March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

NGSS Implementation: A Leap of Reason

Posted: Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

by Jeff Schmitz

Any transformation in an organization, like a school or a district, can be a painstaking process of professional learning, creating buy-in, and fund sourcing. But the transformation swiftly gains momentum when individuals at the grassroots level begin jumping in with both feet. Our California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative Teacher Leaders in Vista Unified are starting to jump.

The jump is no mere leap of faith; it’s more like a “leap of reason.” Our Early Implementers spent time in the summer immersed in NGSS content and pedagogy under the tutelage of science education gurus from the K-12 Alliance and supporting institutions that include universities and other institutes of higher education. They also will participate in 2-day TLCs (Teaching Learning Collaborative) this academic year, lesson studies where NGSS-aligned lesson sequences are collaboratively planned, delivered, and evaluated for effectiveness. Consequently, Early Implementer teachers are developing a deeper understanding of how three-dimensional design, the 5E model of instruction, and phenomenon-based investigations align with how people learn. The NGSS makes sense to them, they are seeing how it makes better sense for students, and so it makes sense to make the leap.

Despite having no fully aligned NGSS curriculum or materials, Early Implementers are leading the transformation. They are implementing the NGSS in their classrooms armed with only their standards, the Framework for K-12 Science Education, a draft of the California science framework, and the unit conceptual flows and lessons they are collaboratively developing with their colleagues. It is the very action of going through this process that is helping our teachers better understand the NGSS and grow.

Our middle school Early Implementer teachers are taking on the additional challenge of integrating the science disciplines, which is the preferred model in California. Allison Bowcock, an 8th Grade Science Teacher and Early Implementation Teacher Leader at Roosevelt Middle School, is currently wrangling with all of this. I spent a couple of days with her recently so we can share with you the journey she is undergoing.

As it happened, Allison’s class was exploring claims about what caused a prehistoric extinction event. They were amidst a multi-day lesson sequence where evidence was being gathered to either support or refute competing claims related to this phenomenon. After analysis of their findings, students will be charged with constructing a written argument on the claim they have determined best explains the phenomenon.

Claims: 1) The influence of the variation on the Earth's orbit on climate is the cause of the extinction. 2) the influence of an asteroid on climate caused the extinction. 3) The influence of a super-volcano eruption on climate caused the extinction.

Students evaluate which of these claims best explains the extinction event.

On this day, in particular, the claim that an asteroid’s collision with Earth caused the event was being investigated by the students. The class opened with a lesson-level phenomenon, a spectacular video clip of a fiery meteor streaking across the Russian sky in 2013. Talk about engaging! Students shared questions and wonderings about the Russian meteor. In a clear attempt to integrate physical science into the discussion, Allison gave time for her students to consider what caused the meteor to hit the Earth. Then, it was time to observe the effects of meteor impact via simulation. Allison climbed a ladder and chucked objects into a small plastic pool full of sand.


Students had opportunities to be excited, ask questions, make observations, and make predictions, all the while recording in their sense-making notebooks. Allison then asked her students to consider how they could find evidence of meteor impact for a prehistoric extinction event. Following their discussion, Allison cued into an important question: could they compare the chemical composition of Earth’s crust with that of a meteor? Students shared their ideas in table groups, and the class consensus was to sample rock strata that would have been present on Earth’s surface at the time of the extinction event to see if elements of a meteor are present. Allison agreed with their logic and assured the class they would conduct that investigation the next day. Students left the classroom excited, already looking forward to what they would discover tomorrow.

When reflecting on the lesson, it exemplified the spirit of the NGSS in a number of ways:

  • It was phenomenon-based. The “big” phenomenon for the unit was the prehistoric extinction event; the “little” phenomenon for the day’s lesson was the 2013 Russian meteor impact. Both are engaging to students, promote wonder, and are something the students can build understanding of.
  • It was integrated. Force and motion of Physical Science meets the geology and climate studies of Earth and Space Science, which meets the biological evolution of Life Science (later in the unit).
  • It was three-dimensional. The Disciplinary Core Idea of “evidence for extinction” was explored using Science & Engineering Practices (Asking Questions, Modeling, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, and Planning Investigations) while the Crosscutting Concept of Cause & Effect was used to help push student thinking.
  • It stemmed from a collaboratively-developed conceptual flow for an entire unit.
Conceptual flow developed by the Southern California 8th grade cadre for Summer Institute, year 2. Background image from Earnst Haeckel, Artforms in Nature, retrieved from

Conceptual flow developed by the Southern California 8th grade cadre for Summer Institute, year 2. Background image from Earnst Haeckel, Artforms in Nature, retrieved from

Talking with Allison, she is embracing the opportunity to innovate during this time of transition. She has particularly latched on to the idea of using anchor phenomena in her instruction. “It’s engaging, and it promotes the kind of thinking that real scientists do.” Allison is also seeing the benefits of bringing the engineering component of NGSS into science class. “Students are challenged to use a different part of their brain, and it’s not always the straight-’A’ students being successful. Engineering opens the door for more students to blossom.” She concedes that limited planning time and curriculum availability pose a formidable challenge to her NGSS implementation efforts. Creating integrated units of instruction, as opposed to teaching each science discipline in discrete “silos” is also a mindset to which she is adapting. But, she is taking the “leap of reason” nonetheless, and the lesson I observed is evidence that she, and her students, are going to land comfortably on two feet. The transformation is underway!

Jeff Schmitz is an NGSS TOSA in the Vista Unified School District, a member of the Core Leadership Team of the K-12 Alliance California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA.

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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 NGSS 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 Curriculum Framework Now Available

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.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

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…

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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

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…

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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

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 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.

Learning to Teach in 3D

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…

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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: