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)

Anne Weerda
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Anne Weerda

This article was written by Kids at the Core founder, Anne Weerda.

Anne is an assessment and curriculum specialist best known for her work in assessment design, data analysis and instructional effectiveness. Anne is a sought after speaker in the area of assessment design, curriculum and instruction.
Anne Weerda
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