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National Science Education Standards (Earth Science)

The National Science Education Standards serve as a guide for our science educators in meeting their goal of producing scientifically literate citizens. The standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to accomplish in the natural sciences at different grade levels (National Research Council, 1994, National Science Education Standards: National Academy Press).

Summary of the Science Content Standards for Earth and Space Science

Grades K-4
Grades 5-8
Grades 9-12

Properties of Earth materials

Objects in the sky

Changes in the Earth and sky

Structure of the Earth system

Earth's history

Earth in the solar system

Energy in the Earth system

Geochemical cycles

Origin and evolution of the Earth system

Origin and evolution of the universe

Grades K-4

Properties of Earth materials: The Earth is made of liquids, gases, and solids. The properties of these materials make them useful resources for us to use, for example, to produce energy. These properties can be measured and described. Rocks and minerals are useful tools for helping students develop observational and descriptive abilities.

Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism: Heat can be generated in many ways. Electricity can be used to produce light, heat, sound, and magnetic effects.

  • Coal

  • Electricity

  • Energy and Fuels
Objects in the sky: There are sequential changes in the motion of objects in the sky. An example is daily changes in the weather.

  • Space Science
  • Weather

Grades 5-8

Structure of the Earth system: Introduction to the layering of the Earth and plate tectonics. Emphasis is on the concept of the rock cycle (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks), the formation of soils, the role of water in natural cycles, solar energy, and global climate patterns.

  • Weather

  • Plate tectonics

  • Soils

  • Speleology (Caves)

Natural Hazards: Internal and external processes of the Earth system cause natural hazards.

  • Earthquakes

  • Volcanoes

Earth history: Fossils provide evidence of past life. Natural processes that we observe today, occurred in the past; in other words, "the present is the key to the past."

  • Fossils

  • Dinosaurs

  • Earth History

  • Evolution

Earth's place in the solar system: The Earth is a planet and is part of a solar system. The sun is the major source of energy for natural cycles on Earth.

  • Solar system

  • Solar energy

Grades 9-12

Energy in the Earth system: The Earth has internal and external sources of energy. The Earth's internal energy drives mantle convection cells that move crustal plates on the Earth's surface. Global climate is a function of heat transfer from the Sun and near the Earth's surface.

  • Plate tectonics

  • Weather
  • Global Climate Change

Geochemical cycles: The Earth contains a fixed amount of each stable chemical atom or element, and the elements move through geochemical cycles. These cycles are driven by the Earth's internal and external sources of energy.

  • Environmental Science

Origin and evolution of the Earth system: The solar system formed from a nebular cloud of dust and gas approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The Earth has evolved through interactions of the solid Earth, oceans, atmosphere, and changing life. Geologic time can be estimated by correlating rock sequences, fossils, and radioactive isotope decay.

  • Fossils

  • Earth History

  • Evolution

Origin and evolution of the universe: Our solar system formed from a cloud of dust and gas approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The universe began earlier, possibly during the "Big Bang."

  • Solar system
  • Big Bang

Adapted from the Kentucky Geological Survey.


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