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Illinois Science Teaching Standards

Illinois NGSS

The Illinois State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as part of the Illinois Priority Learning Standards, demonstrating a solid commitment to standards-based education. I have designed my science lesson resources to uphold those standards. 

The NGSS standards are broken down by grade level for grades K–5, and the middle school NGSS science standards are being used for grades 6-8.

Within the NGSS, there are three distinct and equally important dimensions to learning science. These three dimensions are combined to form each standard, and each dimension works with the other two to help students build a cohesive understanding of science over time. Engineering and technology are featured alongside the natural sciences.  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are based on the Framework K–12 Science Education that the National Research Council created. 

Three-Dimensional Learning of Illinois NGSS, shifts the focus of the science classroom to environments where students use disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts with scientific practices to explore, examine, and explain how and why phenomena occur and to design solutions to problems.

The focus is on making sense of science instead of memorizing a set of facts.

The three dimensions of NGSS are the Science and Engineering Practices, the Crosscutting Concepts, and the Disciplinary Core Ideas.

Three-Dimensional Learning

1. Science and Engineering Practices

What Scientists and Students do in Science

The Science and Engineering Practices describe what scientists do to investigate phenomena and what engineers do to design solutions to problems. Students use the science and engineering practices to practice their skills of inquiry as they explore the natural world. Students engage in practices to build, deepen and apply their knowledge of disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts. 

Engaging in the practices of science helps students understand how scientific knowledge develops. Students will learn to investigate, model, and explain their world.

The actual doing of science or engineering (the practices) can pique students’ curiosity and capture their interest and motivate their continued study. 

Although engineering design is similar to scientific inquiry, there are significant differences. For example, scientific inquiry involves the formulation of a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves the formulation of a problem that can be solved through design. Strengthening the engineering aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards will clarify for students the relevance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the four STEM fields) to everyday life.

The eight science and engineering practices are:

  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using math and computational thinking
  • Constructing an explanation (for science) and designing a solution (for engineering)
  • Engaging in an argument stemming from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

2. Crosscutting Concepts

Crosscutting Concepts help students explore connections across the four domains of science, including Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design. Crosscutting concepts have application across all domains of science. As such, they are a way of linking the different domains of science.

The crosscutting concepts give the students a lens that shows them how to think about the problem at hand. The crosscutting concepts also let the teacher know what types of questions to ask.

There are 7 crosscutting concepts that the National Research Council has outlined, which appear in the Next Generation Science Standards. They are:

  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect
  • Scale, proportion, and quantity
  • Systems and system models
  • Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
  • Structure and function
  • Stability and change

3. Disciplinary Core Ideas

The Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) are the key ideas in science that students must learn at each level. They build on one another at each grade level. There are disciplinary core ideas in each domain of science: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering.

  • Have broad importance across multiple  sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing concept of a single discipline; 
  • Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems;
  • Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technological knowledge;
  • Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication.


Another aspect of the Next Generation Science Standards is the use of Phenomena. Phenomena-based science encourages students to ask questions, discover connections, and design models to make sense of what they observe. Students examine a phenomenon and then ask questions, collaborate with partners, and design models.

NGSS Performance Assessments

Prior standards documents listed what students should “know” or “understand.” These ideas translate into performances that can be assessed. Because each standard states what students will do rather than what they will know, it is clear that these are active standards that can be assessed.


A storyline is a coherent sequence of lessons, in which each step is driven by students’ questions that arise from their interactions with phenomena. A student’s goal should always be to explain a phenomenon or solve a problem. At each step, students make progress on the classroom’s questions through science and engineering practices to figure out a piece of a science idea. Each piece they figure out adds to the developing explanation, model, or designing a solution. Each step may also generate questions that lead to the next step in the storyline. Together, what students figure out helps explain the unit’s phenomena or solve the problems they have identified. A storyline provides a coherent path toward building disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts, piece by piece, anchored in students’ own questions. For simplicity, you can think of storylines as a unit plan. Learning is connected and built on previous learning. The episodes within a storyline you can think of as individual lessons or inquiry activities. 

The NGSS committee believes that a strong foundation in science prepares students for living in today’s technologically advanced world, regardless of whether they pursue careers in science. How do we communicate ideas to each other? How do we present information or investigate a problem? The hope is that this new NGSS definition of standards will encourage students towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) majors in college and eventually pursue more STEM careers. However, even if they don’t, the principles of the NGSS standards are meant to be helpful in the workplace and, in essence, the demands of day-to-day life.

Illinois NGSS Resources

Are you looking for science resources that are designed by someone who understands the NGSS standards? I have been in the field of education for more than 34 years. For the last 20 years, I have worked in higher education, teaching preservice-teachers in science methods courses. Now I use my extensive knowledge of NGSS to create a curriculum for K-8th grade teachers. My resources use phenomena to engage students. My resources are aligned with the standards and use the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts to engage students in the disciplinary core ideas.

Here are just a few of the resources I have for NGSS:

TeachingScience Illinois NGSS FAQ

What is NGSS?Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a set of standards developed by the NSTA and National Research Council in an effort to support all students in having a solid K-12 science education.
Where are TeachingScience NGSS resources available?You can purchase my standards-aligned resources here on or on my TeachersPayTeachers store: Teaching Science with Lynda.
What grades do your NGSS science units cover?I make science materials to help K-8th grade teachers.
Including Illinois NGSS, how many other states are following NGSS?As of now, 20 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards.

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