September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

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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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.