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)

NGSS Practices: The Skills of Science


Are you implementing NGSS with the expected RIGOR?

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are an exceptional set of guidelines to foster a deeper understanding of the skills associated with science and engineering.  Rather than focusing on laundry lists of facts to be memorized, the standards really set students on a path to “doing” science in schools and having the right types of learning opportunities to be successful at the next levels of learning.

That is…if they are implemented properly.

Assessment Framework ImageContent and Skills in Science are each a side of the same coin–inseparable and individually so important.  Pure content memorization becomes meaningless if it never is applied or used, and you can’t engage in skill practice without the grounding arena of the content.

The NGSS Scientific and Engineering Practices hit a home run with skill articulation.  But, one of the biggest roadblocks I have encountered to successful implementation in schools is a total misalignment of complexity per grade.

The NGSS standards include 8 Practices that most teachers are excited to include in lesson planning and design.  This is exciting as it encourages teachers and students to focus on transferable skills with leverage, endurance and readiness for the next level of learning.


Practice 1.  Asking Questions & Defining Problems

Practice 2.  Developing & Using Models

Practice 3.  Planning & Carrying Out Investigations

Practice 4.  Analyzing & Interpreting Data

Practice 5.  Using Mathematics & Computational Thinking

Practice 6.  Constructing Explanations & Designing Solutions

Practice 7.  Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Practice 8.  Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information.

The Problem:

Because the 8 practices are included as a single list for all grade levels, some teachers misalign their rigor.  For example, a teacher at the 6th grade level aligned her question to Practice 4, and simply asked them to read a data table.

grade 6 misaligned

This question would be better suited at the grade 2-3 level rather than the 6th grade level.

In the 6th grade, we would more appropiately ask the student to use that data to either interpret or provide evidence for a phenomena related to temperature fluctuations, or even distinguish between correlation and casual data.  To do this, we would have to provide the student with more than just a single week of temperature data.  We would likely need to provide the student with geographical information, longitudinal data, and background information and content instruction in causes of temperature change.

The Solution:

But there is somewhere we can look for assistance!  The NGSS Appendix F provides detailed descriptions of what application of these practices would look like at grade level bands.




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