March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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.

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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.

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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: