September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

High School Questions About NGSS – A Statewide Conversation

Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Christie Pearce and Marian Murphy-Shaw

The California Science Teacher’s Association is made up of a wide range of individuals and institutions passionate about promoting and supporting science teachers and high quality resources for science education at all levels. It is well known that TK-12 teachers are CSTA members, you may also know that local science centers are members, along with private and Community College, CSU and UC faculty, but did you know that many of your local County Offices of Education have staff who are members?

In this collaboratively composed article, two county office of education colleagues, from opposite ends of the state have combined forces to connect California science teachers with one more resource; your local county office, or county department, of education. While CSTA has 4 identified regions in CA, the 58 counties are part of an 11-region public education system. At these offices your county STEM or Science Coordinators, Educational Services Directors, Curriculum Specialists, Grant Directors and more often serve in multiple roles, many working directly with teachers, TOSA’s, coaches, principals and science education partnerships. Across the 11 regions these “county folks” collaborate, share resources and work directly on projects such as the CA NGSS Rollouts with statewide entities such as the California Department of Education, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee (CISC), CA Science Project, and West Ed’s K-12 Alliance. (A listing of key science contacts at each of these entities has been compiled by Anthony Quan at the Los Angeles County Office of Education and is available here.)

Questions about what high schools can and should be doing with NGSS seem to be ever increasing- both in number and complexity. CSTA asked if we could compile what the counties are hearing, both the questions and the answers. We started by connecting with our colleagues across the state and asking what questions and concerns they hear most often. If it makes our high school teachers feel any better, you are certainly not alone in wondering about NGSS. Below we have compiled questions and responses. We have tried to replicate the best information we have on hand as of this writing, but also acknowledge that the most important thing to remember is that all of this is still a work in progress. The UC has not finished updating “a-g,” CA science credentialing is being revised, NGSS “content” in 9-12 will look different over time, but that is not going happen in all CA high schools for several years at least.

County offices have a network of resources and can point to the authority when we do not have the answer ourselves as we have done below. We also encourage the use of the free Digital Chalkboard CA NGSS Rollout materials, especially the High School and Administrator sessions, for use as local professional learning about NGSS.

NGSS and UC a-g

Question: Will the UC’s be updating their “d” criteria to meet the new NGSS models?

Answer: High school advising and teaching staff who have experience with, and contacts for, submission of “a-g” courses are the most reliable source for local answers to these questions. UCOP has indicated they will not have the “a-g” process updated fully for NGSS prior to 2017-18.

The UC also offers help online: In an interview with Addison Peterson at UC,, we learned that UC is encouraging high schools to submit courses aligned to NGSS and encourages use of the “d” webpage above to meet the most essential criteria of “providing fundamental knowledge in Biology, Chemistry, Physics.” He also noted that as of spring 2016 a sample “d” Earth Science course has been added to the a-g searchable courses. He also wanted to remind high schools that UC would much rather answer questions and work with high schools as courses are being prepared, before they are submitted rather than after, to help make the process more successful. Use the UC a-g Course Management Portal to find search for other recently approved NGSS aligned courses.

Over the last two years UC has been working to align to NGSS. In spring 2015 the academic senate was working on the following, “…a faculty work group revised the area “d” course criteria to reference the NGSS standards, and some are now urging BOARS (Board of Admissions & Relations with Schools) to revise the area “d” subject requirement itself to align with the NGSS. A central question is whether area “d” will continue to identify the three core laboratory science disciplines as Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, or change to reflect the four core NGSS categories—Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences, and Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science—and broaden the scope beyond only “laboratory sciences.”

Remember this work is still underway – high schools can work directly with UCOP and determine the pace at which they will resubmit courses. There is no deadline at this time as the “new” NGSS courses are still being developed. Local district timelines for course revisions vary. Use the UC site to review their annual timeline.

Many high schools are maintaining the same “content” of an approved course but developing lessons, labs, etc. in small sections to shift instruction to NGSS 3-Dimensional learning, especially incorporating the Science and Engineering Practices. This will take time and ongoing professional learning especially in smaller schools or those not supported by an MSP, Science Project, or other similar projects. Keep in mind that your communities need time to learn about NGSS too and how it will serve their children.

Resources for 3 Dimensional Science

Question: Is there a place that teachers can get a list of natural phenomena for specific content areas?

Answer: Phenomena for is a curated collection of phenomena for the NGSS, along with help for how to use phenomena in 3 Dimensional teaching and learning. A new resource now being developed by the San Diego COE called #ProjectPhenomena is also available (

Question: Are there additional resources beyond the framework that show how Crosscutting Concepts (CCC) connect to lessons/units?

Answer: The NGSS Rollout Phase 2 Crosscutting Concepts session is a great resource and is free on Digital Chalkboard. It makes use of Crosscut Weebly with teacher-developed ideas Project-based Learning resources are also where you can see big overarching lesson ideas. Edutopia and the Buck Institute are a few.

Question: Where can we find more engineering activities/projects that connect directly to NGSS?

Answer: There is a lot out there. Directly connected to NGSS – meaning someone has had time to do that – not so much yet, but increasing. Keep in mind NGSS is newer to other states than it is to us here in CA. Engineering is Elementary, as an example, though for younger grades, models the use of the engineering design process embedded in science class. The key with engineering is that that it becomes part of the K-12 science curriculum, not stand alone events, electives or challenges. This too takes time and requires weaving in the engineering Practices (SEP) and the engineering Core Ideas (DCI) as part of the units you teach and develop. Staying in touch with CSTA, CA Classroom Science and other connections with colleagues is how you find more.

Question: Is there a place that teachers can get lesson and unit ideas or models aligned to NGSS?

Answer: Lots of places to look – but be a critical consumer – remember we are ALL novices at NGSS still so what has a label may not be a final product, but rather a step in the ongoing learning we are all doing!


Questions: Are there assessment questions/ performance tasks, etc.? When will we be assessed on NGSS?


  • Working with other teachers is always a good practice when it comes to assessment – especially if your school or district is learning what NGSS can “look” like. CDE will be posting more of the work from the CA MSP Grants on Digital Chalkboard. The PALS website contains science performance tasks –
  • The State Board of Education has moved ahead with a newly designed science assessment. It is being carefully developed with solid research base and public oversight thanks to CSTA.
  • Writing is currently underway, a pilot is expected in the spring of 2017 with an operational test by spring 2019.
  • To keep up to date: CDE FAQ:
  • The NGSS Rollout Phase 3 feature a session on Assessment.
  • Your county offices are part of the CISC (Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee) community. This committee disperses updates about frameworks, assessments and other statewide work to every county.
  • You also have CSTA as your state teachers association monthly publication CA Classroom Science. Members also get critical updates by email.


Question: What are the credentialing implications of NGSS for currently assigned teachers?

Answer: In CA there are multiple factors that weigh into a teacher’s credentialing; from the year credentialed to the funding formula used at the district of employment. For this reason the most accurate answer will always be based upon an individual’s assignment.

The CSTA NGSS Credentialing webpage has the most currently available general information visible for CA teachers. This provides a good place to start looking for answers.

Question: What are the implications for credentials in pipeline for Earth or Physical sciences?

Answer: Getting up to date numbers from the many teacher preparation programs in CA would be necessary before responding to this question. High school districts should start now looking at their longer term plans for course sequences, staffing, and recruitment. These processes take multiple years and require all stakeholders to be part of the planning.

Course Models

Questions: What are the benefits of choosing the 3-year versus 4-year models? Isn’t the 4-year model similar to what we are already doing now? If Ed Code only requires 2 years of science to graduate, why do we need to offer 3 or 4 years? There’s no legal reason to require 3 or 4 years, correct?

Answer: The contrast in these questions speaks volumes. The teachers accustomed to having a 4-year program are wondering what would change, and those who still provide the “minimum” 2-years wonder why 3-4 years would be expected.

Consider attending the August events about High School 3 Course Model:

  • San Joaquin COE: August 15
  • Alameda COE: August 16
  • Southern California events are anticipated later in the fall

Equity is what it comes down to. Students get varying experience with science depending on where they go to school. The NGSS set Performance Expectations based on a comprehensive science program that provides each student with sufficient science to be career, college, and citizen-ready. The NGSS were not designed to “fit” Ed Code, but to provide equitable learning. Two years appears to be insufficient time in which to accomplish that.

The CA Ed Code sets a minimum – a basement if you will – to build a high school program upon that meets the requirements for a CA diploma.

California Education Code (EC) 51225.3 has specified a minimum set of courses to meet state requirements to graduate from high school and receive a diploma. The governing boards of local education agencies (LEAs) have the authority to supplement the state minimum requirements at the local level.

Question: When should teachers re-write their course descriptions and sequences?

Answer: A good starting place for transition to NGSS courses is to look at the new DRAFT – available starting June 28 at (until fall 2016) CA Science Framework chapters about the course models. While not yet adopted by the CA SBE the draft gives high schools an idea of how NGSS may play out in course sequences. There is no deadline for this, CDE recognizes that transition to NGSS is a process, not an on/off switch.


Question: What resources are available to help teachers brainstorm the resources and support that will be most helpful in implementation so that they can petition the school and district to include these in the LCAP language?

Answer: This page has a list of tools for LCAP work

The Model LCAP Content has text you can use to come up with your own focus statements:

CSTA has also published a few articles that may be of help:

Hopefully these links, updates and ideas help in the work toward NGSS implementation. Many thanks go to the many individuals from CA county office who contributed resources and suggestions they make use of locally, and have now shared here.

Finally, remember we all need to give ourselves time to be novices again as we learn together and share our experiences doing this work. The County Offices are one of the many partners CA science teachers have to collaborate with, and now you have links to many more.

As you, and your colleagues, find more sources that are of a help to you please share them at some of the CSTA CA Science Teacher Facebook pages:

Christie Pearce is the Science Coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education. Marian Murphy-Shaw is the Educational Services Director, Siskiyou County Office of Education, and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director. Both are members of CSTA.

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

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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.