September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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 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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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

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.