September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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 Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.