Live Action NGSS

These Standards are made for doing.

As many classrooms are realigning curriculum to the carefully crafted and highly praised Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), many classrooms are coming up short of the intended rigor and requirements.

In our action research we have noticed some key shortcomings, and would like to offer helpful solutions.

Issue #1 Misalignment 

Low Rigor and Below Grade Level Expectations for the practices finds middle and high school classrooms implementing the expectations the standards attribute to early elementary science.  The standards describe what students should be doing not what the teacher should be demonstrating or doing for them.  For example:  Ask and Answer questions means that the student develops their own question and works to find solutions rather than the teacher posing a single question for all students.

Helpful Solutions:

Start with NGSS’s  Appendix F.  From here, we get a clear picture of what students should be able to do at each grade band from K through 12.  For example students in 3-5 should “represent data in tables and/or various graphical displays (bar graphs, pictographs, and/or pie charts) to reveal patterns that indicate relationships,” where as high school students can “analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims.”   

Next, check out NGSS’s Appendix E.  This one is your vertical alignment key.  From here, we get a clear picture how concepts progress as the student’s sophistication of thinking progresses.  For example, in topics that are covered in the curriculum of multiple grades, we see a repeat of the concepts memorized and the complexity of thought in that area (ex: ESS3.A Natural resources).  Using this appendix we get a clear idea of the rigor and sophistication of application expected as the learner progresses.

Issue #2: Lack of Inquiry

This is particularly common at elementary and middle school levels.  Teachers may not be comfortable or trained in letting students “figure out”

Helpful Solutions:

Inquiry means walking away from telling the answer to the students.  That’s not an easy habit to break.  Start small and value process over the product or “correct” answer.  

Try This:  Come up with an “overall question” for a lesson. Ask students to designs ways to find a solution.  Reassure yourself that it will not damage the student to fail.  Rather they begin to see that science involves trying and trying yet again.  Its OK to not get it the first time, and struggle is a valuable part of the process.

Not sure how to talk about this with students?  Try: The Most Magnificent Thing or What Do You Do With an Idea?

Issue #3: Three Dimensional Learning=Missing

The NGSS components are not designed for teachers to dip their toes into once in a while.  Rather, there are multiple elements that should be working in tandem.  Teaching data analysis in isolation has no meaning if students can not comprehend the content the data is connected to, just as making a model without core disciplinary ideas to make the model about is meaningless!

Helpful Solutions:

Start your crosswalk with an analogy.  Believe it or not…The Cross Cutting Concepts, The Disciplinary Core Ideas, The Scientific & Engineering Practices and even The Math and ELA Common Core are all simultaneously coming together in the arena of science!  Sounds exciting.

Try this helpful analogy…

A chef preparing a meal needs:

  • The Recipe (District Scope and Sequence/Curriculum)
  • The Ingredients (Disciplinary Core Ideas: DCI)
  • The Techniques (Science & Engineering Practices–skills applied to DCI content)
  • The Mixing Tools (Cross Cutting Concepts–to bring the DCIs together)
  • The “Real World” Taste Testers (Common Core–Learning through reading and math how Science lives in our world today)

Each of the elements impacts the others.  Just because you have the best ingredients, for example, does not mean you will have the best dish!

(creative analogy inspiration credit: Champaign Unit District 4, Illinois–Mike and Jamie)

Challenge vs Threat Mindsets

We are at an intersection: 

An educator-evaluator meeting is about to begin.  The teacher walks slowly down the hall to the administrator’s office.  The teacher’s mind is running:  lesson plans, student successes, students acting out, unfinished grading, parents to call, curriculum to review!  Attitude, perception and creativity hang in a balance as the teacher appraises the situation.

This moment is of great importance.

Districts across the country are giving feedback to teachers, pushing out new initiatives, and attempting improve the education outcomes for all kids.

Teachers are feeling the push and, according to psychological research, teachers will perceive their situation in one of two distinct ways.

Perceptions in Accountability and Learning

  1. Threatened Mind-Set

  2. Challenged Mind-Set

threat scales

The biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat offers great insight.  The model is typically applied to situations in which the performer is evaluated and the outcome of the evaluation is relevant to his or her personal goals (Blascovich et al, 2003).  In this case, the performer is the teacher and success on an SLO, evaluation observation conference, curriculum changes, etc. can determine job stability.

So, facing this situation, the teacher’s perception determines if the event will be processed as a threat or received as a challenge.  As you might imagine, the physiological response of the body in threat state is quite different than the challenge state.

Threatened Mind-Set:

In the threat state, we see an automatic reaction much like the one from early human history.  Back then, it was quite helpful for our survival: Fight or Flight.  Threat responses mobilize our minds and our bodies in extreme ways (Myung & Martinez, 2013).  For example, the threatened individual has a quickening of the heart rate and release of hormones and other stress chemicals.  Most importantly to our situation, the amygdala takes over and the reaction can prevent thoughtfulness and problem solving.

Challenged Mind-Set:

On the other hand, in a challenge state, we see that the body mobilizes in some ways similar to threat, but the mind is still flexible and open to changes or alternatives, allowing space for creativity or thoughtfulness (Myung & Martinez, 2013).  The individual becomes excited with positive energy!  The challenged teacher in a challenged mindset is in a motivated performance condition.

Which Will It Be?

Research has shown that the performer’s appraisal of situational demands vs. resources will influence the extent to which the performer enters a threatened or challenged mindset. (Tomaka et al, 1997)

Demands which heat up a threatened mindset  include the type of critique they perceive, the potential danger to their job, or the uncertainty of what needs to be accomplished.  On the other hand, we have resources such as professional dthreat and challengeelopement, external support, staff dispositions, and more which all contribute to encouraging a challenged mindset.  The ultimate weighing of the two will find one side of the scale tipped over the other.

In other words, if a teacher believes the change in front of them, or critique through evaluation comes with more resources than demands, they will believe that this is a challenge for improving his or her abilities.  It is a motivated, positive energy mindset.

Perceptions are Key

Crucially, how a teacher perceives the interaction (or how the administrator portrays it) can have profound effects on what happens in both the mind and on a biological level in the body.  It may not be the feedback or initiative itself that Challenge Mind-setcauses the teacher to react positively or negatively.  It is rather the perceived meaning of the initiative or feedback and the recipient’s interpretation of teh resources available to them in this learning process.







Blascovich, Jim et. al., “The Robust Nature of the Biophychosicla Model of Challenge and Threat: A Reply to Wright and Kirby,” Personality and Social

Psychology Review 7, no.3 (2003): 234-243.

Gregorie, Michele.  “Is It a Challenge or a Threat?  A Dual-Process Model of Teachers’ Cognition and Appraisal Process During Conceptual Change”

Educational Psychology Review, 15, 2. (2003): 147-179


Myung, Jeannie and Martinez, Krissa.  “Strategies for Enhancing the Impact of Post-Observation Feedback For Teachers,”  Carnegie Foundation for

the Advancement of Teaching.  Brief, July (2013) 1-10.


Tomaka, Joe et. al., “Cognitive and Psychological Antecedents of Threat and Challenge Appraisal,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73

(1997): 63-72.


Leading Change

In the landscape of constant change and (attempted) educational reform in our state and nation – as a leader can you see the forest for the trees? Have you taken the time to examine all that is being put in front of you to see what aligns with what you believe and critically analyzed how mandates can be leveraged in to opportunities to exhibit true instructional leadership? If you have not – start now. Start with PERA and move forward with vigor and confidence. This state mandate taking hold in the 16-17 school-year for the vast majority of schools in Illinois holds a tremendous amount of opportunity for schools and leaders willing to see the forest through the trees and embrace this chance to create meaningful change in our schools.

Leverage local control

While many educators have been trepidations about student data being used as a component determining their evaluation rating therein exists an opportunity for school leaders. I am not suggesting that using any educator’s discomfort or stress as an opening to leverage leadership as a sound strategy. My belief, however, is strongly that a teacher would 100 times out of 100 state that using data from a test that they helped create or was created locally would be more valid and reliable (in their opinion) than a standardized assessment. This allows leaders to leverage local control and provide the support necessary for teachers to develop better assessments and better assessment writing practices. There is the opportunity for meaningful local change.

Reintroduction of rigor

Rigor is an educational buzzword. It has been for some time. This does not stop groups of wonderful educators from around the state looking at me like a deer in the headlights when I ask them to describe or quantify rigor in a manner which teachers could then employ in planning and teaching. Daggett and his team have incredible resources on this topic – but it can be pretty simple. Think Bloom’s Taxonomy and move forward from there. Leaders must know what rigor is and help your teachers move forward toward increasing the complexity of their assessments – and thereby their classes at-large. Every student has the right to think critically every day. Ensure your students have this need met.

PLC model

Many schools use the PLC model popularized by Rick Dufour throughout the state and country. Even schools that do not use the PLC model can hardly argue the premises of the system outlined here. The four questions of the PLC (with slight alterations) are as follows:

  1. What do we want students to learn? What should each student know and be able to do as a result of each unit, grade level, and/or course?
  2. How will we know if they have learned? Are we monitoring each student’s learning on a timely basis?
  3. What will we do if they don’t learn? What systematic process is in place to provide additional time and support for students who are experiencing difficulty?
  4. What will we do if they already know it?

PERA allows a leader to start back at basics and ensure that questions one and two of this model are met with fidelity and in a manner that best serves students. In my experience speaking and consulting, far too many schools describe themselves as PLCs, but their meetings lack focus and their work has devolved into simple team meetings. This mandate allows for a re-focusing that in the end will improve teacher and teams of teachers performance.

Realignment of purpose

As a principal, I often asked my teachers: what is the point of teaching? The answer I was always looking for was: to cause student learning. PERA allows us to bring this question to the forefront of everything we do in schools. Great teachers change lives. There is simply no substitute for absolutely fantastic instruction provided by a first-class teacher. Ensuring that such instruction occurs in our classrooms is the job of educational leaders everywhere. PERA forces us to call one very important component of this process into question – assessment. Leaders, I implore you – see the forest through the trees and leverage this mandate to drive your school forward.

Upcoming FREE Web Events

Join us for a free web-event: The Balanced Assessment System.

October 17, 2013:  1pm Click here to Sign Up!

Considering the wide spectrum of assessment types we give students, how can educators be sure each tool we use is effective?  A Balanced Assessment System is critical.  How can educators be sure that tool is worth the loss of instructional time it takes to administer?  And maybe most importantly, how can we be sure we are giving the right kind of assessments to prepare measuring student growth?

If you are preparing to move toward student growth as a major component of your data picture, it is important to consider assessment elements and conduct an assessment inventory. If you are a classroom teacher, a department leader or even a superintendent, knowing the overall picture of assessments you are working with is essential.


Join us for a free web-event: Common Assessments for Growth 

November 7, 2013:  1pm Click here to Sign Up!

The research community has pointed to common assessments as a cornerstone tool in great teaching for years.  Collaboratively created common assessments offer timely feedback on student learning aligned to COMMON expectations within a grade level or course.  If a team intentionally selects the key skills/knowledge that all students should have, and the common assessments measure the change in knowledge on those key skills/knowledge…we have a winner!  Data from the assessments in that set can be used to guide instructional choices and provide the 

 So, if even if you didn’t have to write an SLO, and you do not have to put growth on your evaluation….creating and using common assessments to measure student growth is a BEST PRACTICE in education.  This quick video will talk about using these tools for GREAT teaching, GREAT collaboration and alignment, and for ensuring all students are growing. And THAT is why we are here.

Sign Up!

What are K@C Web events??

Short, live monthly workshops and discussions about key topics related to your district and your classrooms each month.

No budget for travel and subs?  No Problem!  On-line events let you get the quality professional development right from your computer.  We host them after school hours so everyone can be available.

Presentations focus on important, relevant topics that will help you grow student understanding in a meaningful way.  Can’t make the time?  All events are recorded so you can watch them when it works for you!

Level One Workshop Registration is OPEN

Take the mystery out of student growth! Kids At The Core is hosting a one-day workshop to help districts in the starting phases of implementing student growth.  Presenter Anne Weerda will share a review of PERA law and district requirements, an overview of how to get student growth data, important information for your transitions and lessons learned from districts already implementing student growth on evaluations.


Register Today!