March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

What Is the Role of Lecture in NGSS?

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

Is there a role for lecture in NGSS classrooms? Anyone who has spent much time working on the NGSS knows that NGSS is learner centered, more about helping students to develop the tools to investigate the world than about teachers supplying knowledge. The traditional teaching style of the teacher talking and students taking notes seems to be opposite of this vision.

This vision is supported by research indicating that traditional lecture is not an effective way to teach science. Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Carl Wieman makes a strong case against lecture as a way to teach science.  Click here to read a summary of his findings.

The biggest problem with lecture is that there is too much new information delivered too fast for deep processing and integration with existing knowledge. The people who get the most out of lecture already have strong prior knowledge about the subject. Novice learners end up understanding very little and fail to integrate what they learn into meaningful knowledge structures.

I have done a bit of lecture bashing on Twitter.


On the other hand, lecture is still the most common method of instruction in college classes. They are also a form of entertainment. People enjoy lecture in informal settings as a way to learn. Museums, universities, and libraries hold popular public lectures. TED talks are very popular way for people to learn about new and challenging ideas. The key is that people attend (or download) these lectures because they are interested in finding out what is being presented. As a teacher it might be good to ask yourself how many of your students would choose to attend your lectures in their free time.

So is there a place for lecture in NGSS? I think the answer lies in the Science and Engineering Practice of “Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information”.

NGSS wants students to engage in the Science and Engineering Practices, which means that students should be learning by doing what scientists do.

Do scientists attend lectures? Absolutely. A lecture is a place to get the latest information from an expert in the field. Lectures are a place where scientific argument takes place- claims are made and supported by evidence and reasoning in front of very tough and skeptical audiences. Is this the goal of lectures in your class?

So teachers should teach students to use lecture the way that that scientists use it – as a way to help answer questions that arise from the work they are engaged in. The way Common Core sees lecture, it’s a form of text. Text doesn’t just mean THE TEXT, but the many ways to obtain information in the modern world. So teachers should treat lecture as a form of text that students will use to answer questions. Students need to be taught how to get information out of many forms of text and lecture is no exception. So how to use lecture in an NGSS classroom?

Photo by Jo Garbutt Licensed under Creative Commons

Photo by Jo Garbutt
Licensed under Creative Commons

  • Your students should use lecture like a scientist would- to get expert knowledge about a subject that they are deeply involved in. Find an expert (probably online) and teach your students how to access the information.
  • We teachers tend to use lecture as a way to regurgitate predigested information to our students. This might be okay in younger grades, but our job is to get them to digest solid food. Just as with reading under Common Core, this means using challenging material and teaching them the tools to get meaning out of it.
  • Are you the expert? Unless this is the subject of your own study you probably aren’t. I could give a solid lecture on brewing beer (which I did professionally for a while), but I would be a raging ego-manic if I thought I could lecture as an expert on evolution or photosynthesis. Find an expert in a YouTube video or in your community.
  • Prior knowledge is a huge key to understanding what is said in a lecture. Ideally your students already know something about the subject and have questions before they look to a lecturer for answers.
  • Lectures are best approached critically. Good listeners, like good readers, are constantly questioning what they hear. “How does this compare with what I already know or think?” What is the evidence for this?” “Does this make sense?” “If I don’t understand this, where can I get answers?” These skills of active listening will serve your students well in college or career.
  • Use frequent checks for understanding and frequent opportunities for students to talk to each other about what they are learning. This is a key to making lecture interactive and keeping it from going over the audience’s heads.
  • Make sure the big picture is part of the lecture- how do the details fit into the bigger picture of the subject. Using graphics like concept maps to organize the content can help with this.
  • Good lectures tell a story. If you’ve ever seen a TED talk, you know they are popular because they have a storyline where a problem is solved in a novel and surprising way. People learn better when information comes in the form of a story.
  • You might be thinking,” Most lectures are ineffective…but MINE are GREAT! I am a GREAT lecturer!” Reality check- You probably aren’t. But you might be a raging ego-maniac.
  • You might be thinking, “I really like to be an expert and talk about what I know in front of a captive audience!” – You are a raging ego-maniac.
  • A Mini-lecture is a different animal. A mini-lecture is short, focused, and used to make sure there is a common understanding of a topic. Mini-lectures are a fine way to summarize learning that has already happened and to provide formal terminology for ideas that students have already begun to understand.

So lecture does have a place under NGSS. It’s not the Queen of the classroom anymore, but does get to go to the ball.

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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.

2 Responses

  1. Pete, Thank you for putting the direct instruction model into perspective, as only you can do! I needed this article right about now.

  2. What a good point – that lecture is another form of text, and that scientists do use lectures as a way of obtaining information. And what a relief to not have to be the expert, for those of us who only sometimes are raging ego-maniacs. Your writing is a pleasure to read!

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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…

Written by Guest Contributor

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: