May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Science and Math: Working to Connect NGSS and CCSS

Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

All science people know that there is a strong connection between science and math, so finding the connections between the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core Math Standards should be a no brainer. Last year, Palm Springs USD conducted a dozen Science/Math lesson studies to explore the connections. We found many strong connections and also identified some challenges in putting the two sets of standards together.

The math and science teachers used a modified version of the K-12 Alliance TLC lesson study to plan their lessons. There were two teams from grades 6, 7, and 8, and teams for Earth Science/Algebra, Biology/Geometry, and Chemistry/Algebra II. Some of the lessons clicked perfectly, some failed awkwardly, and many lessons were learned about the challenges of implementing NGSS and the Math Common Core Standards.

One of the Biology/Geometry teams focused on data analysis (part of Geometry in the CCSS). They decided to do a science lesson based on HS-LS4-3:

In a pre-lesson, the class acted as predators of two kinds of beans in a cup. When they chose beans without looking they preferentially chose the larger kidney beans over smaller pinto beans. The lesson began with a discussion of the class data:  AHearn_Image1

Students made predictions and then graphed the data to find a best-fit line to generate a prediction for when the kidney bean population would go extinct.

Once students had practiced with this self-generated data, they were given real world data on local populations of mesquite trees.


Students graphed the data and made a prediction about the year when there would no longer be a mesquite-based ecosystem along the San Andreas Fault in Desert Hot Springs, CA.

Lessons Learned – The NGSS standard is really about natural selection, but the real world data we used wasn’t really comparing two competing populations. The NGSS is asking students to interact with real world data sets. We couldn’t find any readily accessible real world data about advantageous vs. disadvantageous traits. The data is out there but much of it isn’t in student and teacher ready to use formats. (Thanks to KD Fleming from the UCR Center for Conservation Biology for the Mesquite Data!) (P.S. The reason for the drastic decline in Mesquite population is probably due to the declining water table due to groundwater pumping)

The 6th grade team decided to focus on the water cycle and real world data. They looked at data on the declining water level in Lake Mead using real time data. AHearn_Image4Based on the trends in the graph, students were asked to predict (based on evidence) what the blue curve would look like for the rest of 2014.

Lessons learned – Most 6th graders have a very hard time using evidence to make a prediction. Many predicted that people would start saving water or that there would be huge rainstorms and had curves that went up ignoring the pattern in the data. Some believed that their graphs had to stay within the boundaries of the page and so couldn’t follow the downward trend of the past two years. Both the Common Core and the NGSS place a strong emphasis on the use of evidence. We learned through the lesson studies we conducted that teachers will have hard work to do to help our students to learn to follow the evidence instead of their opinions and hopes.Teachers need to work hard to find the right questions to ask to help kids look at evidence. They also need to work on helping kids understand what kinds of evidence count in math and science.

By the way – here’s what really happened: AHearn_Image5

Scary huh?

The Chemistry/Algebra II team had a hard time finding standards that provided a strong link between their subjects. They decided to use the change of pH of lemon juice at different concentrations as a model of a log function: AHearn_Image6


Lessons Learned – Probeware gave us some really nice results. There were some good discussions about how much to let kids struggle with figuring out how to do the dilutions. The biggest challenge was that to find a math alignment we had to create a lesson on acid-base chemistry, which doesn’t have an NGSS standard attached to it. Note that it is important to understand that the NGSS is understood as representing the floor, not the ceiling – this means that it is okay to go beyond the standard in teaching. We also decided that acid-base systems are a type of equilibrium system, which is an NGSS Standard.

Other teams created lessons on probability in genetics, graphs of motion, scaling craters on a map, and mathematically modeling the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration.

Trying to create common science and math performance tasks (and even science, math, ELA) presents its own set of opportunities and challenges. We are trying to do this so students spend fewer days testing and so that we can make the connections between the subjects apparent. In the 6th grade teachers in our district teach both math and science, so developing common assessments makes sense.



The challenge is to really understand what both the Common Core and the NGSS are asking for and then find the commonalities. We have discovered that the NGSS assessment boundaries sometimes need to be crossed to bring the math up to grade level. For example this middle school energy standard:

“Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.” (MS-PS3-5)

… comes with this assessment boundary:

“Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include calculations of energy.”

However, to make a common math/science assessment we do need the students to multiply decimals, which means calories of heat transferred. The key in designing an assessment is to have students show that they understand heat flow in non-mathematical ways as well so they aren’t just memorizing a procedure to get the answer.

The connections between the NGSS and the Math Common Core are strong and we can do great things for our students by working closely with our math colleagues. There will also be hard work and frustration as we try to fit our two sets of standards and two ways of looking at math together.

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Leave a Reply


Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.