movement of planets and galaxies. By this age, the concept of a force is better understood, but static forces in equilibrium and students' intuitive ideas about forces on projectiles and satellites still resist change through instruction for a large percentage of the students.

On the basis of their experiences with energy transfers in the middle grades, high-school students can investigate energy transfers quantitatively by measuring variables such as temperature change and kinetic energy. Laboratory investigations and descriptions of other experiments can help students understand the evidence that leads to the conclusion that energy is conserved. Although the operational distinction between temperature and heat can be fairly well understood after careful instruction, research with high-school students indicates that the idea that heat is the energy of random motion and vibrating molecules is difficult for students to understand.

Guide to the Content Standard

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include


  • Matter is made of minute particles called atoms, and atoms are composed of even smaller components. These components have measurable properties, such as mass and electrical charge. Each atom has a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. The electric force between the nucleus and electrons holds the atom together.

  • The atom's nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons, which are much more massive than electrons. When an element has atoms that differ in the number of neutrons, these atoms are called different isotopes of the element.

  • The nuclear forces that hold the nucleus of an atom together, at nuclear distances, are usually stronger than the electric forces that would make it fly apart. Nuclear reactions convert a fraction of the mass of interacting particles into energy, and they can release much greater amounts of energy than atomic interactions. Fission is the splitting of a large nucleus into smaller pieces. Fusion is the joining of two nuclei at extremely high temperature and pressure, and is the process responsible for the energy of the sun and other stars.

  • Radioactive isotopes are unstable and undergo spontaneous nuclear reactions, emitting particles and/or wavelike radiation. The decay of any one nucleus cannot be predicted, but a large group of identical nuclei decay at a predictable rate. This predictability can be used to estimate the age of materials that contain radioactive isotopes.


  • Atoms interact with one another by transferring or sharing electrons that are furthest from the nucleus. These outer electrons govern the chemical properties of the element.

  • An element is composed of a single type of atom. When elements are listed in order according to the number of protons (called the atomic number), repeating patterns of physical and chemical properties identify families of elements

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