What is NGSS?

In April 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were released for consideration by state education agencies. Achieve led the development of the NGSS in partnership with the National Research Council, the National Science Teaching Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. States began adopting NGSS as early as 2013, and today over 40 states use all or part of the standards.

NGSS identifies three dimensions of science education that are essential for all  K-12 students:

  • Science and Engineering Practices (SEP)
  • Crosscutting Concepts (CCC)
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI)

This 3-dimensional approach is the first of Five Innovations for teachers provided by NGSS.


5 Innovations of NGSS

The official NGSS Fact Sheet describes its Five Innovations:

  1. Three-Dimensional Learning
  2. All three dimensions build coherent learning progressions
  3. Students engage with phenomena and design solutions
  4. Engineering and the Nature of Science is integrated into science
  5. Science is connected to math and literacy

Read more about each of these innovations here: NGSS Fact Sheet


Phenomena and 3-D Learning

Why Phenomena?
Phenomena and engineering design problems serve as the problem space or meaningful pursuits that students engage in. Importantly, they serve as an anchor around which the lesson or unit is organized. This focus encourages students to explore, find answers, and engage in sensemaking instead of being told the information they will need to know for later studies.

This provides students with a meaningful bridge into three-dimensional learning.

3-D Learning
Three-dimensional (3-D) learning is defined as students engaging in science and engineering practices to use crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas to explain phenomena or solve problems.1 The three dimensions of NGSS instruction are:

  • Science and Engineering Practices (SEP)
    • The SEP describe behaviors that scientists engage in as they investigate and build models or theories about the natural world, along with a key set of engineering practices that engineers use as they design and build models or systems.
  • Crosscutting Concepts (CCC)
    • Crosscutting Concepts have application across all domains of science. They link the different areas of science. These CCC provide interrelated knowledge from various scientific fields. Understanding these concepts provides a coherent view of the world through the lens of science.
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI)
    • Disciplinary Core Ideas focus the K–12 science curriculum, instruction, and assessments on the essential aspects of science. Among other criteria, core ideas have broad importance across science or engineering or represent a key organizing concept of a single discipline.

More details about 3-D learning can be found here on the official NGSS site.


NGSS Storylines

Story has the power to capture students’ attention and memory. NGSS Storylines begin with a phenomenon presented by the instructor. Students are then encouraged to ask ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions related to the phenomenon.

Once students begin to wonder about how and why the phenomenon works the way it does, they can create models or engage in practices like argumentation and explanation to show their present understanding. As the unit progresses, students may revisit these models, arguments, or explanations to revise or add new information. Learning experiences can help answer student questions and cause more questions to arise.

It is important to allow students to develop their own models instead of making a copy of a model or being given an argument or explanation prepared by their teachers or the curriculum. Otherwise, they are just posterizing.

It is also important to understand the difference between anchoring and investigative phenomena. Anchoring phenomena are used to anchor student learning and are revisited throughout the learning sequence. It provides access to all students by creating a common shared experience that all students can use in sensemaking. Investigative phenomena are smaller pieces that students figure out in order to explain the anchoring phenomenon.


All Standards, All Students

The Next Generation Science Standards are designed to support all students. Every student should have agency and the opportunity to maintain achievement in science.

NGSS encourages students to become scientists and engineers, in the sense that they gain key abilities as science explainers and problem solvers. The standards seek to provide instruction that is meaningful for all learners and engages them through culturally and socially relevant experiences.


States that have adopted NGSS in its entirety or with modifications:

  • Alabama (2015)
  • Alaska (2019)
  • Arizona (2018)
  • Arkansas (2015)
  • California (2013)
  • Colorado (2018)
  • Connecticut (2015)
  • Delaware (2013)
  • District of Columbia (2013)
  • Georgia (2016)
  • Hawaii (2016)
  • Idaho (2016)
  • Illinois (2014)
  • Indiana (2016)
  • Iowa (2015)
  • Kansas (2013)
  • Kentucky (2013)
  • Louisiana (2017)
  • Maine (2019)
  • Maryland (2013)
  • Massachusetts (2016)
  • Michigan (2015)
  • Minnesota (2019)
  • Mississippi (2017)
  • Missouri (2016)
  • Montana (2016)
  • Nebraska (2017)
  • Nevada (2014)
  • New Hampshire (2016)
  • New Jersey (2020)
  • New Mexico (2018)
  • New York (2016)
  • North Dakota (2019)
  • Oklahoma (2020)
  • Oregon (2014)
  • Rhode Island (2013)
  • South Carolina (2014)
  • South Dakota (2015)
  • Tennessee (2016)
  • Utah (2019)
  • Vermont (2013)
  • Washington (2013)
  • West Virginia (2015)
  • Wisconsin (2017)
  • Wyoming (2016)


Further Reading


NGSS Appendices (additional information on SEP, CCC, DCI, All Standards, All Students, & more)

Anchor vs. Investigative Phenomena

Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards

State Adoptions of Science Standards


Krajcik, J. (2015). Three-dimensional instruction: Using a new type of teaching in the science classroom. Science and Children, 53(3): 6-8.