NGSS Hub - High School Earth and Space Sciences

Students in high school develop understanding of a wide range of topics in Earth and space sciences that build on science concepts from middle school through more advanced content, practice, and crosscutting themes. There are five Earth and space sciences standard topics in middle school: (1) Space Systems, (2) History of Earth, (3) Earth’s Systems, (4) Weather and Climate, and (5) Human Sustainability. The content of the performance expectations is based on current community-based geoscience literacy efforts such as the Earth Science Literacy Principles1, and is presented with a greater emphasis on an Earth systems science approach. There are strong connections to mathematical practices of analyzing and interpreting data. The performance expectations strongly reflect the many societally relevant aspects of the Earth and space sciences (resources, hazards, environmental impacts) with an emphasis on using engineering and technology concepts to design solutions to challenges facing human society. While the performance expectations shown in high school Earth and space sciences couple particular practices with specific disciplinary cores ideas, instructional decisions should include use of many practices that lead to the performance expectations.

Space Systems

The performance expectations in Space Systems help students formulate answers to the questions: “What is the universe and what goes on in stars?” and “What are the predictable patterns caused by Earth’s movement in the solar system?” Four sub-ideas from the NRC Framework are addressed in these performance expectations: ESS1.A, ESS1.B, PS3.D, and PS4.B. High school students can examine the processes governing the formation, evolution, and workings of the solar system and universe. Some concepts studied are fundamental to science, such as understanding how the matter of our world formed during the Big Bang and within the cores of stars. Others concepts are practical, such as understanding how short-term changes in the behavior of the sun directly affect humans. Engineering and technology play a large role here in obtaining and analyzing data that support the theories of the formation of the solar system and universe. The crosscutting concepts of patterns; scale, proportion, and quantity; energy and matter; and interdependence of science, engineering, and technology are called out as organizing concepts for these disciplinary core ideas. In the HS. Space Systems performance expectations, students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in developing and using models; using mathematical and computational thinking; constructing explanations; and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information and to use these practices to demonstrate understanding of the core ideas.

History of Earth

The performance expectations in History of Earth help students formulate answers to the questions: “How do people reconstruct and date events in Earth’s planetary history?” and “Why do the continents move?” Four sub-ideas from the NRC Framework are addressed in these performance expectations: ESS1.C, ESS2.A, ESS2.B, and PS1.C. Students can construct explanations for the scales of time over which Earth processes operate. An important aspect of Earth and space sciences involves making inferences about events in Earth’s history based on a data record that is increasingly incomplete the farther one goes back in time. A mathematical analysis of radiometric dating is used to comprehend how absolute ages are obtained for the geologic record. A key to Earth’s history is the co-evolution of the biosphere with Earth’s other systems, not only in the ways that climate and environmental changes have shaped the course of evolution but also in how emerging life forms have been responsible for changing the planet. The crosscutting concepts of patterns and stability and change are called out as organizing concepts for these disciplinary core ideas. In the HS. History of Earth performance expectations, students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in developing and using models, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence and to use these practices to demonstrate understanding of the core ideas.

Earth's Systems

The performance expectations in Earth’s Systems help students formulate answers to the questions: “How do the major Earth systems interact?” and “How do the properties and movements of water shape Earth’s surface and affect its systems?” Six sub-ideas from the NRC Framework are addressed in these performance expectations: ESS2.A, ESS2.B, ESS2.C, ESS2.D, ESS2.E, and PS4.A. Students can develop models and explanations for the ways that feedbacks between different Earth systems control the appearance of Earth’s surface. Central to this is the tension between internal systems, which are largely responsible for creating land at Earth’s surface (e.g., volcanism and mountain building), and the sun-driven surface systems that tear down land through weathering and erosion. Students understand the role that water plays in affecting weather. Students understand chemical cycles such as the carbon cycle. Students can examine the ways that human activities cause feedbacks that create changes to other systems. The crosscutting concepts of energy and matter; structure and function; stability and change; interdependence of science, engineering, and technology; and influence of engineering, technology, and science on society and the natural world are called out as organizing concepts for these disciplinary core ideas. In the HS. Earth’s Systems performance expectations, students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, and engaging in argument from evidence and to use these practices to demonstrate understanding of the core ideas.

Weather and Climate

The performance expectations in Weather and Climate help students formulate an answer to the question, “What regulates weather and climate?” Four sub-ideas from the NRC Framework are addressed in these performance expectations: ESS1.B, ESS2.A, ESS2.D, and ESS3.D. Students understand the system interactions that control weather and climate, with a major emphasis on the mechanisms and implications of climate change. Students can understand the analysis and interpretation of different kinds of geoscience data allow students to construct explanations for the many factors that drive climate change over a wide range of timescales. The crosscutting concepts of cause and effect and stability and change are called out as organizing concepts for these disciplinary core ideas. In the HS. Weather and Climate performance expectations, students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in developing and using models and analyzing and interpreting data and to use these practices to demonstrate understanding of the core ideas.

Human Impacts

The performance expectations in Human Impacts help students formulate answers to the questions: “How do humans depend on Earth’s resources?” and “How do people model and predict the effects of human activities on Earth’s climate?” Six sub-ideas from the NRC Framework are addressed in these performance expectations: ESS2.D, ESS3.A, ESS3.B, ESS3.C, ESS3.D, and ETS1.B. Students understand the complex and significant interdependencies between humans and the rest of Earth’s systems through the impacts of natural hazards, our dependencies on natural resources, and the environmental impacts of human activities. The crosscutting concepts of cause and effect; systems and system models; stability and change; and influence of engineering, technology, and science on society and the natural world are called out as organizing concepts for these disciplinary core ideas. In the HS. Human Impacts performance expectations, students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in using mathematics and computational thinking, constructing explanations and designing solutions, and engaging in argument from evidence and to use these practices to demonstrate understanding of the core ideas.


1 Wysession, M. E., D. A. Budd, K. Campbell, M. Conklin, E. Kappel, J. Karsten, N. LaDue, G. Lewis, L. Patino, R. Raynolds, R. W. Ridky, R. M. Ross, J. Taber, B. Tewksbury, and P. Tuddenham. 2012. Developing and Applying a Set of Earth Science Literacy Principles. Journal of Geoscience Education 60(2):95-99.


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