September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Update

Posted: Friday, June 1st, 2012

The first public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was released for review on Friday, May 14th. The review period for this draft closed at the end of the day on June 1st. If you did not have an opportunity to review the standards during this first round, CSTA strongly encourages you to participate in the second round of public reviews, anticipated for late fall of this year. Information about the draft standards can be found at  A copy of the May draft of the standards is available for download from the CSTA website. If your time is limited, you might consider reviewing only a portion of the standards in your area of expertise. What ever route you choose, your comments are important to the continued development of the standards in a form and structure that will guide science instruction for years to come.

Throughout the review period, CSTA members and staff have presented, attended, and supported informational and group review meetings throughout the State. We have listed the time and location of many of these meetings on the CSTA website. If you did participate, we would love to have your general comments in the response section at the bottom of this article. In addition, many of the CSTA members and workshop facilitators will share their recollections of the review process and the NGSS as a way for CSTA to prepare for future reviews. If you did not have a chance to participate in a review, please watch CCS for information about the second public review period in the fall.

Once we have a better sense of your feelings about the NGSS the 2012 Conference Planning Committee will assemble targeted workshops and information sessions for the San Jose California Science Education Conference to be held October 19-21, 2012.

CSTA has not yet taken a formal position in support or against the NGSS or the Conceptual Framework. What we do support are the philosophies and practices included in the NGSS.  The concepts of depth vs. breadth, problem solving and critical thinking, and the scientific practices associated with the NGSS represent a significant change in the current science education landscape and one that CSTA has advocated for many years.  CSTA does support your opportunity to participate in this critical review process and encourages you to be an active participant in this process. As you have more opportunities to participate in in-service trainings, review sessions, and implementation discussions, please feel free (and encouraged) to share your thoughts and ideas with your Board members.  As we move through the summer and the fall, CCS will have additional articles and updates about the NGSS. Each of these articles will include a comment section where you can share your thoughts with the Board and your fellow science teachers.

CSTA would like your feedback. We are hosting an online discussion forum where CSTA members can post their comments, feedback, and interact with one another. This forum is available for CSTA members only and you must log-in to the CSTA website in order to participate. CSTA will use your discussions and posts to glean information about our members thoughts and opinions on the NGSS. Please click here to log-in. After you log-in, you will see a link on the upper left for “NGSS on-line forum (members only)”.

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.

One Response

  1. Many science educators are putting high hopes on the Next Generation Science Standards and are rooting hard for them to succeed. We want a chance to get our students doing more and memorizing less and we look forward to helping our students to see the crosscutting concepts that connect the sciences and connect science with other disciplines.

    But this does not mean that we should be uncritical during the opportunities we have to review. Giving tough, focused, and constructive input is the best way to ensure that our students get the standards that they deserve. As I look at the first draft of the standards I see much room for improvement and have many questions. Some suggestions for the writers and some places for teachers to look deeply:

    Language- In a response to my last post, Scott Hays asked why the crosscutting concepts had to be presented in such kid unfriendly language. Remember that in many schools teachers are required to post standards on the board and expected to refer to them directly several times each lesson. In looking over the standards, I agree and think the language used is unfriendly not to just kids, but to everyone. As it says in the AAAs’s Project 2061 Science For All Americans, “Understanding rather than vocabulary should be the main purpose of science teaching.” The writers of the NGSS seem to have trapped themselves in some tortured patterns of writing instead of writing for clarity and simplicity. This mostly seems to stem from the attempt to force a scientific practice and a cross cutting concept or two into every sentence. Here is an example from first grade:

    “Obtain information and communicate that there are tools that allow people to see more objects in the sky and in greater detail. (Clarification statement: Information can be obtained using telescopes, binoculars, or reliable media. For example, as a result of these tools, we can see more stars and study the Moon in greater detail)

    And at the other end, from high school:

    Construct an explanation of how photovoltaic materials work using the particle model of light, and describe their application in everyday devices. (Clarification statement: Everyday devices include solar cells and barcodes.) (Assessment Boundary: Qualitative descriptors only)

    It’s pretty much all in this gibberish committee speak style. I appreciate that the writers are trying hard to show that what we know should not be separated from how we know it. But we don’t have to cram practices, crosscutting concepts and core ideas into a single sentence at the expense of clarity.

    An attempt to simplify:

    For the first grade astronomy standard;

    People use tools like telescopes and binoculars to see things in the sky like the stars, planets, and the Moon. Students should do research to learn about them and communicate what they learn.

    For the high school physics standard:

    The particle model of light helps explain how everyday photovoltaic materials like solar cells and barcodes work. Students should be able to make qualitative explanations about how they work based on scientific models of the nature of light

    It might be easier to slightly decouple the practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Maybe for each standard set (I’m thinking of them as units) state the science concepts, list the practices that best fit that unit with an explanation of how they can be applied, and highlight the crosscutting concepts that are most evident in that unit. This seems easier than trying to fit it all into each convoluted sentence,

    All Students- These standards are written to be expectations for all students. “All Standards, All Students” is the heading of the chapter on equity. Severely cognitively challenged and emotionally disturbed, just got to this country with no formal schooling where they came from, growing up in extreme poverty with constant dislocation, growing up in conditions of abuse and neglect, or went a low performing elementary school where science wasn’t taught because it isn’t tested. All Students.

    So from one point of view, standards are supposed to be aspirations, “Aim high because you only hit what you aim for” and all that. Which I have no problem with. Its good to set high expectations and try to achieve them as long as they are anchored in reality. But we teachers have been living with standards enough to know that standards, in the hands of politicians and the media, turn into weapons. These standards are clearly more rigorous than our current California standards, which we are constantly reminded that not enough of our students are proficient in. So what happens when testing reveals that not enough of our students are proficient in the Next Generation Science Standards? (Which it will) Will the punching bags be the politicians who set policy and direct funding? Don’t bet on it. As Tony Soprano said, “#$%& rolls down hill.” The blame will rest with you my fellow science teacher, and pity you if you work in a school with high poverty or many recent immigrants.

    Grade level appropriate? – I’m out of my depth on this one since I’m not current with the latest research, but I remember lots of talk that the California standards were not developmentally appropriate, and these seem to introduce harder more abstract ideas at earlier grades. I notice this especially in the Earth Science strand. I know that middle school kids have a hard time distinguishing models from the real thing, and there is lots of model based thinking in middle school. I’m interested in hearing someone with a strong understanding of the research explaining the basis of some of the decisions.

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. 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.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

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.