences and practices across different fields of sciences. These concepts help students to develop a well-rounded scientific view. The concepts emphasizes in the standards include: patterns, similarity, and diversity; cause and effect; scale, proportion and quantity; systems and system models; energy and matter; structure and function; stability and change.

Science and engineering practices focus on the behaviors and procedures that scientists take when conducting their work. Emphasizing science and engineering practices provide students with a better understanding of the ways in which a scientists carries out their work to better understand natural phenomena. These practices also reinforce the concepts presented in the standards and helps students understand how knowledge is gathered and studied.

For more information and help reading the three dimensions, refer to the NGSS description on three-dimensional learning.

Performance Expectations

Each standards is accompanied by a performance expectation that outlines the concepts or practices of which a student is expected to demonstrate a strong understanding. The NGSS use abbreviations in order to organize these performance expectations within each standard. Here are the key abbreviations that are important to know:

K: Kindergarten                             LS: Life Science

1: First Grade                                 PS: Physical Science

2: Second Grade                            ESS: Earth and Space Science

3: Third grade                               ETS: Engineering, Technology, and Applications

4: Fourth grade

5: Fifth grade

MS: Middle school (6-8)

HS: High school (9-12)

For example, the standard MS-PS1-1 is a middle school physical science performance expectation, and is the first expectation within that topic. 1-LS1-1 is a first grade life science performance expectation.

The Standards


Each standard is organized to include the three dimensions as well as a performance expectation. These performance expectations outline the conceptual understanding or practices that students are expected to demonstrate throughout a learning cycle. This performance expectation is detailed at the top of the page, MS-PS1-1. Each standard provides a clarification statement to provide a more detailed description of each expectation provided in the standard. The three dimensions are color coded to make it easier to read and organize the information provided in the standard. This is organized in such a way to make the expectations clear and easy to read and utilize.

NGSS provides a much more detailed description of the organization of each standard here on their website.

In order to access and read the NGSS standards, you can reach them from their website at Clicking on “Read the Standards” takes you to an intuitive and easy to navigate search function in order to search by grade, discipline, practice, crosscutting concept, and disciplinary core idea. Clicking on a standard provides you with everything you need to implement it in your classroom.

One Teacher’s Opinion

In my own experiences, I have found that incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards allows for a structured and engaging experience for my students. The standards are easy to read and simple to incorporate in the classroom. If you have not yet worked with the standards, I highly encourage you to read and learn more about them and consider implementing them in your own classroom teaching.

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