January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

NGSS – Early Attempts and Later Reflections from an Early Implementer Teacher

Posted: Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

by Christa Dunkel

  • There are so many acronyms! Where do I start?
  • What “baby step” should I take first? 
  • How can I make this happen in my elementary classroom?

All of these thoughts and more swam through my head over three years ago when I began my journey into NGSS. I was fresh from a week-long institute with the K-12 Alliance as part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. Much of the week was spent on digging into the NGSS architecture – how the standards are set-up, how to read the standards, what each of the three dimensions meant. Now that I knew how to read them, I needed to figure out how to implement them into my classroom of 24 eight-year-olds. With some guidance from the K-12 Alliance leaders and my own district-level NGSS team, I began the process with some easy “baby steps.”


One of the easiest Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) for me to start with was Developing and Using Models. Using my old curriculum, I adapted lessons so the learners were including modeling into what we were already doing. In third grade, our old curriculum had a heavy focus on biomes. Instead of simply reading about the biomes, the learners created models of each biome. This included showing the interactions amongst the organisms residing in each one. Since then, I’ve realized the importance of revising models. If I were to do it again, I would begin the unit by having learners create an initial model to show what they think the interactions amongst organisms might be. This would allow me to tap into the learner’s prior knowledge of the topic. Later, after doing some investigations and reading, the learners would go back to revise their model. I have found it useful for learners to use a different color to show revisions. It helps them see their own learning as the unit progresses.

Collaborative Conversations

I recently heard a colleague share a sentiment from an engineer: teach teamwork. What better way to start with the idea of teamwork than with collaborative conversations? Since we were already required to teach collaborative conversations as part of the Common Core State Standards, it made sense to make that one of my beginning steps. It also seemed to be a natural starting place for beginning to implement the SEP of Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information. Many of my learners were already familiar with collaborative conversations in math and language arts. We transferred many of the same skills over to science, including being an active listener, waiting your turn to talk, and responding to the other person’s thought before expressing your own idea. To help learners transfer their skills to science, I provided them with sentence stems, using an adaptation of a “Think Like a Scientist” placemat shared by the Oakland Unified School District, another district participating in the Early Implementer Initiative. Last year I developed my learners’ skills even further by working with constructive feedback regarding their modeling. Learners practiced explaining their models using scientific language. Their partners were responsible for sharing one part of their partner’s model that they thought showed the science well, and one part that they felt could be improved with an explanation as to why. At first, many learners used a very broad statement as to what was done well and what they could improve. However, by the end of the year, they were questioning each other for clarification and giving specific examples for improvement.

Crosscutting Concepts


During one of our early trainings, the CrossCutSymbols created by Peter A’Hearn were introduced to the Early Implementers as a resource for Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs). Being a visual learner myself, I latched onto these symbols. It was a perfect way to make connections to the crosscutting concepts in my classroom. I hung each of the seven posters up in my classroom. Then, as one became apparent in our learning, I could refer to the relevant symbol. Soon enough, the learners started making their own connections to the CCCs and referring to the symbol themselves. A few of them even utilized them in other disciplines. I’ll never forget the little boy who pointed to the cause and effect symbol during our literacy lesson. By using the crosscutting symbols mentioned above, I started to get more familiar with the CCCs myself. It became easier to add questioning into my lessons to ensure that my prompts led us towards the CCC that best matched our content. In the force unit that I helped to create with my district NGSS team, we were trying to get learners to see that there are patterns in motion so that they can later predict motion (3-PS2.A). We utilized the following question to do so: “How is this activity similar to Explore #1 or Explore #2? How is it different?” Even though “pattern” is never directly called out in the question, they actively engage in finding patterns as they observe the similarities and differences between the investigations.

Prompts and Questions

As I mentioned above, my use of the CrossCutSymbols helped me to increase my own understanding of the CCCs. It became very apparent that refining my questioning and prompting skills was the next step for me to take in my NGSS journey. Over the last few years, largely through a TLC Lesson Study process with K-12 Alliance, I’ve come to realize just how critical questioning can be in an NGSS lesson. Phrasing a question just the right way can lead to a rich scientific discussion. At the beginning, my questions were rarely of that caliber. In fact, many were just some simple twists to the prompts provided by our old curriculum. There were many times I would think of a better way to phrase a question after a lesson, and I would write it down for reference the following year. As time went on, my questioning became more strategic. Now I know that when there is a specific SEP or CCC I wish to bring out, I do so through fashioning my questions and prompts to draw those ideas from learners. For example, in the force unit our district NGSS team created, we utilized the following question: “Can you think of a way scientists would show the effect of a learner pushing on the desk?” Before, I may have simply prompted them to draw what happened to the desk. However, this easy change in the question gets the learners thinking about the cause and effect relationship (CCC) of the learner and the desk. It also gets them thinking about how to develop a model (SEP) in a way that shows the scientific cause and effect relationship.

Three years ago, I was a very overwhelmed third-grade teacher who began with the simplest of instructions – take a baby step. So, that is exactly what I did. Taking one baby step at a time led me to a greater understanding of how to improve my classroom science practices. After three years of trials and tribulations, when I now see the eyes of my learners light up every time I mention that it is science time, I realize that it has been worth it. What will your baby step be?

Christa Dunkel is a third-grade teacher at Vernon E. Greer Elementary School, a Core Lead Teacher in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative for Galt Joint Union Elementary School District, and a member of CSTA.

Email: cdunkel@galt.k12.ca.us

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

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California Science Test Academy for Educators

Posted: Thursday, February 15th, 2018

California Science Test Academy for Educators

To support implementation of the California Science Test (CAST), the California Department of Education is partnering with Educational Testing Service and WestEd to offer a one-day CAST Academy for local educational agency (LEA) science educators, to be presented at three locations in California from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. As an alternative to traveling, LEA teams can participate virtually via WebEx on one of the dates listed below.

The dates and locations for the CAST Academy are as follows:

  • Monday, April 23, 2018—Sacramento
  • Wednesday, April 25, 2018—Fresno
  • Thursday, April 26, 2018—Irvine

The CAST Academy will help participants develop a deeper understanding of the assessment design and expectations of the CAST. The academy also will provide information and activities designed to assist educators in their implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional learning to help them gain an understanding of how these new science assessment item types can inform teaching and learning. The CAST Academy dates above are intended for school and district science instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, teacher trainers, and instructional coaches. Additional trainings will be offered at a later date specifically for county staff. In addition, curriculum, professional development, and assessment leaders would benefit from this training.

A $100 registration fee will be charged for each person attending the in-person training. Each virtual team participating via WebEx will be charged $100 for up to 10 participants through one access point. Each workshop will have the capacity to accommodate a maximum of 50 virtual teams. Each virtual team will need to designate a lead, who is responsible for organizing the group locally. Registration and payment must be completed online at http://www.cvent.com/d/6tqg8k.

For more information regarding the CAST Academy, please contact Elizabeth Dilke, Program Coordinator, Educational Testing Service, by phone at 916-403-2407 or by e‑mail at caasppworkshops@ets.org.

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.

Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

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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.