November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

Being an NGSS Teacher: Living with Uncertainty

Posted: Friday, May 5th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

“Teaching with NGSS;” this phrase is becoming colloquial in our profession. The actual meaning of it is probably more amorphous than anyone would care to admit. I am going to explain how I “teach with NGSS” in this article. This diatribe is not meant to be the pathway to follow, just a simple path and an elucidation of how one teacher in California does it.

First off, there is a big philosophical assumption about the NGSS that one ought to have before trying to figure them out or attempt to practice NGSS’s tenets. The philosophical stance is built from the three tenets of How People Learn. This book says that learning occurs metacognitively, through conceptual frameworks, and is based on prior knowledge (Bransford, Brown et al. 1999). Most of us have heard these things a lot during our teaching lives, but one needs to truly embrace them. The other thing about the NGSS, which stands for “Next Generation Science Standards” (which truly are standards for the next generation), is that the clause: “All Standards, All Students” is not just a platitude but the actual, true intention. The standards are designed for all students to take them in school, not just the ones who sign up for specific courses (like the previous standards). 

So, I embrace the above notions in my practice. All students learn (via those three criterion) and that every student needs exposure to all the standards. As a physics teacher, I have been able to see many kids start to make the connections between the curriculum and, essentially, the nature of things. Often that process takes time, and is developed individually throughout the course. Some “get it” right away, some take a few labs, sometimes the whole year, and yet some may not “get it” during their entire duration with me (but I hope subsequently, they will). The common thread of their learning is me, I have to remain consistently driven to assist their learning. Again, it’s their learning. Just because I tell them, doesn’t automatically transcend to their learning; that’s the old banking/deposit mentality. A teacher doesn’t deposit knowledge into their students. The students have to develop their own understanding. That development occurs according to the three tenets of How People Learn.

In my class, I try to make everything as autonomous as possible. The things that are done synchronously are labs/data collection and end of quarter exams. This is made possible through a computer cart and my own embracing of technology use. I spend a lot of time doing demos in class to generate discussion and thought. The demos are designed to supplement the lecture notes and instructional videos I post via our LMS. I have tried to minimize my time talking (whole class) and maximizing how much time the students talk. I have found anecdotally (and research seems to support) that the classroom has to be a place where the students do most of the active work; they need to be talking, questioning, writing, responding, etc. From my experience, I have been able to cover more topics, more deeply because I talk less. I try to go at the speed of the class. I let the questions from demos and labs guide the discussion and their work.

The NGSS are made up of three dimensions, one is called the “SEPs.” These are the practices of scientists and engineers. The students need to use those practices while working through their own coursework and experiences. Another dimension is the CCCs, or Crosscutting Concepts, these are the concepts that transcend a specific science and apply to all sciences; like Patterns and Cause and Effect, etc. (more in the NRC Framework (NGSS Lead States 2013)). I know the standards are new to many teachers, but those teachers might find comfort in reflecting on their practice and realizing that students learn more from those conversations we’ve had rather than from the PowerPoint we gave. It simply came down to my use of class time. I would rather have my precious class time used to help them build understanding than simply depositing facts into their minds.

I was early to embrace the NGSS. When I first heard about the Framework, I read it, and felt a kinship with it. Again, I think it is only truly understood from a certain philosophical stance. I share a belief that Richard Feynman held: “I can live with doubt and uncertainty.” I also am comfortable with having multiple pathways by which students reach the goal.

I’ve discussed my approach to NGSS and my acceptance of certain uncertainties about using the NGSS standards in my pedagogy. Upon more self-analysis, I realized that I have also embraced existentialism and its tenets of individuality and purpose. I know this may seem like a tangent, but reflecting on why we do something and embrace an approach will help make all subsequent work meaningful and impactful.


Bransford, J., et al. (1999). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C, National Academy Press.

NGSS Lead States (2013). Next Geeration Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, D.C., Achieve, Inc. on behalf of the twenty-six states and partners that collaborated on the NGSS.

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:

One Response

  1. I agree with most of the statements that you have made. But regardless of intent, in the end we are judged by what students understand (notice that I left out what “they know”). This must remain in our view so that we do not fall into the trap of suggesting that 3-D learning is a panacea.

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Priority Features of NGSS-Aligned Instructional Materials

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Recommendations for Publishers, Reviewers, and Educators. The California Science Teachers Association and the science teachers associations of three other Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) west-coast states, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, have co-authored a white paper on priority features of NGSS instructional materials. This is the first time our states have collaborated to convey a common vision on an issue of great importance for the implementation of the NGSS. We understand all too well that for meaningful shifts to happen and to support the full vision of the NGSS, strong K-12 Instructional materials are required. 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.

State Board Moves Forward Two Key Pieces Supporting CA NGSS Implementation

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

CSTA President Jill Grace provides public comment at the November 8, 2017, California State Board of Education meeting.

On November 8, 2017, the California State Board of Education (SBE) took action on two items of import relating to the implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). One item was relating to the California Science Test (CAST) and the other to instructional materials. CSTA provided both written and oral comments on both items along with providing input on what CSTA and many other advocates view as a critical component of our state’s emerging accountability system – student access to a broad course of study. 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.

NGSS – Early Attempts and Later Reflections from an Early Implementer Teacher

Posted: Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

by Christa Dunkel

  • There are so many acronyms! Where do I start?
  • What “baby step” should I take first? 
  • How can I make this happen in my elementary classroom?

All of these thoughts and more swam through my head over three years ago when I began my journey into NGSS. I was fresh from a week-long institute with the K-12 Alliance as part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. Much of the week was spent on digging into the NGSS architecture – how the standards are set-up, how to read the standards, what each of the three dimensions meant. Now that I knew how to read them, I needed to figure out how to implement them into my classroom of 24 eight-year-olds. With some guidance from the K-12 Alliance leaders and my own district-level NGSS team, I began the process with some easy “baby steps.” Learn More…

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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.

CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

Expanding Your Definition of Informal Science Education

Posted: Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

by Lori Walsh

When deciding on a field trip, zoos, aquariums and science centers typically come to mind. These facilities offer students hands-on opportunities to make science observations using inquiry. Teachers can schedule standards aligned workshops or self-guided visits. If your students have already visited these facilities, you can broaden your options by exploring the larger world of Informal Science Education. Nature centers, non-profits, and environmental groups often also offer NGSS aligned programs in the natural setting. Your students can discover the local environment while making memorable experiences. Learn More…

Written by Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh is the Education/Operations Supervisor at SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND California Resort and Informal Science Director for CSTA.