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Four Factors for Building a Strong NGSS Science Curriculum

has been 10 years since The Next Generation Science Standards were released. States, such as New Jersey and New York have since adopted the standards with some adjustments (NJSLS-S, NYSSLS). Although slowed down by the COVID pandemic, the rollout continues for both states with New Jersey Schools administering their third year of the grade 5, 8 and 11 science assessments in the spring of 2023. This year, The New York State Education Department begins the administration of their science assessments in grades 5 and 8 followed by new high school regents exams in 2025 and 2026.

Many school districts have taken up the task of orienting their science teachers to the new standards and assessments but to what extent have the teachers been able to develop and implement a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano, 2003) in alignment with these new expectations? For elementary programs, external science curricula are often purchased for practical reasons but for secondary science programs, there is great opportunity to develop the curriculum internally. For school districts to do this with fidelity, they need to consider four factors: Time, Structure, Expertise, and Evaluation.

Time refers to the collaborative work sessions reserved for science teachers to develop and subsequently evaluate the curriculum. Time is precious to schools especially if teachers have to be taken out of the classroom. If the work is done outside the school day, funds need to be made available. This Time is worth the cost because when a strongly written NGSS curriculum is in place, science teachers will rely on it year after year. For a new curriculum, I would suggest one full day per content topic. A day of evaluation needs to also occur prior to the start of the next school year and to a lesser extent, in the subsequent years for minor updates.

Structure refers to the form and components of the written curriculum. This would include the scope and sequence and unit plans for the course. Remember, the goal is to build a coherent and cohesive NGSS-aligned curriculum that science teachers can easily interpret, develop lessons from, and implement in the allotted time. I would suggest developing your own curriculum templates with a few of your teacher leaders. By doing this, you will ensure that a common approach is taken by all of your secondary science subject teams and your own school district curriculum priorities are included. A scope and sequence template only needs to contain units in sequence with time frames. The NGSS Appendix K lays out some suggested course maps to do this. I suggest you adapt your unit template from the classic Understanding by Design Unit Planner (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998), which you can download from this website. Of course, your adapted version will need to include references to the NGSS Performance Expectations (PEs), Cross-Cutting Concepts (CCCs), Science & Engineering Practices (SEPs), Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), and state-specific assessment criteria applicable to the unit of study.

Expertise refers to teachers’ NGSS readiness to develop the curriculum. The really good news is that your secondary science teachers will easily understand the NGSS Three Dimensional Learning approach. The three dimensions (CCCs, SEPs, & DCIs) are not new to them, they are just packaged differently. In fact, the specificity of the Performance Expectations (PEs) will only help to guide your teachers through grade-level appropriate opportunities to engage in three dimensional learning similar to what scientists and engineers would do. If your teachers are only beginning to build their competence, I would suggest they begin by digesting what is provided on the NGSS website. They can then move on to their state’s specific science standards and assessment expectations. Teacher expertise can be further developed by (a) providing in-service professional learning by science teacher leaders or outside consultants and (b) allowing teachers to engage in the multitude of NGSS-aligned graduate and service courses offered at local and online universities and institutions. The NSTA website is a good way to find available courses and other resources along with New York’s STANYS website and New Jersey’s NJSTA website.

Evaluation refers to an important iterative step in the curriculum writing process. How will you know if a strong NGSS science curriculum has been successfully developed and implemented? I would suggest school leaders work with science teacher teams to develop their own curriculum evaluation tools for this important factor. Wiggins & McTighe’s UBD Design Standards gives you an idea of how you can ask basic questions to evaluate your curriculum with a simple scale and written feedback. For a strong NGSS science curriculum, I suggest you ask more specific NGSS-related questions. For example, you might ask “To what extent has the CCC of patterns been addressed in this unit plan? Which examples from teachers’ lesson plans can you cite?” and “Describe how the unit’s performance-based assessment addressed the referenced Performance Expectations?” Of course, a curriculum map should also be evaluated against student performance on NGSS-aligned valid and reliable assessments such as state tests. These results can help teachers to see the strengths of their curriculum, any standards gaps, and other areas in need of improvement.

If you would like to learn more on how your school district can develop a strong NGSS curriculum, please reach out to us

Educationally yours,

The Elevate Educators Team

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