Curricular Definitions

Essential Question:

This is a unifying question that guides a unit of study around the essential understanding. It can be addressed from many angles and many topics within the unit.

Essential Understanding:

This is a core concept or “big idea” that a student should know by the time they complete a particular course. It unifies many topics that are taught in a particular unit. Each course curriculum starting in 7th grade is organized by Essential Understandings.


This is a performance-based skill and/or process that is addressed in every science course, K-12. There are nine science standards.

Topical Understanding:

This is a specific topic that would be studied within a unit of study.

Topic Question:

These are questions specifically designed to address a particular topical understanding within a unit of study.


Benchmarks are statements of what all students should know or be able to do in science by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12.