April 2015 – Vol. 27 No. 8

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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Update on 2015 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

Posted: Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

by Jessica Sawko

For many months our members have been requesting clear information from the state department of education (CDE) regarding the purpose of the “science CSTs” that are being administered this year in grades 5, 8, and 10 and well as how the test scores from those assessments will be used for accountability purposes. The following was excerpted from a letter from the California Department of Education released on April 22:

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress for Science

As educators from across the state begin or continue to implement the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS), questions have been raised regarding the role of the summative science assessments which students in grades five, eight, and ten will participate in during the spring of 2015.

During the transition to the new science standards and assessments, the federally required science assessments in grades five, eight, and ten (i.e., California Standards Tests, California Modified Assessments, and California Alternate Performance Assessment) will continue to be administered until an assessment aligned to the CA NGSS is developed and approved by the SBE. A new assessment is currently under development and scheduled to be operational in 2018–19.

Because the current science tests are not aligned with the new CA NGSS, the results will not be used in any accountability reports; however, the scores will be publicly available. As in prior years, AYP is based only on ELA and mathematics. Science is not included in AYP calculations.

As reported by CSTA previously, API will not be calculated for the 2014/2015 school year. More information about the suspension, what that means for reporting in 2015/2016, review this letter dated March 17, 2015 that was sent to administrators.

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.

Legislative Action Alert – ESEA/NCLB Reauthorization

Posted: Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

CSTA’s counterparts at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has been actively representing the voice of science teachers in Washington D.C. This morning they sent out this call to action:

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are currently working to reauthorize (rewrite) No Child Left Behind. Please contact your members of Congress immediately, and ask them to make STEM education a national priority. At the Legislative Action Center of the STEM Education Coalition website, you can send a letter to your elected representatives, asking them to

  • Maintain a strong focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
  • Continue the focus on math and science as required elements of any state’s accountability system.
  • Provide states with dedicated funding to support STEM-related activities and teacher training.

It is urgent that educators take a moment to write to your elected officials, and send this message to colleagues and networks in your school or district.

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.

Science Assessment & Accountability Update – FAQs Included

Posted: Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

by Jessica Sawko

On March 31, 2015 participants from the Science Assessment Stakeholder Meetings held in July 2014 were invited to participate in a follow up meeting to provide input on what a formative component, a Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Digital Center, should look like for California. This NGSS Digital Center could include formative assessment tools similar to that of the Smarter Balanced Digital Library for ELA and mathematics. This meeting will take place at the end of April 2015. This is very exciting news as it gives some insight to the direction the state may take with the future statewide assessment system to support the Next Generation Science Standards.  Learn More…

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.

Where Are the Women in STEM? What Can We Do to Support and Retain Them?

Posted: Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

by Laura Henriques

Women are far less likely than men to earn pSTEM (physical Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) degrees or work in the field. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it has gotten a bit of press lately. US News and World Reports had an article highlighting a Clinton Foundation Report showing women in developing countries have less access to cell phones (and therefore the internet) than men. This results in decreased access to health care, fewer job options, a lack of flexibility with work and childcare related issues, and a lowered sense of empowerment. That article linked to several other articles about the lack of diversity in STEM fields in the US, the leaky pipeline and more. Learn More…

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president of CSTA.

Strategies for Assessing Student Understanding in the NGSS Classroom

Posted: Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

by Sara Dozier

Like me, you are probably excited about the opportunities that the Next Generation Science Standards offer students and teachers. For the first time in 17 years, our science standards are asking us to engage our students in science learning that is engaging, meaningful and just plain fun. In addition to our excitement, though, there is also some apprehension. 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.