Unpacking NGSS #1: History of Earth

Note: Sept 29: This post is turning out to be more of a work in progress than I had anticipated. Score another point for the idea that blogging provides great opportunity for reflection. So far, my lens of looking at these topics has been affected by past experiences and I began to work on the next phase – processes – I wondered where convection lies as a driver for plate tectonics. It lies in the HS standards! My task is to rework things a bit but I am concerned over how many objectives are creeping into this unit.


Coming up on my docket is a geology-based unit and I would venture to think that I’m in a similar situation to most – trying to make sense of the NGSS standards and create units that are engaging for students. At the same time, I’m either missing the boat on my searches or there really isn’t much in e-land beyond what NextGen has published. With this post, I hope to begin a mini-series of unpacking standards into a way that I can use while potentially opening up an avenue for discourse on implementation (please comment, critique, question!)

What lens will I work through? As I moved over to a standards-based system, I’ve really enjoyed reading Jason Buell’s (Always Formative) well-thought out approach. In addition, my school reports on a 1 to 5 scale. Overall view:

1 = No evidence of learning
2 = Can do most of the Level 3 items with help.
3 = Base understanding. Key information.
4 = Connecting ideas. Using Level 3 items to making connections in order to link ideas and explain concepts.
5 = Going beyond what was directly taught in class

Students: I teach 7th grade students.

Focus Standards – History of Earth

  • MS-ESS1-4. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth’s 4.6-billion-year-old history.
  • MS-ESS2-2. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.
  • MS-ESS2-3. Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.
  • MS-ESS3-1. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distributions of Earth’s mineral, energy, and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes. (Update 9/29: This standard was added in as it appears to work well with the other three. The focus of these lies within constructing explanations based on evidence for why Earth has the features and resources in the locations it does…)

Associated Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small. (MS-ESS1-4), (MS-ESS2-2)
  • Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural systems. (MS-ESS2-3)
  • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. (MS-ESS3-1)
  • All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment. (MS-ESS3-1)

Associated Science & Engineering Practices

  • Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. (MS-ESS1-4), (MS-ESS2-2), (MS-ESS3-1)
  • Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena. (MS-ESS2-3)
  • Science findings are frequently revised and/or reinterpreted based on new evidence. (MS-ESS2-3)

Overall Topic Scale

Level 3: I can describe different types of evidence used by geologists to determine the age of the Earth and its changes throughout time.

Level 4: Using evidence, I can construct explanations on how the Earth’s surface has changed over time and how these changes affect the distribution of Earth’s resources.

Level 5: Given my explanations on the changes of Earth’s surfaces, I can analyze new scenarios to describe probable geologic actions and also predict possible changes to existing landforms.

Concepts along the way (Student “I can” statements”)

Level 3
a I can describe the difference between relative and absolute age.
b I can describe how relative age is judged in rock formations.
c I can describe how fossils provide clues to the Earth’s past.
d I can describe constructive and destructive processes that take place on the Earth’s surface.
e I can identify & diagram the three major divergent plate boundaries (divergent, convergent, transform).
f I can describe evidence used to support the theory of plate tectonics.
h I can describe key resources affected by Earth’s geoscience processes.
Level 4
a I can interpret the geologic time scale from rock strata
b I can compare and contrast diagrams of rock layers to explain differences in their formation.
c I can interpret geologic interactions that have shaped Earth’s history and will determine its future.
 d  Using evidence, I can construct a scientific explanation regarding the distribution of Earth’s mineral, energy and groundwater resources.
Level 5
a Using the law of superposition, I can explain real-life phenomena not explained in class.
b Using evidence of current geologic activity, I can propose and support future changes to landforms.

In the levels of understanding listed above, the practices and cross-cutting concepts are embedded and will come out as student engage with the material. A central theme of the course is making sense of evidence. I want my students to use maps to collect evidence, design and perform experiments to test their potential ideas and to make arguments based upon their evidence.

Thoughts & Request for Feedback?

Again, the purpose of this (and the following related posts) is to help me iron out thinking while also putting thoughts out to the online community for feedback. What are others doing? Where are the holes in my structure? What am I missing? Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s