May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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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…

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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…

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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.