Scientists seek out other respected scientists for their opinions and collaborate with other fields regularly. Biologists work with chemists to research ocean acidification and the impact on coral reef habitats. Statisticians must work with ecologists to calculate populations and distributions of animals within the ecosystem. The work we do is integrated and no longer isolated by discipline. Researchers walk across the hall to share ideas, brainstorm, and call upon others to generate panels of experts. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) speak volumes to this kind of collaboration. It may seem like a buzzword, but it’s a reality in the world of science. Our students must also develop the skills of working across the disciplinary core ideas and apply their understanding of the crosscutting concepts with the science and engineering practices.
If you're a science teacher in one of the NGSS adoption states, once you've had some time to absorb that you're indeed going to transition your science lessons to the new and improved NGSS aligned lessons, you might hit somewhat of a roadblock. Think of it as writer's block. The overwhelming feeling that you already teach really good science lessons, you just need to see what fits with the new standards and what needs to go. And now, we must think of lesson planning in three dimensions to properly support the intention of teaching collaborative skills.
While visiting several states and attending various workshops and conferences recently, a familiar theme emerged. Teachers frequently said that they feel overwhelmed by the process and lack adequate resources to get started. Additionally, districts across the nation are at different points of implementation. The developers of the NGSS have been very thoughtful and intentional about the new standards so they fit with the practices and skills students need to succeed as scientists, researchers, and engineers.
I can attest to the idea that unit planning can begin even in the early awareness stages and it will be painless, and perhaps, even fun. Bundling is the term used to indicate grouping of standards across the disciplinary core ideas. Remember when you teach ecosystems, you must also cross the boundary into the physical sciences and teach students the meaning of matter. If students don't understand what matter is, they may struggle with the concept of matter recycling itself through the ecosystem. Bundling of the standards is a terrific tool that's still in the process of being developed, which will allow for teachers to efficiently explore several standards in one unit. Check out your grade level and check back frequently as the NGSS site is continuously updating their bundling resources.
There are many other ways of translating the standards into actionable steps. I suggest you stick with what you like, but if you're a new teacher or need a few tips for getting started, look over the 5 E's. Developed in 1987, this instructional model is even more relevant today and can provide some structure for planning your units.
What can we expect students to be doing in the classroom and how can we measure these outcomes since NGSS is a deep thinking process? Developers have also created Evidence Statements, which help teachers understand observable behaviors. Take a look at the Evidence Statements based on the Performance Expectations for your grade level. You can search for your grade level or by keywords such as "ecosystems" to learn more about what specific observable behaviors to expect from your students.
Once you've uncovered the observable behaviors that can help start your process of planning, keep in mind that these are only guidelines and are not intended to limit your instruction solely based on what's in the expectations. Students will be your guide, and rich learning experiences are achieved by allowing students to lead their learning. The three dimensional approach to learning needs to include the Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) through the lens of the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) and implementation of Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). The evidence statements aren't used as a checklist, but rather a map to where your lessons may lead. The depth of knowledge and time required for each new unit is driven by student needs and interest.
It can be helpful at this point to figure out which formative assessments will be useful for students to demonstrate competence within the standards. As a teacher, it also allows for you to think about what behaviors and activities would most likely fit the needs of your students who are engaging in these new 3-dimensional lessons. I like to use NSTA's recommended Uncovering Student Ideas in Science series by Paige Keeley, such as the newest edition Uncovering Student Ideas in Earth and Environmental Science: 32 New Formative Assessment Probes. These probes are tried and true assessments that pique student curiosity and uncover misconceptions. Another excellent resource is the list of NSTA Trade Books, which are updated each year.
Rich and engaging lessons can begin with planning out which phenomena you're going to use to encourage questioning strategies and science talks with your students. These are the topical visual aids that you will need to stimulate science talks, student questions, and argumentation topics. Activities that support student driven lessons can be borrowed from your old standards, as long as they're thoughtful and aligned with performance expectations.
Lastly, reflect on your process. Once you have reimagined your science lessons, units, and overall approach to teaching science for the upcoming school year, it's time to reflect on your practice. This will be an ongoing process throughout the year, so be prepared with a great tool. Read through and reflect with the EQuiP Rubric to determine if your activities truly support NGSS and student learning.