September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

How Will NGSS Be Held Accountable?

Posted: Friday, March 1st, 2013

by Peter A’Hearn

No fellow teacher, I’m not asking how you will be held accountable for the NGSS. I’m wondering how the NGSS will be held accountable for achieving its goals of improving science education.

Will more students be prepared to work in science and engineering related careers and pass college courses in science and engineering?  Will more kids be excited about science and engineering and choose careers or continuing education in the sciences?

We have been through some big reform movements and we know all about unintended consequences. It wasn’t a goal of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that science, history, and the arts virtually disappear from the curriculum in high-poverty elementary schools (or was it?).  It certainly wasn’t intended that students use school time for “Let’s Do Our Best on the Test” pep rallies. NCLB was built with noble intentions but had no built-in feedback mechanism. Changing it will require an act of Congress and good luck with that.

What I would like to see is for NGSS to provide us with some benchmarks on the path to achieving the vision in the Framework for K-12 Science Education. What should we see and when and how will we know its working? Will NGSS include a process for self-reflection and revision or will it require a totally new set of standards to replace it if goes off the rails?

Proposing a timeline strengthens the NGSS by providing realistic benchmarks for the changes that it anticipates. The Framework acknowledges that developing curriculum and changing classroom practice will take time and will be frustrating.  Providing realistic expectations now, will have the benefit of preventing critics from saying, “You’ve had three years now and no more kids are going into engineering than before! The NGSS have failed and need to be dumped.”

Here are some specific questions that I’d like to see addressed:

  • One of the goals of the Framework is to limit the number of core ideas (i.e. facts) so there is time for students to learn concepts in more depth and engage in science and engineering practice and application. Some, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have questioned if this has been achieved in the draft versions of the NGSS has that have been released thus far, especially at the high school level.  Is there a way to measure if students are more engaged in practices, and if not, is there a way to review and potentially reduce the number of core ideas? When should we start to see the shift in classroom practice?
  • The Framework says that the development of aligned curricula will take time. When can we anticipate well-designed instructional materials that guide teachers in teaching the NGSS? Using the Common Core standards implementation as a guide, we can estimate that for California it will be three or four years (assuming legislative action is taken to allow for that process to take place).
  • When can we expect to see more students pursuing science and engineering degrees in college?
  • Will businesses see that more students are prepared to do work in science and engineering fields? How will this be measured?
  • Are we going to measure how interested kids are in engineering and science? Studies have shown that the more science classes that students take, the less interested they are in science- will NGSS help to reverse that?
  • NGSS is supposed to be accompanied with new kinds of computer-based tests that will measure student’s ability to engage in science practices. What if we find out that instead of actually doing science, kids are just sitting in front of computers practicing taking the tests?

Science teachers have high hopes for the NGSS, but experience tells us to be wary of unintended consequences.  What would you like to hold NGSS accountable for?

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

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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.

Is This a First: Young Female Teens Propose California Water Conservation Legislation?

Posted: Monday, August 28th, 2017

Meet the La Habra Water Guardians from the Optics of their Teacher Moderator, Dr. P.

by Susan M. Pritchard, Ph.D.

You have just won the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge as one of four First Place Winners in the Middle School Category across the nation! Now, what are you going to do … go to Disneyland? No, not for four of the six La Habra Water Guardians, Disneyland is not in their future at this time. Although I think they would love a trip to Disneyland, (are you listening Mickey Mouse?), at this moment they are focused big time on one major thing … celebrating the passage of their proposed legislation: Assembly Bill 1343 Go Low Flow Water Conservation Partnership Bill and now promoting the enactment of this legislation. Learn More…

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