September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Content Standards: Common Core and NGSS – A High School Teacher’s Perspective

Posted: Monday, June 3rd, 2013

by Jeff Orlinsky

In 1997 I attended the open hearings of the California Content Standards in Science.  The hearings were about developing the standards that would be used as part of the student assessment system.  I would venture a guess that at that time, no one would have anticipated how the panel’s decisions would impact curriculum and instruction in the science classroom.  This article is not about the debate or the benefits of standards, it is about the current changes occurring in science education, and how you as a CSTA member and a science classroom teacher, need to be an active participant, not a bystander.

Here is a little history.  At first, classroom teachers were largely unaware of the content standards.  Districts slowly adopted the standards and they became part of the curriculum objectives but curriculum and instruction in science classrooms did not change until the first tests in science started.  Soon, however, it became evident that students’ scores on science tests comprised about 15% of the Academic Performance Index or API.  As a result, science classrooms started to modify their curriculum to better match the student assessment.

In 2001, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Federal Law was passed.  As with the content standards, curriculum and instruction did not adjust quickly.  However, after several years of implementation, there was a drastic change in science instruction and curriculum.  The AYP, (Annual Yearly Progress), and Program Improvement components of the NCLB have narrowed our curriculum and severely limited our instructional time when it comes to hands-on laboratory lessons.

Fast forward to 2009, when the National Governor’s Association hired the nonprofit company, Student Achievement Partners, to create an updated set of curriculum and instructional standards for mathematics and English, known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Released in June 2010 and subsequently adopted by California later that year, implementation has already begun and by 2014-15 California will assess student achievement of the new standards. Districts and schools are not waiting for the new assessments, rather, they have already begun to change their curriculum and instruction in ELA and mathematics.  Once again, science teachers are waiting, however we already know we will be called upon to incorporate more ELA and math skills into our curriculum.  The question science teachers will be asking is, where do these additional standards go in my already crowded curriculum?

Finally, in July 2010, the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science began the process of writing new science content standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The final standards were released in April 2013.  The NGSS provide the framework for individual states to adopt a new set of standards that focus on science, technology, engineering, and content in Earth, Biology, Physics and Chemistry.  CSTA has been in the forefront on this issue.

A Possible Conflict?

The CCSS may look like math and ELA standards, but classrooms of all disciplines will be impacted.  I am not sure how they will affect our current science curriculum and instruction, but I am anticipating a major change.  In July of 2013, the State Board of Education will be presented with the option to adopt a new set of science content standards based on the NGSS (the decision will need to be made no later than November 30, 2013). I am concerned that this may present a new conflict in the science classroom, as I expect to see implementation of the NGSS emphasize a hands-on approach, and the implementation of the CCSS for English/Language Arts and Literacy in Science focus on reading. (Editor’s note: the NGSS include reference to areas of overlap with the CCSS.) I feel that these two different types of content standards will be harder for elementary and middle school teachers than for high school teachers.  In all cases, we will be forced to add more to our overcrowded curriculum, and forced to decide what content will be cut.

What We Need to Do: An Opportunity for Transformation.

We can no longer wait for new California NGSS-based content standards to be presented to us.  We must step out of the classroom and become experts in the CCSS and the NGSS-California Science Standards.  We will have to do it ourselves.  We have to understand these standards and how they will affect our curriculum and instruction.  In 1997, many teachers thought the standards movement was a phase, and that it would not last long.  In 2009-10 we thought NCLB would be re-written, and it has not changed.  We cannot be passive by-standers; we must take an active role.  We also have to bring everyone in the science department along.  The more we understand the NGSS and Common Core the easier our transition will be.

Here are recommended steps to help you involve yourself in the process and increase your capacity in CCSS and NGSS:

  1. Join CSTA – Your membership will gain you access to information and representation. If you are already a member, thank you and be sure to check that your email is up-to-date and that you set-up to receive email from CSTA.
  2. Read the Next Generation Science Standards and the Framework for K-12 Science Education.
  3. Visit and review the resources on CSTA’s NGSS webpage.
  4. Listen to the State Board Meeting on July 10 when the new California Science Standards will be presented (the meetings are broadcast live on-line) or attend in person (in Sacramento).
  5. Attend webinars and view archives of webinars hosted by NSTA.
  6. Attend the 2013 California Science Education Conference, which will feature a wealth of programming around Common Core and NGSS/California Science Education Standards.

Written by Jeff Orlinsky

Jeff Orlinsky

Jeff Orlinsky teaches science at Warren High School and is CSTA’s High School Director.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Jeff
    As I think about how to start to infuse the NGSS material into my department’s curriculum, everyone wants to know where to begin. Looking at my content area (life science) many of the DCI are already in our old standards. Has CSTA prepared a side by side comparison of the DCI & our old standards? This document would be helpful to show the states science teachers what is different and what is similar.
    Is anyone working on this for CSTA or CDOE?

  2. Several CSTA members have asked if there is a chart which maps out how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) align with our current state science standards. While we know that some folks have participated in this sort of process, we have purposefully not released such a document. We know that a document like this might be comforting to some, yet there is a broader concern that people will simply look at a chart and decide that not much has changed so not much must change. This is not the message or intent of the proposed new standards. Should NGSS be adopted by the State Board of Education, we will be in for some major changes. As uncomfortable as change might be, change isn’t always a bad thing! Science content and skills are meaningfully linked, students will be expected to demonstrate greater depth of understanding, and engineering practices are embedded into the science classroom.
    We hope that teachers will look closely at the performance expectations for their grade level and spend time thinking about what they imply for teaching and learning. This is not a time to simply rearrange our existing science lessons and shoe-horn them into the NGSS landscape (a chart which shows where existing standards map onto NGSS might promote that sort of thinking). This is a time for us to rethink how we engage students in critically thinking and learning science. We know you have existing lessons in your file cabinet or computer that will fit beautifully into the NGSS classroom, but this is also the time to look forward and develop new lessons for the next generation of scientists.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.