Physics and 21st Century Science Standards: The Role of Physics in the NGSS
Reading the NGSS
Attempting to read and understand the layout of the NGSS can seem overwhelming, given the number and depth of interdisciplinary connections. This challenge can be compounded for
teachers who look at the NGSS with a desire to see only what standards apply to them and their students. Because the NGSS was written to highlight only the “big ideas” as they fit into
the larger context of science, but not the minutiae, it is important to get a K-12 overview across all of the sciences in order to understand how physics fits into the equation.
Keep the following items in mind as you read through the standards:
The NGSS are written as performance expectations for wide-scale testing.
Performance expectations clearly identify what a student should know and be able to do with
their knowledge. Although teachers should use their discretion when selecting assessments for students to demonstrate their abilities at the classroom level, the language of
the standards was written with the expectation that they would be used to measure school, state, and/or national performance. Although physics teachers should not limit
themselves to assessing students on the NGSS performance expectations, teachers are likely to find that they need to modify their existing assessments in order to determine if
students have met the NGSS.
NGSS are not a curriculum.
The standards are not written in such a level of detail that students can
transition directly from one standard to the next, nor are the standards written in a developmentally-
appropriate order for instruction. The standards only highlight the most important points of emphasis
during the learning process. Teachers working in their educational setting should use their professional
discretion in regard to their own teaching style, pacing, instructional approaches, curricular resources,
and course sequencing. Additionally, physics teachers are likely to find that not all of the topics that they
typically teacher are explicitly included in the NGSS (notably, many aspects of circuitry, geometric optics,
and color are not mentioned in the high school grade band), or that they might need to remove some
content in order to increase emphasis on the three dimensions of the NGSS.
The NGSS provide guidance for the minimal expectations of all students at the end of their grade band.
Further considerations need to be made for students and their
diverse needs (remediation, accelerated or advanced work, or other considerations). For example, these standards might comprise most of the expectations for a conceptual
physics or physical science course, but would be insufficient for an honors-level physics or AP physics course.
The NGSS performance expectations are intended to be read by science-literate adults and pedagogically-prepared science educators.
The spirit and language of the NGSS
make the most sense in the context of the Framework in which they were written. The performance objectives are not necessarily appropriate for use as guidelines for student
consumption. Additionally, physics teachers need to have both a depth of understanding of their content area, as well as a breadth of familiarity with other science disciplines
and engineering practices in order to understand and implement the standards.
The NGSS can be read and have been organized in two different ways to meet the preferences of the readers and the interdisciplinary nature of some of the core ideas.
Organized by Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI’s)
– This is the arrangement that is reflective of the big ideas and content storylines identified in the Framework. Regardless
of a standard’s topical categories, the standards are coded to be organized by DCI’s. To learn more about this organizational structure and its rationale, read the Framework
Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas-Physical Sciences.
– This is the more traditional arrangement similar to the “chapter headers” that one would find in a textbook.
Performance expectations for high school science are structured by
as follows. Although the chemistry and physics can become fairly intermixed, the majority, but by no means
all, of traditional physics content falls into the DCIs and topics below in bold
typeface. Standards designated with a “
” have additional strong connections to physics content.
Those reading the NGSS performance expectations for the first time –
especially novice physics teachers – should be wary of misinterpreting
The first clearly identifiable high school physics standard, HS-PS2-1, for
example, focuses on Newton’s 2nd Law. This performance expectation
does not suggest that Newton’s 2nd Law be the first topic addressed in an
introductory physics class!
Read the section “Depth of the Standards” in this document to learn more
about what is embedded in each standard.