January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

A Focus on Practices in the NGSS: What Does It Mean for Your Teaching?

Posted: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

by Cynthia Passmore

There is a buzz about the Next Generation Science Standards. Many science teachers I speak to look forward with a mix of anticipation and anxiety to the release of new standards. Change can be hard, but for most of us in the science education community, we see that it is necessary to keep our field moving forward. So, what will the future hold and how will the new vision for science education articulated in the Framework and the NGSS play out in real classrooms? For this article I’d like to put forward some thoughts on one strand of the new standards, the “Practices.” Last month in this venue, Peter A’Hearn explained how the new focus on practices is different from the current California investigation and experimentation strand and why this approach is productive (see also Osborne, 2011). My purpose here is not to re-hash that account, but to put forward some ideas about how the focus on practices could actually look in a science classroom.

The new framework lists eight practices that are central to science. These are:

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)

2. Developing and using models

3. Planning and carrying out investigations

4. Analyzing and interpreting data

5. Using mathematics and computational thinking

6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

7. Engaging in argument from evidence

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

But how might a teacher go from a list like this to a dynamic set of lessons that teach important science content through these practices. What might it look like for students to actually engage in these practices, seamlessly woven together, while learning the big ideas (core ideas and crosscutting concepts in the Framework) in their science classrooms? I suggest that to conceive of the eight practices as a list of discrete things is not a productive way to get from the framework to a coherent vision that can actually guide instruction. So, I propose that we begin a careful consideration of how the practices are inter-related, how they feed and support one another so that we do not fall into the trap of using them like a checklist where one day kids are using data… check; and the next they are developing arguments…check, and on yet another they are using math in science class…check. Rather, I propose that we consider the web of interconnections between and among the different practices.

To get the conversation started I posit that a productive centerpiece is what is identified second in the list, “developing and using models.” In the remainder of this article, I will describe an organizational structure for how the other seven practices relate both to modeling and to each other. In the next installment, I will illustrate the affordances of that view by describing a classroom science context and how the practices play out in the student experience, and in the third installment I will explain the teacher knowledge that will be important to carry this view to fruition.

Over the past 15 years, our team has been working on a view of science as fundamentally about making sense of the world through the practice of modeling. Thus, as I consider the eight practices laid out in the Framework, I see modeling as a central hub around which the other practices can be organized. First an important clarification: The practice of developing and using models (also known as model-based reasoning or model-based inquiry) is about developing sets of ideas that can be used to explain phenomena in the natural world. In science, models take on a particular form depending on the field of study; sometimes they are represented with diagrams or three-dimensional structures and other times they consist of a list of statements and in still other cases the model is represented as a mathematical expression. The form the model takes is less important for our discussion here than the role it plays. It is the set of underlying ideas that is useful for making sense of natural phenomena that constitutes the core of any model.

Given this view of models, then, we can begin to see how the practices of science center on models and modeling. Asking questions in science (practice #1) begins not with some observation of the world that is completely divorced from our prior experiences and understandings, rather, all that we see and notice about the world is filtered through our existing ideas (models) about how the world operates. It is these models that allow us to find anomalies worthy of our attention and that help guide us in exploring, bounding and defining what it is we want to explore and investigate (practice #3) about the world and how we interpret and analyze the data we collect (practice #4). Ultimately the goal of science is to make sense of the world by developing explanations for the phenomena we see and since models mediate how we think and investigate those phenomena, so, too do they provide a basis for the development of explanations (practice #6). Figuring out how the world works is not straightforward and along the way there may be many different lines of reasoning to consider. Attending to these different ideas and determining the fruitful paths to follow requires a careful consideration of different options which is at the heart of argumentation in science (practice #7). Thus, argumentation can occur when we use models to filter phenomena, to craft investigations, to interpret data, and to develop explanations. And finally, mathematics and other information are important tools in the development of models and the communication process is key to the social nature of science (practices 5 & 8).

By considering how the practices in the new framework can be woven together to make the whole cloth of scientific practice, our field can then move to the next step of figuring out how to engage students in these practices in meaningful ways in the classroom. Further, I hope that by suggesting how they come together around modeling, the effort to incorporate explicit experiences with these practices in science classrooms will seem less daunting. Stay tuned for more information about the NGSS and to this column for more thoughts about the practice strand and how a focus on modeling can bring a sense of order to the list.

Cynthia Passmore is associate professor at the UC Davis School of Education.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

3 Responses

  1. In the early 1990’s we had standards that concentrated on the “Big Ideas”. It was a wonderful time to teach science. Then test intensive, factoid memorization standards were developed. The defense of the factoid piles was that the teachers got to deside which piles were essential, relative to the mandated tests.
    If the heart of the new standards is these “eight practices”, unencumbered by fact piles, we could be turning back to a much more enjoyable time to teach science. We will all be able to lend our own strengths to the process.
    If there is still a fact pile, we will have truly gained nothing.

  2. The way that you’ve laid out the interwoven nature of the 8 practices makes me excited for the future of science. I am a linear learner who enjoys a framework on which to learn, as many students are. Yet I love the idea of thinking outside the box and abandoning the “checklist” mentality of the current standards. This will give the students and I the structure we crave, while allowing the freedom to explore and learning in a meaningful way through this exploration. Using the 8 processes to interweave a true understanding of science will be so much more enjoyable than forcing facts onto students.

  3. Well, from my read of the framework, there is still a “fact pile”, but it is a smaller and better pile in my view. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. The focus on integrating the “facts” with practices is potentially powerful, I think.

Leave a Reply


Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.