NGSS: Where to Start?

By Wanda Battaglia on September 3, 2014

With the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) beginning in some states and adoption pending in others, teachers have to gauge how this will impact their classrooms. Looking at the science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas can be overwhelming at first. Because I teach in a state that is implementing them this year, here is how I have handled the shift in instructional practices thus far.

NGSS: About the “How,” Not So Much the “What”

NGSS provides a guide for science teachers to develop curriculum. The standards were developed from a National Research Council report, “A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.” The standards represent a sustained focus on K–12 science instruction, providing a continuum of skills that students should master. There are three dimensions at the core of the standards that together provide a rich and meaningful framework for curriculum: science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.

From my perspective, and how my district is approaching the standards, the most important dimension of NGSS is the science and engineering practices. It is these practices that have led me to make changes in the classroom to promote critical thinking skills and foster independent learners. For example, I have developed more problem-based learning scenarios for my students and modified my activities and labs to be more inquiry-based.

The crosscutting concepts represent cognitive bridges between the various pieces of content, and disciplinary core ideas represent important content. Many teachers have looked at the disciplinary core ideas and wondered where the content is within the standards—disciplinary core ideas are “big ideas,” not the curriculum.

Then there are the performance expectations, which are examples of what students should be able to do to show understanding; they are by no means the only skills the students should have.

Five Starting Steps

1. Download or purchase and readA Framework for K–12 Science Education.” This will give you an idea of where the standards originated and also an understanding of the big ideas and their supporting content. When I write lesson plans, I refer to the K–12 framework for essential questions, which are the green questions found under each core idea in Chapter 5 of the framework.

2. Think about the performance expectations and where they fit into your curriculum.
For example, I have included the following performance standards in my Chemical Bonding unit:

  • Performance Standard (HS-PS1-3): Plan and conduct an investigation to gather evidence to compare the structure of substances at the bulk scale to infer the strength of electrical forces between particles;
  • Performance Standard (HS-PS2-6): Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials; and
  • Performance Standard (HS-PS3-5): Develop & use a model of two objects interacting through electric or magnetic fields to illustrate the forces between objects and the changes in energy of the objects due to the interaction.

3. Focus on the science and engineering practices—don’t throw away all of your old activities and/or labs, reinvent them! Modify old material to reflect the practices. Do not provide students with a step-by-step procedure. Provide a guiding question or problem to solve, materials, and a time frame. Let students then develop the route they will take to reach a conclusion. For example, instead of a typical density lab, I found one called Is Reynolds Wrap Really Heavy Duty?, which is an adaptation of a “Holt Chemistry: Visualizing Matter” lab. The modified version of the lab had a typical step-by-step procedure with questions and a lab report as the assessment. I used a template from Argument-Driven Inquiry to modify it into an inquiry-based lab with the added assessment of developing an argument in relation to the lab. I modified only the first part of the original lab for inquiry and I will have my students do the second part of the lab for discussion. You can read more about it here. The first few times you do this, treat it like a training exercise, and then slowly relinquish the reins to the students.

4. Ask various levels of questions throughout the course of a project, lesson, etc. Questioning is extremely important. This is an area I focused on for my summer professional development. You are not the main attraction, the students are. Never give students a straight answer, but use guiding questions so they can reach an answer on their own.

5. Require thorough explanations and argumentation.
Assessments must mirror the day-to-day learning experiences. The higher-level thinking that is required of students to master topics must be evident in assessments.

Wanda Battaglia, High School Chemistry Teacher in Union, KY

I am a teacher leader in my district’s NGSS implementation team, and I maintain a blog for chemistry teachers looking for NGSS resources, NGSS Chemistry Resources. I also share my personal teaching experiences and reflections on my professional blog: Battaglia’s Babble.