January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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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California Science Test Academy for Educators

Posted: Thursday, February 15th, 2018

California Science Test Academy for Educators

To support implementation of the California Science Test (CAST), the California Department of Education is partnering with Educational Testing Service and WestEd to offer a one-day CAST Academy for local educational agency (LEA) science educators, to be presented at three locations in California from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. As an alternative to traveling, LEA teams can participate virtually via WebEx on one of the dates listed below.

The dates and locations for the CAST Academy are as follows:

  • Monday, April 23, 2018—Sacramento
  • Wednesday, April 25, 2018—Fresno
  • Thursday, April 26, 2018—Irvine

The CAST Academy will help participants develop a deeper understanding of the assessment design and expectations of the CAST. The academy also will provide information and activities designed to assist educators in their implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional learning to help them gain an understanding of how these new science assessment item types can inform teaching and learning. The CAST Academy dates above are intended for school and district science instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, teacher trainers, and instructional coaches. Additional trainings will be offered at a later date specifically for county staff. In addition, curriculum, professional development, and assessment leaders would benefit from this training.

A $100 registration fee will be charged for each person attending the in-person training. Each virtual team participating via WebEx will be charged $100 for up to 10 participants through one access point. Each workshop will have the capacity to accommodate a maximum of 50 virtual teams. Each virtual team will need to designate a lead, who is responsible for organizing the group locally. Registration and payment must be completed online at http://www.cvent.com/d/6tqg8k.

For more information regarding the CAST Academy, please contact Elizabeth Dilke, Program Coordinator, Educational Testing Service, by phone at 916-403-2407 or by e‑mail at caasppworkshops@ets.org.

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.

Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. 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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.