September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Planning Professional Learning Using the NGSS Implementation Pathway Model

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by John Spiegel, Anthony Quan, and Yamileth Shimojyo

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have the ability to transform teaching and learning in the classroom. They will dramatically change how students experience science by shifting the focus from the memorization of facts to greater student engagement in the processes of science. The NGSS emphasize learning in three dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. In addition, there are seven Conceptual Shifts, or Innovations, that have strong implications for teaching and learning. These shifts include the interconnected nature of science as practiced in the real world, the integration of science and engineering, the use of performance expectations, a focus on deeper understanding of content as well as application of content, and alignment to the Common Core State Standards. Teachers will ultimately be tasked with implementing the NGSS, but cannot do so without extensive time to plan and engage in professional learning.

The California Department of Education is approaching the implementation of NGSS thoughtfully and is encouraging districts and teachers to do the same. They have drafted the Next Generation Science Standards Implementation Plan for California[1], which outlines a phased approach in preparing for and implementing the NGSS (see Figure 1). This plan stresses the importance of “high quality professional learning opportunities for educators to ensure that every student has access to teachers who are prepared to teach to the levels of rigor and depth required by the CA NGSS.”[2]

Figure 1: Phases of NGSS Implementation

The draft Next Generation Science Standards Implementation Plan for California outlines the three phases of implementation as:

  • The Awareness phase represents an introduction to the CA NGSS, the initial planning of systems implementation, and establishment of collaborations.
  • The Transition phase is the concentration on building foundational resources, implementing needs assessments, establishing new professional learning opportunities, and expanding collaborations between all stakeholders.
  • The Implementation phase expands the new professional learning support, fully aligns curriculum, instruction, and assessments, and effectively integrates these elements across the field.

This past summer, during a leadership meeting of the Southern California Association of Science Specialists (SCASS), we discussed the question, “What do all teachers need to know and be able to do to demonstrate they are prepared to implement the NGSS?” Finding varied responses among ourselves, we agreed to work collaboratively to develop a model that would attempt to answer this question as well as provide specific outcomes that could be used to design professional learning for teachers. This work has been summarized in The NGSS Implementation Pathway Model[3] (see Figure 2), which identifies four stages: (1) Initial exposure to NGSS, (2) Deepening understanding of NGSS, (3) Planning instruction around NGSS, and (4) Full alignment of instruction to NGSS. These stages are related to the awareness, transition, and implementation phases outlined in the draft Next Generation Science Standards Implementation Plan for California.

Figure 2. The NGSS Implementation Pathway Model


The arrows in The NGSS Implementation Pathway Model represent a sequence of professional learning that teachers will need as they begin working with the NGSS. Of particular importance is the circular arrow between the stages of “Deepening Understanding of NGSS” and “Planning Instruction around NGSS”. These two stages are cyclical in nature. As teachers begin planning instruction aligned to the NGSS, time should be spent researching the Framework for K-12 Science Education[4] or other resources to deepen their personal understanding of the Conceptual Shifts as they consider the classroom implications of these Innovations. For example, a teacher planning an instructional sequence around a performance expectation that requires students to develop a model (Science and Engineering Practice #2) might need to further their own understanding of what a model is and how to help students develop and use a model.

Figure 3. Stages in the NGSS Implementation Pathway Model

J. Spiegel and K. Bess (San Diego County Office of Education), Y. Shimojyo (Riverside County Office of Education), A. Quan (Los Angeles County Office of Education). 2014.

Click the image for a PDF version of this figure. J. Spiegel and K. Bess (San Diego County Office of Education), Y. Shimojyo (Riverside County Office of Education), A. Quan (Los Angeles County Office of Education). 2014.

A description of the four stages of The NGSS Implementation Pathway Model are described in Figure 3 as well as possible outcomes for personal or collaborative professional learning. The outcomes focus on implications for teaching and learning as teachers explore the Conceptual Shifts (Innovations) and the three dimensions of the NGSS, and begin planning instruction around performance expectations.

To meet the outcomes identified in each stage of this model, teachers will need to dedicate significant effort towards their own professional learning. Schools and districts will also need to provide support and time for this learning to occur. It should be emphasized that all teachers in a school or district will not be at the same stage at any given time, thus there will be a need to differentiate professional learning for teachers in the coming months and years. In addition, the time needed to work through these stages should not be underestimated.

The NGSS Implementation Pathway Model is powerful in helping educators, administrators, and leaders of professional learning think about what teachers need to know and be able to do as they engage with the Next Generation Science Standards. We have found that this model has given us common language and outcomes as professional learning is developed. In addition, it has provided teachers with a tool to plan their own professional learning path. The NGSS Implementation Pathway Model is a valuable resource in support of the on-going work to move California closer in realizing the vision of NGSS for ALL students.

John Spiegel is the Science Coordinator at the San Diego County Office of Education. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @sdngss.

Anthony Quan is the STEM Consultant at the Los Angeles County Office of Education. He can be reached at, on Facebook @Lacoe Stem, or on Twitter at @LacoeQuan.

Yamileth Shimojyo is the Science-STEM Coordinator at the Riverside County Office of Education. She can be reached at

[1] The proposal of this document can be found at A final version of this document is on the agenda for approval by the State Board of Education in November 2014.

[2] Next Generation Science Standards Implementation Plan for California DRAFT, page 12.

[3] Adapted partially from the work of Harold Pratt in The NSTA Reader’s Guide to the Next Generation Science Standards. 2013.

[4] The Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC, 2012) can be found at

[5] The Conceptual Shifts (Innovations) are found in Appendix A: Conceptual Shifts in the Next Generation Science Standards at

[6] The Three Dimensions of Learning are found in Appendix E, F, and G at and Chapters 3-8 from The Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC, 2012). can be found at

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

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.