Skip to main content




National Science Education Standards


Here are the content standards for 5-8 from the National Science Education Standards:

Sturcture of the Earth System

  • The solid Earth is layered with a lithosphere; hot, convecting mantle; and dense, metallic core.
  • Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and oceans constantly move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle. Major geological events, such as Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from these plate motions.
  • Land forms are the result of a combination of constructive and destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive forces include weathering and erosion.
  • Some changes in the solid Earth can be described as the "rock cycle." Old rocks at the Earth's surface weather, forming sediments that are buried, then compacted, heated, and often recrystallized into new rock. Eventually, those new rocks may be brought to the surface by the forces that drive plate motions, and the rock cycle continues.
  • Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic material from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found in layers, with each having a different chemical composition and texture.
  • Water, which covers the majority of the Earth's surface, circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is known as the "water cycle." Water evaporates from the Earth's surface, rises and cools as it moves to higher elevations, condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soil, and in rocks underground.
  • Water is a solvent. As it passes through the water cycle it dissolves minerals and gases and carries them to the oceans.
  • The atmosphere is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gases that include water vapor. The atmosphere has different properties at different elevations.
  • Clouds, formed by the condensation of water vapor, affect weather and climate.
  • Global patterns of atmospheric movement influence local weather. Oceans have a major effect on climate, because water in the oceans holds a large amount of heat.
  • Living organisms have played many roles in the Earth system, including affecting the composition of the atmosphere, producing some types of rocks, and contributing to the weathering of rocks.

Back to top

Earth's History

  • 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.
  • Fossils provide important evidence of how life and environmental conditions have changed.

Back to top

Earth in the Solar System

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Back to top