May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Where’s the Nature of Science in the NGSS?

Posted: Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

by Larry Flammer

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013) looks like the best thing that could happen to science education in this country. As long as teachers can be effectively prepared, and students are properly phased in (starting with elementary levels, then into middle schools and high schools), students should be far better prepared for high school and college level work.

However, when you carefully study the NGSS (2013), you will find that one critical topic in science is rarely seen there. Even the Framework (2012) devotes only two pages (78-9) to this topic. And that was because “Many of those who provided comments in an early draft thought that the ‘nature of science’ (NOS) needed to be made an explicit topic or idea. They noted that it would not emerge simply through engaging with practices.” (Framework 2012, p.334). By the way, those two pages in the Framework (2012, pp. 78-79) are rich with specific examples of the NOS. Every teacher should read them carefully.

We all recognize that students (and the general public) hold many misconceptions about the nature of science (NOS): its realm, its limits, how it really does what it does, and why it’s so successful in doing what it does. Those misconceptions color public (and student) understanding of many scientific concepts, not to mention public attitudes about politically sensitive issues that involve science, like climate change and evolution. In addition, “science” is widely misused in our society, leading to many pseudosciences that frequently mislead people. For our future society to function better than it currently does, students should be learning all of those elements of NOS, and recognizing all of those current misconceptions for what they are. They should also be learning the critical and skeptical thinking skills that scientists effectively use.

Current research clearly shows that those important NOS concepts are not learned very well unless they are taught explicitly. Assuming they will be absorbed automatically by doing inquiries and experiments has been shown not to work well. The Nature of Science must be taught as an important content topic in science (if not the most important topic). And it must be reinforced throughout every science course as it applies to the many other content topics being taught.

But the NGSS, perhaps reflecting its afterthought treatment in the Framework, relegates NOS to one of the several appendices (Appendix H). It says there that NOS elements have been added at the ends of selected Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts Foundation Boxes. But when they’re isolated in those places, it’s unlikely that most teachers will even see them, much less teach them explicitly! Most of their focus is going to be on the “Performance Expectations” (in the “Assessable Components” white box atop each Core-Idea page).

Snapshot of NGSS 5-LS2  Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics showing the Nature of Science Connection.  Source: California Department of Education.

Snapshot of NGSS 5-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics showing the Nature of Science Connection.
Source: California Department of Education.

The NGSS Appendix H says, “… students should develop an understanding of the enterprise of science as a whole—the wondering, investigating, questioning, data collecting and analyzing.” Included in this appendix is a 2-page matrix in which specific Learning Outcomes are listed in each of 8 Categories for each of 4 Grade Bands. For middle school, there is a total of 26 NOS Learning Outcomes (LOs). For high school, there are 32 LOs listed.

However, for the four middle school life science Core Idea pages, only 5 of those 26 LOs were posted. And for the four high school life science Core Ideas, only 7 of those 32 LOs were given. Again, these were placed at the bottoms of the Foundation Boxes, near the bottom of each Core Idea page. NOS is not likely to be seen as being very important.

The Framework (2012) did acknowledge the importance of the nature of science, saying, “… there is a strong consensus about characteristics of the scientific enterprise that should be understood by an educated citizen” (NGSS Appendix H, page 1). It also says (page 2) “… learning about the nature of science requires more than engaging in activities and conducting investigations.” A number of studies have shown that NOS must be explicitly taught and frequently reinforced.

So, how can we do that? Have you been to any PD workshops where NOS strategies were emphasized (if discussed at all)? Not likely. Therefore, I offer two suggestions:


#1: Get the recently published book by Douglas Allchin Teaching the Nature of Science (2013). In that book, you will see the benefits of effectively using historical narratives about real science. Real science is often messy, unproductive and frustrating. Let your students relive a few of those very human histories, reflecting, discussing, and even proposing possible solutions, as scientists struggle to understand the natural world. These real stories are very engaging. For more details, see my review of that book at

#2: Take a look at Science Surprises: Exploring the Nature of Science. This is a little text supplement for students, written at 8th grade level, and made for students in any science class, grades 7-10. It is intended to be used in conjunction with selected interactive, student-centered NOS lessons on the ENSI website at Doing this unit will satisfy all of the NGSS NOS expectations. It even includes interactive lessons (meeting Common Core standards) on scientific argumentation, critical and skeptical thinking, how to distinguish good science from poor science, or pseudoscience, and even some math. The extensive Teaching Guide for Science Surprises is available to teachers (free upon request, using your school email address) from the ENSI webmaster. [Conflict of interest note: the author of this article is also the ENSI webmaster and author of Science Surprises.]

You should obtain and read these resources as soon as possible, so you will have time to properly prepare for your opening unit in the fall. You might even decide to use both of these resources, because they are mutually compatible. In the fall, you can introduce NOS intensively at the beginning of your courses, and relate back to those experiences with each new topic in your course. Make the coming year your very best year—for your students!

Larry Flammer is a CSTA member and the webmaster of the Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes.

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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:

One Response

  1. Great article Larry, I also think the history of science is part of putting a great story together. This is a heads up to look for materials that take a historical perspective and deal with NOS.

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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.