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Physics and 21st Century Science Standards: The Role of Physics in the NGSS

Mathematical Methods


Basic algebraic

expressions or




Big Bang Theory

Photoelectric effect


Depth of the Standards

Each of the standards in the NGSS have a significant depth that must not be overlooked

by teachers. Take, for example, the first standard for high school students associated with

mechanics. Experienced teachers recognize that this standard requires multiple layers of

student understanding before it can be achieved.


Analyze data to support the claim


Newton’s second law of motion

describes the

mathematical relationship

among the

net force

on a macroscopic object,



, and its



Taking the

Core Disciplinary Idea

alone, students need to have an understanding

of fundamental kinematics, which might take weeks or months to develop in an



setting. Indeed, many teachers report spending upwards of a half

of a semester to develop models (verbal, graphical, mathematical, physical, etc.) for

conceptual and quantitative understanding of the following:


Constant velocity

Uniform acceleration

Forces (tension, weight, normal force, friction)

Force diagrams in balanced and unbalanced systems

Newton’s laws

Conservation of mass

The standard’s associated

Science and Engineering Practice, Analyzing and Interpreting


, closely associated with the

Common Core State Standards

for literacy, require

students to:

“Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational,

mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an

optical design solution.”

Logistically, one might interpret this standard by having

students perform an inquiry lab to determine the relationship between net force,

mass, and acceleration using probeware (i.e. sonic motion detector, force meter)

and data analysis tools (i.e. graphical analysis software, graphing calculator) to make

meaning of the data as displayed on a graph. Graphical analysis also entails students

understanding mathematical models, such as linear algebraic relationships and the

calculation and meaning of slope and intercept. Asking students to support the claim

also requires students to engage in communication with their peers or with the teacher

in order to share data, come to a conclusion, and defend their results, all of which can

happen in some way through whiteboarding sessions, lab reports, and/or whole class

discussion carefully guided by the teacher and through the development of a respectful



Crosscutting Concept

associated with the standard,

Cause and Effect

, requires

that students demonstrate and understanding that “

Empirical evidence is required

to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes

and effects.”

Looking more deeply at this concept, students need to understand how to

perform a controlled experiment in which causal relationships are determined. Because

experiments associated with Newton’s second law require students to understand the

relationship among three potential variables (net force, mass, and acceleration), students

need to understand how to perform two controlled experiments, and then merge the

relationships together to make a claim about their interrelationship.

The above is just one of the many standards associated with physics. Each standard

needs to be read not only for its physics content, but for the associated performance

objective, skills, and understandings about science as well.

Engineering and HS Physics-Related Standards

Perhaps one of the biggest shifts that physics teachers, in particular, will notice upon

adoption of the NGSS is the heavy emphasis on engineering. Although engineering

is interwoven into specific standards, the NGSS also does have a set of stand-alone

engineering standards for each grade band.

In Figure 7 and Figure 8 on the following page, the physics-related standards are shown

in concept webs. Although the NGSS only explicitly describes the relationships between

topics, not between specific standards, an attempt has been made here to show example

learning pathways, and how physics concepts (DCIs) from each grade band support

other physics concepts in later grade bands. However, the nuances of each standard

could result in a myriad of interconnections, especially if one is instead looking at the

complexity or depth of the SEPs or CCs within each standard.

Figure 7 displays the most relevant physics standards across the grade bands. Please note

that this is not a complete listing of the standards. For simplicity, it does not include

most physics-related standards that fall outside of the largest groupings of physics

standards (Structures and Properties of Matter, Forces and Interactions, Energy, and

Waves). It also does not directly incorporate the engineering standards, although the

standards with ties to engineering are denoted by the



Figure 8 displays an example pathway of a single DCI that begins at the Kindergarten

grade band and supports additional standards all the way through to the high school

grade band.