Spatial concepts in U.S. science teaching standards

These listings of U.S. science content standards include 150 from three topic areas in the National Science Education Standards of 1996: B - Physical Science, C - Life Science, and D - Earth and Space Science. The 1994 U.S. National Geography Standards for grades 9-12 are included as well - browse the complete document here. New standards for 2011 are nearly complete, check out the Beta web site.

Chemical reactions
teaching standard spatial concepts

Chemical reactions occur all around us, for example in health care, cooking, cosmetics, and automobiles. Complex chemical reactions involving carbon-based molecules take place constantly in every cell in our bodies. 179 B (9-12)

cell, scale, surrounding

Chemical reactions may release or consume energy. Some reactions such as the burning of fossil fuels release large amounts of energy by losing heat and by emitting light. Light can initiate many chemical reactions such as photosynthesis and the evolution of urban smog. 179 B (9-12)

emission, urban

A large number of important reactions involve the transfer of either electrons (oxidation/reduction reactions) or hydrogen ions (acid/base reactions) between reacting ions, molecules, or atoms. In other reactions, chemical bonds are broken by heat or light to form very reactive radicals with electrons ready to form new bonds. Radical reactions control many processes such as the presence of ozone and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, burning and processing of fossil fuels, the formation of polymers, and explosions.

atom, bond, formation, scale, transfer

Chemical reactions can take place in time periods ranging from the few femtoseconds (10**-15 seconds) required for an atom to move a fraction of a chemical bond distance to geologic time scales of billions of years. Reaction rates depend on how often the reacting atoms and molecules encounter one another, on the temperature, and on the properties--including shape--of the reacting species. 179 B (9-12)

distance, encounter, motion, movement, scale

Catalysts, such as metal surfaces, accelerate chemical reactions. Chemical reactions in living systems are catalyzed by protein molecules called enzymes. 179 B (9-12)

acceleration, adjacency, surface
Motion and forces
teaching standard spatial concepts

Objects change their motion only when a net force is applied. Laws of motion are used to calculate precisely the effects of forces on the motion of objects. The magnitude of the change in motion can be calculated using the relationship F=ma, which is independent of the nature of the force. Whenever one object exerts force on another, a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction is exerted on the first object. 179 B (9-12)

direction, force, magnitude, motion, object, opposite

Gravitation is a universal force that each mass exerts on any other mass. The strength of the gravitational attractive force between two masses is proportional to the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. 180 B (9-12)

distance, force, gravity, mass, proportion

The electric force is a universal force that exists between any two charged objects. Opposite charges attract while like charges repel. The strength of the force is proportional to the charges, and, as with gravitation, inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. 180 B (9-12)

attraction, distance, force, gravity, proportion, repulsion

Between any two charged particles, electric force is vastly greater than the gravitational force. Most observable forces such as those exerted by a coiled spring or friction may be traced to electric forces acting between atoms and molecules. 180 B (9-12)

coil, force, fractals, friction, gravity, scale

Electricity and magnetism are two aspects of a single electromagnetic force. Moving electric charges produce magnetic forces, and moving magnets produce electric forces. These effects help students to understand electric motors and generators. 180 B (9-12)

force, magnetism, motion, movement
Transfer of energy
teaching standard spatial concepts

In most chemical and nuclear reactions, energy is transferred into or out of a system. Heat, light, mechanical motion, or electricity might all be involved in such transfers. 155 B (5-8)

absorption, containment, emission, enter, exit, motion, transfer

The sun is a major source of energy for changes on the earth's surface. The sun loses energy by emitting light. A tiny fraction of that light reaches the earth, transferring energy from the sun to the earth. The sun's energy arrives as light with a range of wavelengths, consisting of visible light, infrared, and ultraviolet radiation. 155 B (5-8)

emission, radiation, reach, surface, transfer, wave, wavelength
Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism
teaching standard spatial concepts

Magnets attract and repel each other and certain kinds of other materials. 127 B (K-4)

attraction, force, repulsion

Biological evolution
teaching standard spatial concepts

The great diversity of organisms is the result of more than 3.5 billion years of evolution that has filled every available niche with life forms. 185 C (9-12)


Natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the fossil record of ancient life forms, as well as for the striking molecular similarities observed among the diverse species of living organisms. 185 C (9-12)

fossil, similarity

The millions of different species of plants, animals, and microorganisms that live on earth today are related by descent from common ancestors. 185 C (9-12)


Biological classifications are based on how organisms are related. Organisms are classified into a hierarchy of groups and subgroups based on similarities which reflect their evolutionary relationships. Species is the most fundamental unit of classification. 185 C (9-12)

classification, group, hierarchy, similarity
Interdependence of organisms
teaching standard spatial concepts

The atoms and molecules on the earth cycle among the living and nonliving components of the biosphere. 186 C (9-12)

atom, composition, cycle, interaction, molecule

Energy flows through ecosystems in one direction, from photosynthetic organisms to herbivores to carnivores and decomposers. 186 C (9-12)

direction, flow

Organisms both cooperate and compete in ecosystems. The interrelationships and interdependencies of these organisms may generate ecosystems that are stable for hundreds or thousands of years. 186 C (9-12)

ecosystem, environment, interrelationship, size, stability

Living organisms have the capacity to produce populations of infinite size, but environments and resources are finite. This fundamental tension has profound effects on the interactions between organisms. 186 C (9-12)

environment, finite, infinite, size

Human beings live within the world's ecosystems. Increasingly, humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption. Human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes, and other factors is threatening current global stability, and if not addressed, ecosystems will be irreversibly affected. 186 C (9-12)

atmospheric, destruction, ecosystem, fractal, growth, habitat, scale, stability
Matter, energy, and organization in living systems
teaching standard spatial concepts

All matter tends toward more disorganized states. Living systems require a continuous input of energy to maintain their chemical and physical organizations. With death, and the cessation of energy input, living systems rapidly disintegrate. 186 C (9-12)

disintegration, order, organization, site, state
Reproduction and heredity
teaching standard spatial concepts

The characteristics of an organism can be described in terms of a combination of traits. Some traits are inherited and others result from interactions with the environment. 157 C (5-8)

combination, environment, interaction
Regulation and behavior
teaching standard spatial concepts

All organisms must be able to obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce, and maintain stable internal conditions while living in a constantly changing external environment. 157 C (5-8)

environment, external, grow, growth, internal, obtain

Regulation of an organism's internal environment involves sensing the internal environment and changing physiological activities to keep conditions within the range required to survive. 157 C (5-8)

environment, internal

Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus. A behavioral response requires coordination and communication at many levels, including cells, organ systems, and whole organisms. Behavioral response is a set of actions determined in part by heredity and in part from experience. 157 C (5-8)

communication, coordination, environment, hierarchy, internal, level, stimulation, stimulus

An organism's behavior evolves through adaptation to its environment. How a species moves, obtains food, reproduces, and responds to danger are based in the species' evolutionary history. 157 C (5-8)

behavior, environment, motion, movement
Population and ecosystems
teaching standard spatial concepts

A population consists of all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time. All populations living together and the physical factors with which they interact compose an ecosystem.

co-location, co-occurrence, composition, ecosystem, interaction, place, proximity, time

Populations of organisms can be categorized by the function they serve in an ecosystem. Plants and some micro-organisms are producers--they make their own food. All animals, including humans, are consumers, which obtain food by eating other organisms. Decomposers, primarily bacteria and fungi, are consumers that use waste materials and dead organisms for food. Food webs identify the relationships among producers, consumers, and decomposers in an ecosystem. 157 C (5-8)

ecosystem, interaction, scale, web

For ecosystems, the major source of energy is sunlight. Energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis. That energy then passes from organism to organism in food webs. 158 C (5-8)

ecosystem, enter, exit, sunlight, transfer, web

The number of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on the resources available and abiotic factors, such as quantity of light and water, range of temperatures, and soil composition. Given adequate biotic and abiotic resources and no disease or predators, populations (including humans) increase at rapid rates. Lack of resources and other factors, such as predation and climate, limit the growth of populations in specific niches in the ecosystem. 158 C (5-8)

availability, composition, ecosystem, growth, niche, quantity, range, rate
Diversity and adaptations of organisms
teaching standard spatial concepts

Millions of species of animals, plants, and micro-organisms are alive today. Although different species might look dissimilar, the unity among organisms becomes apparent from an analysis of internal structures, the similarity of their chemical processes, and the evidence of common ancestry. 158 C (5-8)

internal, scale, structure, unity

Origin and evolution of the universe
teaching standard spatial concepts

The origin of the universe remains one of the greatest questions in science. The 'big bang' theory places the origin between 10 and 20 billion years ago, when the universe began in a hot dense state; according to this theory, the universe has been expanding ever since. 190 D (9-12)

density, expansion

Early in the history of the universe, matter, primarily the light atoms hydrogen and helium, clumped together by gravitational attraction to form countless trillions of stars. Billions of galaxies, each of which is a gravitationally bound cluster of billions of stars, now form most of the visible mass in the universe. 190 D (9-12)

attraction, bond, clump, cluster, formation, gravity, mass, matter

Stars produce energy from nuclear reactions, primarily the fusion of hydrogen to form helium. These and other processes in stars have lead to the formation of all the other elements. 190 D (9-12)

formation, fusion
Structure of the earth system
teaching standard spatial concepts

Clouds, formed by the condensation of water vapor, affect weather and climate. 160 D (5-8)

condensation, formation
Earth's history
teaching standard spatial concepts

The Earth processes we see today, including erosion, movement of lithospheric plates, and changes in atmospheric composition, are similar to those that occurred in the past. Earth history is also influenced by occasional catastrophes, such as the impact of an asteroid or comet. 160 D (5-8)

change, composition, erosion, impact, motion, movement, past, plate

Fossils provide important evidence of how life and environmental conditions have changed. 160 D (5-8)

environment, fossil
Earth in the solar system
teaching standard spatial concepts

The earth is the third planet from the sun in a system that includes the moon, the sun, eight other planets and their moons, and smaller objects, such as asteroids and comets. The sun, an average star, is the central and largest body in the solar system. 160 D (5-8)

centrality, location, orbit, order, planet, position, size, sun

Most objects in the solar system are in regular and predictable motion. Those motions explain such phenomena as the day, the year, phases of the moon, and eclipses. 160 D (5-8)

eclipse, motion, object, phase

Gravity is the force that keeps planets in orbit around the sun and governs the rest of the motion in the solar system. Gravity alone holds us to the earth's surface and explains the phenomena of the tides. 161 D (5-8)

attraction, force, gravity, motion, orbit, surface, tide, tides

The sun is the major source of energy for phenomena on the earth's surface, such as growth of plants, winds, ocean currents, and the water cycle. Seasons result from variations in the amount of the sun's energy hitting the surface, due to the tilt of the earth's rotation on its axis and the length of the day. 161 D (5-8)

axis, collision, current, cycle, growth, rotation, surface, tilt

Theme II-Places and Regions
The student is able to: spatial terms in standard

Explain why places and regions are important to individual human identity and as symbols for unifying or fragmenting society

region, place, landscape, environment, merge, split

Explain how individuals view places and regions on the basis of their stage of life, sex, social class, ethniocity, values and belief systems

region, place, neighborhood, distance, spatial organization

Analyze the ways in which people's changing views of places and regions reflect cultural change

region, area, place, center, environment, explore, attraction, density
Theme IV-Human Systems
The student is able to: spatial terms in standard

Identify and evaluate the spatial aspects of economic systems

region, area, center, location, proximity, distribution

Analyze the relationships between various settlement patterns, their associated economic activities, and the relative land values

region, area, feature, space, location, pattern

Identify and analyze the historical movement patterns of people and goods and their relationships to economic activity

explore, route, pattern

Analyze and evaluate international economic issues from a spatial point of view

area, place, flow

Analyze the functions of cities

region, location, site, situation, density, access

Analyze the internal structure and shape of cities

region, structure, shape, center, route, map

Classify the characteristics of settlements in developing or developed countries

structure, feature, site, situation, distance, transport, pattern

Describe the nature, causes, and geographic impact of change in urban areas

area, neighborhood, structure, location, proximity, pattern, access

Evaluate the physical and human impacts of emerging urban forms in the present-day world

area, structure, spatial organization, connection

Analyze how cooperation and conflict influence the development and control of social, political, and economic entities on Earth

region, boundary, formation, container
Theme V-Environment and Society
The student is able to: spatial terms in standard

Evaluate policies and programs related to the use of resources on different spatial scales