January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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

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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…

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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.

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…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

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