Recently, after talking briefly with my seventh grade students about how we calculate the density of various compounds, I asked if anyone could explain what density is? Radio silence. Silence isn’t that uncommon in my current pandemic Zoom classroom; however, I always have a few students that will type ideas in the chat or on our shared slide deck. This time…nothing.
I then asked them to think about the everyday objects they encounter and consider: “Why would we want to know an object’s density?” After testing the density of various substances, my students were making connections to their daily life and thinking about how the density of materials affects how the materials function. Now they truly understood density when before the term meant very little to them beyond a memorized formula.
This disconnect many students experience between defining scientific concepts and applying them is what led science educators to develop the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Framework.
Over the past three years, I have served as the K-12 NGSS Teacher on Special Assignment for a district in Orange County, California. I hear both the triumphs and frustrations of teachers in my district who are learning to adapt to a new way of teaching through NGSS. I’m sure these challenges are not confined to my district alone.
I would love to share my experiences as a teacher and an educator helping to develop my district’s NGSS-designed curriculum. Many of us have similar questions about implementing the NGSS and science instructional materials. These common questions often pop up on the #NGSSChat thread on Twitter. I hope I can offer some solutions and guiding principles that can make a difference for educators teaching in both remote and in-person classrooms.
1. How can leaders engage teachers who are resistant to adopting the Next Generation Science Standards?
Providing teachers with an NGSS-aligned unit is a great first step! However, keep in mind that getting teachers to actually implement the unit can be challenging. In this situation, I have the greatest success when I offer to step in and teach the start of the unit as an example. I also invite other teachers to observe one of the lessons I know will have high student engagement.
If you want teachers to implement a unit in a remote setting, it’s helpful for students to have a kit of materials so they can participate in the “hands-on” components. I have prepared over 200 kits for my own students this year. Administrators and volunteers can support teachers by putting together the kits and organizing the distribution of the kits. It is a huge time commitment, but it’s amazing to see how engaged students are in a remote setting when they can actually DO science!
2. How can I feel more confident with crosscutting concepts in NGSS?
Teachers need access to high-quality materials that explicitly incorporate the crosscutting concepts (CCC)’s into instructional activities and class discussions. It is also important that teachers experience the power of the CCC’s from the learner’s perspective. Districts should support teachers with quality professional development around the crosscutting concepts, but I know that’s not always something teachers have access to.
Gaining confidence with the cross-cutting concepts is not an easy task, but in my experience, meaningful incorporation of the CCC’s can produce the richest classroom discussions and convey the strongest scientific explanations. If taking on all seven CrossCutting concepts feels overwhelming, I suggest reviewing this resource which focuses on implementing three key crosscutting concepts: cause and effect, systems, and patterns.
3. How can aligned materials help me encourage questions while not losing the core competency we are working towards?
Students will generate the craziest questions! In my experience, I like to record all student questions on a large anchor chart to ensure that all students’ voices are heard.
Strong curriculum will have lessons designed to answer the most common questions. Typically, some of the questions generated will align with the materials and I like to highlight those questions and let students know that we need to figure these out to answer the larger question or explain the phenomenon.
If any remaining questions really support students’ understanding of the science content, I will try to pull them into the lesson when and if appropriate. Occasionally, student questions may extend the learning beyond the grade band. I will often use these topics as extra credit challenges for my students.
4. What role does the NGSS play in creating a more equitable learning environment for all students?
The NGSS Framework design emphasizes equity in science education with a focus on helping students learn science through real-world tasks using phenomena that engage with their lived experiences. Yet we are all still learning how to ensure that the instructional materials we use provide the most equitable experience for all students.
This article provides specific examples of how shifting towards the NGSS will create an equitable learning environment and explains how the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) and the Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) improve the potential for equity in education.
5. How can I provide the best instruction for my students while I am also learning the NGSS requirements myself?
I love this question! It points out the biggest problem we are facing in the implementation of NGSS. Teachers are NOT trained to be curriculum developers. When I first transitioned to the NGSS, I spent most of my free time creating units to share with colleagues. Even though I was trying my best, the materials I created were not vetted and did not include the comprehensive components of a real curriculum.
Teachers need access to high-quality materials. Teachers should not be spending their entire weekend developing lessons and/or searching and paying for “NGSS-aligned materials.” All teachers should have comprehensive units that require students to engage in all three dimensions as they learn to explain phenomena and design solutions to problems.
Advocating for the curriculum you deserve can make a real difference for your instruction, particularly during this time of transition. Only with quality, NGSS aligned materials and professional development around those materials will educators have the tools to support this transition to a new kind of science education!