Demystifying the NGSS High School Life Science Core Ideas

For those of you who have not read our previous post on the Next Generation Science Standards, please read it here.

The Next Generation Science Standards are a set of education standards that focus on preparing students for careers in science including engineering and technology. These new set of standards were set in place to emphasize areas in science fundamental to all of biology – Life Science, Physical Science, and Engineering and Design. Today we will focus on the core ideas of Life Sciences in detail as well as discuss experiments that fall into each different category.

 LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Students will develop an understanding of basic life science concepts including the structure and function of DNA and cellular processes like respiration and photosynthesis. 

The basic structural and functional unit of all living organisms is the cell. Simple organisms like bacteria comprise single cells, whereas complex organisms like humans are composed of billions of cells, many of which have unique functions. LS1 focuses on structures within the cell, as well as cellular processes like respiration and photosynthesis. Many biotechnology experiments fall in this category due to the involvement of DNA

Your students will get to see what DNA looks like!  ©Edvotek 2014
Your students will get to see what DNA looks like! ©Edvotek 2014

samples, enzymes, proteins, and living organisms.

One experiment that ties in nicely with LS1 is kit S-10 – “What Does DNA Look Like?” After teaching your students about important role of DNA in the development and function of all living organisms, they will extract DNA from cells by performing a common laboratory procedure known as DNA spooling. In the research laboratory, purified DNA is then analyzed by techniques including Southern Blotting, the Polymerase Chain Reaction (or PCR) and Agarose Gel Electrophoresis.


LS2: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics Relationships

Students will learn about ecosystems, and the importance of interactions between living system, transfer of energy, and factors affection populations.

In every ecosystem, organisms are dependent on biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components to thrive. For example, the growth of plants depends upon sunlight, temperature, water, and soil. Living organisms are also dependent upon each other for survival. For example, mutually beneficial interactions occur when two different organisms depend on each other to live, much like the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live within plant roots. In contrast, predators may feast upon a group of organisms, causing their numbers to decrease dramatically.

Learn about pollution in ecosystems with C. elegans!  ©Edvotek 2014
Learn about pollution in ecosystems with C. elegans! ©Edvotek 2014

One experiment that allows students to explore the effects of environmental factors on living creatures is the C. elegans Ecology Platform (kit 858). In this inquiry-based exploration, students will determine the effects of environmental toxicants on the worms over time. This will encourage students utilize STEM learning techniques through calculating the lethal dose.


LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits

Students will learn about genetic variation and how traits are passed from one generation to another

 Contained within cells is a molecule called deoxyribonucleic acid (or DNA), which acts as a blueprint for all processes within an organism. Each strand of DNA is composed of building blocks known as nucleotides. The order of these nucleotides gives rise to genes, each with a unique sequence that is responsible for specific traits of an individual. Crosscutting concepts like gene expression, DNA sequence mutations, and genetic variations explain why offspring resemble their parents in some aspects but not in others.

Learn about DNA fingerprinting using Colorful Dyes!  ©Edvotek 2014
Learn about DNA fingerprinting using Colorful Dyes! ©Edvotek 2014

A number of our kits teach genetic variation using the forensic technique of DNA Fingerprinting. One of our most popular experiments, Whose DNA was Left Behind? (kit S-51), allows students to become crime scene investigators as they analyze biological evidence using DNA fingerprinting, a technique that identifies people via genetic differences called polymorphisms. Gel electrophoresis is used to create unique DNA fingerprints from crime scene and suspect samples. A match between samples provides evidence that a certain suspect committed the crime.


LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

 Students will learn how natural selection and evolution explain the trends in different populations of species.

Evolutionary theory explains both the unity and the diversity of life. Unity between species is demonstrated by the shared characteristics between species, while diversity is diversification of lineages from a common ancestor, through natural selection and adaptation. Through exploring this core idea, students will be able to construct explanations for common ancestry, adaptation, and diversity.

Natural selection has a dramatic effect on gene frequency. ©Edvotek 2014
Natural selection has a dramatic effect on gene frequency. ©Edvotek 2014

One experiment that allows your students to explore evolutionary theory is AP02/288 – Mathematical Modeling: Hardy Weinberg. In this lesson, students will explore the Hardy-Weinberg principle, which states that genotype frequencies within a population will remain constant unless interrupted by mutations, selection, or genetic drift. Through hands-on experimentation and mathematical modeling, students will have constructed a theory on how allelic frequencies are affected due to selection.

Stay tuned for the Physical Sciences and Engineering and Design core ideas in our next NGSS discussion! In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact our Tech Support for any questions – 1-800-EDVOTEK.