September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.

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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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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