Starlight and Distance

March 25, 2015

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are shifting science education in an exciting direction. Students are presented with intriguing performance expectations that foster the development of science and engineering practices. These performance expectations integrate foundational science concepts, blending relevant mathematical and crosscutting concepts into tasks that have students explore a phenomenon or work together to solve a relevant problem. In this way, the NGSS encourage students in the development of useful knowledge and skills that can be used to explain science concepts.

The science and engineering practices that are developed through the NGSS help prepare students for future careers, where they will need to be able to apply scientific and mathematical principles to solve problems and work with emerging technologies. As a result, new technologies that help students collect and analyze data are appropriate in science programs that have adopted the NGSS.


With PASCO’s SPARKvue® software and probeware, students have the tools they need to measure, analyze, and communicate findings in a digital environment. Here's a quick breakdown of how PASCO sensors and equipment can help meet NGSS requirements:

NGSS Performance Expectations and PASCO Sensors and Apparatus - Elementary School

NGSS Performance Expectations and PASCO Sensors and Apparatus - Middle School

The following lab activity models how PASCO’s science technology can be used to address a specific performance expectation. The lab activity can be downloaded at the bottom of this page. Students have misconceptions about stars and light. This performance expectation provides students with foundational knowledge that will help them begin to appreciate the vast scale of space as it relates to stars, begin to understand why the earth experiences seasons, and be provided with evidence for a concept that they will learn about in high school physics related to light (inverse-square law). 



The background for this lab introduces the disciplinary core idea that the apparent brightness of stars is affected by their distance from Earth. 


The assessment tool gives students feedback on a related vocabulary term before they begin the investigation. The predictions that students make engages them in the lab through discussion, encouraging them to think about what kinds of evidence would be appropriate to support their ideas.


The use of models, a science and engineering practice, is addressed with the materials the students use and through the data students collect.


Diagrams and a procedure show students how to start using the sensor. Scaffolding in this way helps students design, understand, and plan their own experiment in the extension activity.



Students collect data in a table and a line graph, helping them to visualize the concept. Assessment questions and analysis tools help students think through evidence that will either support or refute their prediction. Then, students will use this data to craft an argument as they address the performance expectation. In addition, the crosscutting concepts of similarities and differences and cause and effect relationships can be addressed through assessment questions such as the one shown here. 


The assessment tool can be used to give students practice with standardized tests. As labs are intended to be formative assessments, SPARKvue gives teachers the option to enable feedback on multiple-choice questions, indicating if a student’s response is correct.


A lab extension gives students the opportunity to further develop in their science and engineering practices while reinforcing the concept of distance and the apparent brightness of stars. This part of the lab shifts the instruction from a prescriptive approach to one that aligns more deeply with the NGSS, as it fosters the development of the science and engineering practices.  

NGSS Extend data

In the lab extension students have the opportunity to more fully integrate the NGSS standards. Students apply both the science and engineering practices that support this performance expectation while reinforcing the disciplinary core idea. As students design their experiments and collect and analyze data, they can display the data in a bar graph to reveal patterns. These patterns are then used by students to construct an argument supporting the importance that distance is as it relates to the apparent brightness of a star.  

The chart below recaps how the NGSS standards were addressed by this activity.


Download the Starlight and Distance SPARKlab. 

 * Next Generation Science Standards is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards was involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

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