July 2015 – Vol. 27 No. 11

NGSS and the Primary Classroom

Posted: Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

by Michelle French

Since the public reviews of the Next Generation Science Standards have come to a close, like many primary teachers, I’ve been wondering what science will look like in kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms. When I reviewed NGSS, its three dimensions were initially overwhelming to me. Then I took a deep breath… reread the document… and realized that the blending of NGSS’s three dimensions: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts, actually created an environment for young students to not only know science content, but know how to act, think, and reason scientifically.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw just how many of the concepts from the three dimensions my students and I were already exploring in my life science learning sequence. The sequence actually began many months before formal instruction began: my first grade students and I made frequent observations about the changes in the artichoke plant growing in the garden in front of our classroom. The standards students would be exploring were the current first grade standards: LS: 2a, 2b, 2e and IE: 4a-b. (CA State Science Standards for First Grade)

To organize the new learning sequence, I used the “5E” lesson design from K-12 Alliance. The 5E design consists of: Engage, Explore, Explain, Evaluate, and Extend. I have attached a shortened version on the lesson sequence. The attachment shows the “Engage” and “Explore” sections. In the Explore section, you will only see Day 5 in explicit detail. Know that the other four days followed a similar plan and addressed different structures. By mapping out the learning sequence, I was able to identify opportunities to highlight the NGSS Crosscutting Concept of “Structure and Function” repeatedly (see photo 5).

By the time we officially begin our learning sequence; my students had already developed many authentic questions about the artichoke plant. Students were encouraged to ask questions, and I recorded them on chart paper (see photo 1) that was left hanging on the wall throughout the learning sequence. Many student questions guided the inquiry process and we frequently referred back to them. This part of the learning sequence could be the NGSS equivalent in the Science and Engineering Practice dimension as “Asking Questions and Defining Problems.”

As we later began the “Engage” section, students drew upon their prior knowledge about living things, with plants in particular (see photo 2). This tied in with the NGSS Science and Engineering Practice, “Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions,” which specifically states, “…solutions in K-2 builds on prior experiences and progresses to the use of evidence or ideas in constructing explanations….” It is imperative that students surface not only their accurate evidence and ideas, but also their misconceptions at the beginning of the learning sequence. This information needs to be explicitly recognized in order to allow students to connect and reconcile their new conceptual understandings of content with their previous understanding.

As we moved through the learning sequence, students used other components of the Science and Engineering dimension. For example, “Developing and Using Models” encourages students to record their knowledge in various ways (see photo 4). Throughout this sequence, students made diagrams and drawings that demonstrated the relationship between the plant’s structures and their functions. Additionally, “Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information” calls for students to read “grade appropriate texts.” This is part of the Explore section that I did not include in the plan itself. After the Explore section was completed, we turned to our adopted consumable science textbook. It was then that students could compare and contrast what they had learned in their direct observations and experiences with the information from the textbook and they could relate their understandings directly to the textbook. This process gave validity to what they experienced first-hand.

Not only do the NGSS allow us to rethink what we are doing specifically in science, they make direct connections to Common Core State Standards in both language arts and mathematics. As we teach science, we will be able to provide real, authentic reasons for listening, speaking, reading, writing and engaging in mathematical thinking. Common Core and NGSS have a beautiful synergy. It is time to stop teaching factoids and begin teaching for deeper, more meaningful understandings of content. The primary grades have an awesome responsibility of setting the foundation for this synergistic type of teaching and learning.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that many of the practices my students and I were engaging in are explicitly explored and refined in NGSS. I hope that this 5E learning sequence has highlighted some of the NGSS components for you. This lesson is just a beginning for me, and I hope that when our new science standards are adopted, primary teachers come to embrace the wonderful opportunities they provide for our young students.

Please, visit the NGSS website: http://www.nextgenscience.org/ for more information. Many of the supporting documents are still available to review even though the main document has been removed for revision. The NGSS final draft will soon be available for us. I encourage all primary teachers to have a voice and comment on the final document.

Photo 1: Engage:  Student’s Authentic Questions

Photo 1 – Engage: Student’s Authentic Questions

Photo 2 – Engage:  Accessing Students’ Prior Knowledge

Photo 2 – Engage: Accessing Students’ Prior Knowledge

Photo 3 – Explore:  Classroom artichoke sample

Photo 3 – Explore: Classroom artichoke sample

Photo 4 – Explore:  Classroom garden artichoke

Photo 4 – Explore: Classroom garden artichoke

Photo 5 - Highlighting the NGSS Crosscutting Concept of “Structure and Function”

Photo 5 – Highlighting the NGSS Crosscutting Concept of “Structure and Function”

Written by Michelle French

Michelle French is a STEM Curriculum Specialist at the Tulare County Office of Education, was CSTA’s primary director (2011-2013), and is a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. Awesome stuff Michelle!

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S.F. Bay Area Science Events for July 2015

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Minda Berbeco

Free Entry Days at:

Bay Area Discovery Museum, First Wednesday of the month
UC Botanical Gardens, First Wednesday and Thursday of the month
Oakland Museum of California, First Sunday of the month
CuriOdyssey, July 8th

Super-cool Science Parties and Lectures:

Nerd Nite East Bay, Last Monday of the month
Nerd Nite San Francisco, Third Wednesday of the month
Night Life, Thursdays, 6-10 pm, at the California Academy of Sciences
After Dark, First Thursday of the month, 6-10 pm, at the Exploratorium
Café Inquiry, Firth Thursday of the month, 6pm, at Café Borrone, Menlo Park

Learn More…

Written by Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education and is CSTA’s Region 2 Director.

Better Together – California Teachers to Convene Across the State on July 31st

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Mei Louie

Across the state, California teachers are driving innovation in the classroom and shaping our students’ futures. To support their critical work, a coalition of California colleges and universities is inviting teachers to unite on Friday, July 31, 2015 to build powerful networks, share successful classroom practices and access effective resources to implement state standards.

Thirty-three California campuses are opening their spaces and inviting an estimate of 20,000 teachers to participate in a one-day event. Teachers will have a unique opportunity to hear about proven best practices from nationally renowned speakers, fellow teachers, and leaders in education. The free convening will be led by teachers, for teachers, and will help towards building a powerful lasting network of peers. This is a chance for teachers to come together to collaborate in hope of creating a better future for California students. Teachers will walk away with concrete tools to immediately use in their classrooms to implement the California Standards including the Common Core. 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.

The Practice of Teaching Science

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Lisa Hegdahl

About 10 years ago, at an after school meeting, our presenter posed the question, “Why did you become a science teacher?” Each of my colleagues gave answers such as, “I wanted to affect the future”, “I loved working with children”, and “I wanted to stay young”. As it came closer for my turn to share, I was in a panic. The truth was, I became a science teacher as a way to get out of a dead end job that had long hours and paid next to nothing.

I have often thought about that day and about the noble motives for entering our profession expressed by my colleagues. Perhaps only those of us who truly have some kind of selfless calling should endeavor to be science teachers.   My reflections led me, however, to the conclusion that it is not important how people answer the question, “Why did you become a science teacher?” but how they answer the question, “Why do you continue teaching science?” I continue teaching science because I love it. Learn More…

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for CSTA.

Making the Leap from the Classroom to TOSA

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Kirsten Franklin

After 25 years as an elementary teacher, I decided to take the leap two years ago to become a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) to support K-12 teachers in my district in science and the common core state standards.  There is no specific handbook for doing this, but luckily, there have been great local and state resources to help. I have relied mainly on the trainings and guidance received from BaySci, a San Francisco Bay Area Science Consortium headed up by the Lawrence Hall of Science that my district has been part of since 2008. Membership in CSTA and NSTA, Twitter, reading the NRC Science Framework and the NGSS performance expectations over and over have also helped me to build understanding and confidence in the content and pedagogical shifts. Wrapping one’s head around the NGSS definitely takes time and multiple exposures! 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.

What Does It Take to Get Kids Outdoors?

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Lori Merritt

Our environment faces many challenges. Human behavior has greatly contributed to these negative changes. Children will be inheriting a world with many environmental problems and need to be prepared to face them. In order for children to care about the environment and have positive environmental behavior they first need to have experiences outside in natural environments (Chawla & Cushing, 2007; Handler & Ebstein, 2010). Unfortunately, children are spending less time in nature, making them less connected to their natural environment. In Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, nature-deficit disorder is described as “the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses” (p.36). In order for our students to be healthy, and environmentally proactive members of society we need to lead them outdoors. 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.