May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Demystifying the NGSS

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Clea Matson

As with any transition in education, supporting teachers in their own learning about the what, how, and why of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is incredibly important. Since it was announced in 2013 that California would be adopting the NGSS, the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) Teacher Professional Development team has been designing and implementing a series of workshops meant to educate and reassure teachers as they make their way through the implementation timeline. Materials and strategies from the first workshop in this series, Introduction to the NGSS, is available as the free online resource NGSS Demystified: A Free Toolkit for Training Teachers.

What is NGSS Demystified?

“The materials are very clear, useful, and give me such a great starting point for so many of the projects I’m working on right now. It will help us to keep up with what is happening in NGSS before Colorado adopts or adapts new standards in the next few years… It’s also helped my understanding of NGSS and will support my ability to articulate the learning dimensions better.”
• Educator in Colorado

NGSS Demystified is a suite of beginner-level activities that introduce the three dimensions and overall structure of the NGSS through hands-on activities and discussion. The website is designed specifically for people who train teachers, including teacher leaders, coaches, and administrators. The straightforward and hands-on activities are organized into four sections:

  • NGSS Unlocked: This section “bookends” the three sections that follow. It includes a brief introductory presentation that shares the basic motivation and structure of the new standards, as well as a concluding presentation that puts all of the pieces together and helps participants read the tables.
  • Exploring the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs): This exploration of the eight practices features a series of hands-on, collaborative activities that help participants build understanding of this dimension of the NGSS and how students might use them to answer questions and solve problems.
  • Considering the Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs): In addition to a short, introductory presentation to help participants understand the reasoning behind the CCCs, this section includes hands-on activities to further explore the seven concepts and how they can be used by teachers and students.
  • Digging into the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs): This section offers slides and collaborative small-group activities to help participants build understanding of how this dimension of the NGSS is structured, and the reasoning behind it.

All activities in these sections of the website are intended to be modular. While the activities do build on each other in a sequence, facilitators can pick and choose activities that fit the needs of their audience. In addition to lesson plans, materials, and slides, there is also a short video summary of each activity that gives an overview of what teachers will do during that activity, why, and toward what learning goals.



Where did these resources come from?

Knowing that California would be adopting the NGSS, the CAS Teacher Professional Development team started learning about the standards and thinking about what teachers would need and want to know about the NGSS starting in the Spring of 2013. The early iterations of these activities were built from A Framework for K-12 Science Education and based on the foundational philosophy of the NGSS. Since those early stages, the NGSS have been released in their entirety, and hundreds of teachers have come through the Academy’s Introduction to the NGSS workshop. Their questions and feedback have provided essential input, leading to the tried-and-true resources on NGSS Demystified.

As districts across the state implement the standards and states across the country continue to adopt them, CAS decided to make these resources more widely available by putting them online. Instead of being an online learning experience, these resources are targeted towards facilitators of professional learning and meant to support them in leading high-quality, in-person learning experiences.

Ultimately, this suite of activities was designed to be engaging, hands-on and fun in order to build positive associations with the NGSS, while acknowledging explicitly that this is a big shift for many teachers. Teachers should emerge from these activities feeling empowered to continue their learning about the NGSS and how it might impact and benefit their own classroom.

Where should I start?

“…The conversations we had around the SEPs was fantastic.  It really helped [my science coaches] to understand the practices and identify them in a classroom. I loved how identifying the practices didn’t truly happen until the last part because it really led the participants to formulate their own definitions of the practices and then compare them to the actual definition provided by the K-12 science framework.” – Bay Area Educator

All of the tools on NGSS Demystified are meant to help facilitators introduce teachers to the basic structure and underlying philosophy of the NGSS. It is important to note that this resource does NOT include lesson plans for teachers to use with students, and it does NOT model three-dimensional, phenomenon-based lessons for teachers. This resource DOES include activities that groups of teachers can do together in order to explore each of the three dimensions of the NGSS more deeply, and build an understanding of how they are used together in the classroom.

With this in mind, these modular resources can be used and emphasized in different ways depending on the group of teachers you’re working with, and your learning goals for that group. You might ask yourself before getting started, “What previous learning experiences have they had, and how much do they already know about the NGSS? What new knowledge do I want them to leave with?” Below are a couple of possible starting points, and ideas of where to begin.

Starting point 1: Introduce the NGSS for the first time. If your audience has had little to no training around the standards, start with the Introduction the NGSS presentation, which is one of the “bookend” activities in NGSS Unlocked. This presentation was designed to answer many of the burning questions teachers have about the standards and to build a strong foundation of why and how the standards are changing, preparing your audience for further learning. If you’re curious about what teachers might take away from this presentation, start by watching this video!

Starting point 2: Build on existing knowledge or correct misconceptions about the NGSS. In this case, you may want to choose one dimension to focus on first. Exploring the Science and Engineering Practices is often a great place to start diving deeper. The activities in this section provide numerous opportunities for teachers to connect what they already do in the classroom to what is being called for in the NGSS, and consider how they might shift existing lessons to guide students toward engaging in one or more SEPs.

No matter your starting point, be sure to address the Performance Expectations (PEs) and Reading the NGSS Tables only after building experience and knowledge in each of the three dimensions. This final section of NGSS Unlocked presents the PEs as statements of what students should be prepared for at the end of instruction and makes more visible the way students can use the three dimensions as tools to build toward these PEs, and science understanding along the way.

The NGSS is a complex system. NGSS Demystified provides tools for breaking down that system for teachers by showing the way the system is put together, and spending time learning about each part of the system deeply. Building this understanding makes the system seem less complex, and can be the first step towards confidence and excitement about these changes in science education!

Clea Matson is Senior Associate of Teacher Professional Development and Instructional Design & Coaching at the California Academy of Sciences and is a member of CSTA.

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:

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. 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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.