May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Navigating the NGSS Change Process: Understanding the How, What, and Why

Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016

by John Spiegel

Change is difficult. It requires significant shifts in thinking as we seek to understand what is changing and how we are supposed to implement those changes. Change can also be deeply emotional. It asks us to rethink the fundamental purposes and rationale for what we do, how we do it, and also why we do it. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) introduce a vision for science education that shifts the way students experience and learn science and engineering. It also places significant demands on teachers to rethink how they plan, teach, and assess in the classroom. Educators respond to these changes with a variety of emotions, which must be considered as part of the NGSS implementation process.

Over the past several years, I have introduced NGSS to thousands of teachers and hundreds of administrators. During that time I have attempted to help them understand what NGSS is and how to implement the Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas into planning, instruction, and assessment. This work has sought to answer the questions of what and how described below.

‘What’ Questions

  • What are the NGSS?
  • What are the changes NGSS brings?
  • What are the dimensions of NGSS?
  • What is three-dimensional learning?

‘How’ Questions

  • How will NGSS affect how I plan, assess, and teach?
  • How do I teach with the three dimensions of NGSS in mind?
  • How do students learn in a three-dimensional classroom?

Recently I have come to realize that focusing only on the what and how is insufficient in supporting educators as they move through the NGSS change process. As I meet with and listen to teachers, I notice they respond to the new standards in a variety of ways, ranging from excitement and enthusiasm on one extreme to dread and negativity on the other. I observe teachers who soak up new information like a thirsty sponge while others fold their arms and shut down. The difference between these extremes comes down to having a personal understanding of why it all matters in the first place. Answering questions of why are as important as questions of what and how.

‘Why’ Questions

  • Why is important for me to implement NGSS?
  • Why should students in my classroom experience science differently?
  • Why should I do things differently?
  • Why does three dimensional teaching and learning matter?

A review of NGSS literature, including the Framework for K-12 Science Education1, the NGSS Appendices2, and the California Science Framework3, provide insights into these why questions. Answers are not just external knowledge, meaning we can outwardly say the right things in conversations with peers or administrators. They are more internal ideas and reflections that drive how we feel and what we believe about science teaching and learning. Our responses to the why questions ultimately shape what we do in the classroom. They also affect what we believe about the challenges and opportunities in science education, including student access and equity.

The connection, or disconnection, between what we know and believe is an important aspect of the change process and affects teachers willingness and readiness to implement the NGSS4. A teacher who knows how the Science and Engineering Practices support language development and also believes all students, including English learners, can participate fully in scientific processes will seek ways to scaffold instruction accordingly. Conversely, a teacher who knows that three dimensional learning is important but does not believe it will improve student performance on statewide assessments will struggle to implement NGSS in their classroom.

Figure 1 below describes the connection between questions of what, how, and why (shown in purple) and key emotions teachers often feel as they build their capacity to implement NGSS (shown in red). When educators can answer questions of what, how, and why, they feel empowered to change and take action. They are the ones who advocate for their needs, including time to collaborate, plan, and build capacity of themselves and others in their school or district. Empowered teachers recognize the importance of deepening understanding of NGSS and are willing to struggle and learn as they begin implementing three-dimensional lessons in their classroom.

Figure 1 Image Source: J. Spiegel personal collection

Figure 1
Image Source: J. Spiegel personal collection

If teachers can only answer questions of what and how, but do not clearly understand why, they might feel resistance to change. This is often felt in the individual who is asked to do things differently in their classroom and is being shown how, but does not yet understand why they need to do it and why the extra effort is worth it.

If teachers can only answer questions of what and why, but do not know how to do it, they often feel frustration. An example of this is an educator who understands what NGSS is and knows why it is important for students, but does not know how to plan lessons or instruction aligned to performance expectations and the three dimensions.

Finally, if teachers can only answer questions of why and how, but not what, they sometimes feel incapable of implementing the change. This might be the person who knows why they need to change the way students experience science and have been given three-dimensional lessons, but does not have sufficient knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices or Crosscutting Concepts to implement that lesson.

As educators continue to navigate the NGSS change process, it is important for them to take the time to reflect on their own understanding of questions of how, what, and why. One goal of professional learning should be to help empower teachers and administrators as they move from awareness to implementation of NGSS. The road ahead is not easy. Change is difficult. The reward is a generation of children who have an appreciation for and a love of science.

For more help, feel free to contact Kirk Brown, director of STEM at the San Joaquin County Office of Education at, Maria Simani from the California Science Project at, or Kathy DiRanna, WestEd’s K-12 Alliance Statewide Director, at The CSTA NGSS page is also a wonderful resource, and can be located at

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Chelsea Cochrane (San Diego County Office of Education) and Jennifer McCluan (San Diego Unified School District) for their insights and feedback in developing this article.

John Spiegel is a Science Coordinator at the San Diego County Office of Education. He is available by email at and can be followed on Twitter at @sdngss.


1 The Framework for K-12 Science Education is available at

2 The NGSS Appendices can be found at

3 The CA Science Framework is available at

4 The Relationship between Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs about Science and Inquiry and Their Classroom Practices (2012). Taken from

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.