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ESS2: Earth’s Systems

Core Idea
ESS2: Earth’s Systems
ESS2.A: Earth Materials and Systems
ESS2.B: Plate Tectonics and Large-Scale System Interactions
ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes
ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
ESS2.E: Biogeology

Content aligned with middle school ESS2

Content aligned with high school ESS2


In middle school, students develop an understanding of the disciplinary core ideas in the earth and space science domain. The middle school performance expectations build on the elementary performance expectations, as well as on students’ understanding of life and physical science phenomena. In ESS2: Earth’s Systems, performance expectations are designed for students to create an understanding of how and why the materials in and on the surface of the earth change over time. A wide range of concepts are explored under the larger umbrella of how matter and energy flow and cycle through environmental systems.


In high school, students continue to develop and refine their understanding of the disciplinary core ideas in the earth and space science domain. The high school performance expectations are meant to expand on the middle school performance expectations. The high school performance expectations cover fundamental concepts of Earth and space science, while leaving room for more expanded and in-depth study in upper level high school courses. As in middle school, Earth and space sciences concepts are also important for understanding life and physical science phenomena. Performance expectations in high school ESS2: Earth’s Systems, call on students to understand how and why the earth is constantly changing. Students are expected to use models of feedback systems to demonstrate their understanding of how interactions on and below the earth’s surface create and destroy land formations, cycle matter and energy, and influence weather and climate.


ESS2: Earth's Systems

Middle School

MS-ESS2-1 Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process.

MS-ESS2-2 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.

MS-ESS2-3 Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.

MS-ESS2-5 Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions.

MS-ESS2-6 Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.


ESS2: Earth's Systems

High School

HS-ESS2-1 Develop a model to illustrate how Earth’s internal and surface processes operate at different spatial and temporal scales to form continental and ocean-floor features.

HS-ESS2-2 Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.

HS-ESS2-3 Develop a model based on evidence of Earth’s interior to describe the cycling of matter by thermal convection.

HS-ESS2-4 Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.

HS-ESS2-5 Plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes.

HS-ESS2-7 Construct an argument based on evidence about the simultaneous coevolution of Earth’s systems and life on Earth.

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Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.