NGSS for Middle Grades: Tips for Implementation – Step 1, Don’t Rush
Posted: Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
by Jill Grace and Marian Murphy-Shaw
Since April 2013 when the national version of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) went public, California has been working at a steady pace to move from lead contributing state to active implementation. CSTA members and other readers of California Classroom Science may be the best informed educators in the state on NGSS at this time. This article is intended to aid middle grade teachers in communicating up-to-date information to your colleagues in science education and the educational leaders you work with.
The number one point which science education leaders, the California Department of Education (CDE), professional learning providers, and the NGSS Achieve group are all making is not to rush, there is no hurry, that 2016-17 is the probable target for full implementation. As with Common Core implementation, a sequence of events, resource preparation, policies, and teacher awareness and transition support will all occur over the next few years. Now that you can breathe again, here is a rundown of common questions and next steps to consider as you start the work towards toward NGSS implementation.
Be a resource
You can help at your school and district by sharing information about public input events such as the statewide focus groups scheduled for this winter to inform the California science curriculum framework process. The dates, times and locations are all at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/sc/cf/. Subscribe to CDE’s NGSS bulk email list by sending a blank e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Bookmark CSTA’s NGSS page and CDE’s NGSS page. CDE has created a comprehensive NGSS FAQ page that will be updated in the new year as information is compiled. In addition, you can encourage your colleagues to become CSTA members – decisions are best made when colleagues are professionally active and well informed.
Course work and credentialing
Science teachers frequently ask about course work and credentialing. Since we are not expecting a new California science curriculum framework until January 2016 (click here for a draft curriculum framework development timeline), you can take your time knowing that both the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and the CDE are already examining the implications of NGSS on both and work is underway to align credentialing, course sequences, and the new California science curriculum framework. Rest assured, the vast majority of teachers in the state will experience no credentialing issues and for those wanting to augment their content knowledge, local universities, county offices of education, and groups like CSTA, the California Science Project, and K-12 Alliance are planning professional development opportunities to help. We will keep you informed as these come up and post them on our event calendar (Category: NGSS PD). (The CDE and CTC created a guidance document to assist teachers, administrators, and districts to determine which authorizations are eligible to teach the preferred integrated learning progressions model – more on that below. This guidance document can be viewed here).
Two learning progressions for middle school
On November 6, 2013, the State Board of Education directed the Science Expert Panel (SEP) to reexamine the learning progressions for grades 6-8 and they will begin work this week. Since 1998, grades 6-8 science in California has had an “integrated-lite” design that described life, earth, and physical science content for each grade. As a result, the grade-level topics that were the emphasis for each year became areas of expertise for many middle grades teachers. However, the learning progressions design of NGSS, like that of Common Core mathematics and language arts, has an intentional sequence of science understanding being developed over time and across disciplines. Thus, although this question of how to assign the performance expectations is specific to middle grades, there are certainly implications for students coming up from K-5 and going into 9-12 This is another reason to not rush implementation, but instead to examine the NGSS design and begin to think about what students exiting K-8 will need to have in their science experiences prior to high school.
The CDE Professional Learning Support Division was helpful in summarizing major points about the State Board’s middle grades decision for California Classroom Science and why two middle grades learning progressions were supported. The State Board of Education and Superintendent Torlakson responded to the CDE NGSS survey report summing up about 1,300 responses from educators across California into three categories:
- those worried about the overall effort and need for support for, and more information about: professional learning, assessment, and instructional materials to implement NGSS;
- those concerned about being better able to serve students in their area of content proficiency and;
- those who felt that adding new content at the same time as overhauling science standards was beyond local district and teacher capacity.
The State Board noted the widespread acceptance and excitement for the integrated learning progression as what they and the State Superintendent could recommend as “the preferred model”. This learning progression was developed to best serve the development of a cohesive flow of learning from grades K-5, through 6-8, and into high school. This clarity of direction is also to guide publishers in developing instructional materials for K-8 that are focused, high quality, and prepare students equitably for high school even if they change schools. Careful attention to science and Common Core math alignment is also a feature of preferred integrated learning progression.
Some school districts feel they do not have the capacity to incorporate truly integrated science and new science standards at once. This led to the SEP being reconvened to provide an alternative 6-8 learning progression that schools will able to consider using as soon as it is complete, no further State Board of Education action is necessary. At present, the CDE estimates the alternate learning progression will be available in March 2014 at the soonest, though specifics still need to be determined.
For high school it was noted by CDE that courses and sequences will be local decisions. This is to allow for coordination with STEM, CTE, and other projects, programs, and resources districts and schools choose to use to support their students and teachers.
Questions around the 8th grade science assessment are also common – particularly the question of whether a single middle school assessment or two assessments (one for each learning progression) will be designed. As the assessment used with Common Core, the new science assessment might be built using an integrated sequence with the learning progressions in mind in order to inform future instruction, yet another reason to avoid rushing into any decisions. At this stage there is not much to know about any national assessment development. The National Research Council is currently writing a framework for assessment. We do not know if or who might develop a multi-state assessment like those developed for the Common Core by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. What we do know is that the grades 5, 8, 10 California Standards Tests remain in place for spring 2014, and will remain in place until new assessments are developed or additional legislative action is taken, so teachers at these grade levels should continue with their current instruction. (Current federal regulations, ESEA, require the state to test science at least once in grades 6-9.) For more information on assessment visit CSTA’s state testing webpage.
Full implementation of NGSS for California is planned to occur over several years and in the context of a continuous learning process.
The official timeline is currently being developed by the CDE. However, here is what we know so far:
- Awareness phase (introduce NGSS, establish collaborations, planning of systems implementation): 2013-15
- Curriculum focus groups: winter 2014
- California curriculum framework development: January 2014-November 2015 (pending State Board approval of the timeline)
- California framework public review periods: June-July 2015 and October-November 2015 (pending State Board approval of the timeline)
- California curriculum framework adoption by State Board of Education: January 2016
- Instructional materials adoption: 2017-2018
- Plans for transition, development of curriculum materials, assessment development, and implementation will likely take place throughout 2014-2017. We do not expect full implementation until the 2016-17 school year.
What you can do now
Start becoming familiar with the Science and Engineering Practices (Appendix F)
- Asking questions and defining problems
- Developing and using models
- Planning and carrying out investigations
- Analyzing and interpreting data
- Using mathematics and information and computer technology
- Developing explanations and designing solutions
- Engaging in argument
- Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
These practices parallel the Common Core Math Practices and Anchor Standards, and support working toward higher levels of Depth of Knowledge (DOK). Tweaking your current curriculum to align toward these practices will allow you to test drive some of these shifts before you begin teaching new content standards.
As you help students prepare for the CSTs you can also consider looking at how to raise the DOK level and use evidence-based student outcomes with the current content. Guiding students to deeper understanding will not only help them on the science CSTs, it will afford you the opportunity to try out some new strategies. Simple shifts such as having students make use of evidence to support claims in writing or speaking, making labs more open ended, embedding more active engagement into lessons, letting students design and create, giving students the opportunity to practice linking concepts together, etc., will have the dual effect of supporting the goals of Common Core and give you practice with the Science and Engineering Practices.
In some cases you may want to look at your grade level content – a first glance – and see what will still be in your grade going forward. That way if you do start building any new units, you can do it around content (Disciplinary Core Ideas) that will still be in your grade level when we transition. With this in mind, however, it is prudent to hold off on radically shifting content or instruction until the California science curriculum framework is completed (in January 2016). This curriculum framework will provide guidance and instructional suggestions… teachers aren’t expected to make this up on their own!
Resources that can get you started
- The document to read to begin to understand the instructional shifts NGSS will require is A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which was the basis for the Next Generation Science Standards. Note: this is not to be confused with the future California science curriculum framework, which has not yet been developed and customized for California.
- Banko, Grant, Jabot, McCormack and O’Brien, Science for the Next Generation: Preparing for the New Standard (this resource is good for teachers in elementary school settings).
- Rodger Bybee, Translating NGSS for Classroom Instruction
- Arthur Beauchamp’s handouts from the STEM Symposium (linking CCSS and NGSS) –
- Engaging STEM learners and Making Thinking Apparent
- Modeling NGSS practices
Wait for more information on the assessment
Finally, middle schools and districts may want to hold off on discussions about which learning progression best suits their community until more is known about assessments. Knowing the direction the assessments will take may help inform that decision.
Rest assured CSTA is here for you! We are working on targeting professional development to support you in this transition. Furthermore, if you would like to stay connected to other middle school teachers across the state, consider joining our California middle school science teacher Facebook group. The vision of NGSS is about quality science with integration of practices, cross-cutting concepts, and core disciplinary ideas – we have the luxury in science education of having a large, informed community of science education experts that will also help provide resources to teachers. CSTA members will be well supported.
Jill Grace teaches 7th grade science at Palos Verdes Intermediate School and is the Middle School/Jr. High Director for CSTA.
Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s secretary and chair of CSTA’s Legislative Oversight Committee.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…