Focus Areas

Science: A Basic Skill in the 21st Century

Science is the S in STEAM — the acronym now often used when people want to talk about science, technology, engineering, art and math as a set of connected school subjects.


In our increasingly technological world, a strong science education is essential in order for our kids to be ready for college and for a 21st century career. To be successful, children need to be able to think critically about issues they encounter, analyze information they receive, and solve problems effectively.

Science class is one place they can build those abilities. What they learn in science will be central to how they understand and make sense of the world around them.

In a PTA-sponsored survey of parents throughout California, 9 out of 10 parents agreed that learning science is equally important as reading, writing and math. Parents know science matters but only about half said they were satisfied with the amount of science education their child was getting in school. Many people hope that the state’s on-going work to transform how schools teach science will help change that.



California schools are taking a new approach to science, thanks to the state’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The standards call on schools to introduce science to students beginning in kindergarten in order to fuel kids’ innate curiosity and ignite a lifelong interest in science and engineering. That’s especially important for students who don’t think of themselves as “science kids.”

When educators talk about NGSS they may mention “three dimensional learning.” Those three dimensions, as shown on the illustration below, include:

  • Disciplinary Core Ideas that are organized into four domains: 1) physical sciences, 2) life sciences, 3) earth and space sciences, and 4) engineering, technology and the applications of science.
  • Practices describe the things scientists do in order to investigate and develop theories about the natural world and the things engineers do as they design and build models and systems.
  • Crosscutting Concepts are a means of creating understanding that applies across all the domains of science, and which are taught explicitly to students.


Here is an example of what a child might experience in science as they go through school. Earth’s Systems is the NGSS “Disciplinary Core Idea” being taught.

  • Kindergarten: Students begin looking for patterns in weather through their own personal observations
  • 3rd grade: Students use actual data in tables and graphical displays to describe typical weather conditions expected during a particular season and climate change over time
  • Middle school: Students collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions
  • High school: Students use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.

As young people get older, they learn progressively more about the topic of weather while they also develop their ability to use scientific practices such as data collection and analysis. Even in kindergarten, they begin gaining familiarity with crosscutting concepts — such as patterns and stability versus change — that are used in every science domain.

At every grade level, this new approach to teaching science is designed to be more engaging and interactive, aligning with how kids learn best. The new standards encourage students to ask lots of questions and emphasize hands-on investigation and discovery. The new standards will also allow teachers to be more innovative and creative in the ways they teach science.


State leaders and local schools each have a role to play in the shift to NGSS.

California adopted the new standards in 2013, describing what students need to know and be able to do. In 2016, the state approved a new Curriculum Framework which provides guidance for textbook publishers and local educators regarding how to teach the standards. The State Board of Education adopts new instructional materials for grades K-8 in November 2018. High schools select materials independently, but need to certify their alignment with the state standards.

In the spring of 2019 students in 5th grade, 8th grade and one high school grade (chosen locally) will take the first full administration of the new California Science Test (CAST). The results will be incorporated into the state’s school accountability system.