Bundling The NGSS: Integrated Or Discipline Specific?

bundling the ngssHow should you bundle your standards?

The NGSS has identified two approaches to bundling the standards — a topic model and a phenomenon model.  The topic model is designed to group standards by topic.  For schools and districts that are looking to quickly implement some degree of NGSS instruction without entirely overhauling the curriculum, this approach may be the better option — for now.  This model also works well for disciplinary-based courses — versus those that operate on an integrated curriculum.  For teachers brand new to the NGSS with little experience working with standards, this approach may be easier.  It would allow you to build upon the curriculum you are currently working with.

The Topic Model

If you decide to go with the Topic Model, you will essentially “fit” the standards into your current curriculum. Now, HOW you teach and HOW you assess student understanding will definitely change but your overall sequence may not.  You may still teach “cells and body systems,” then “genetics and heredity,” and then “natural selection.”  Your units will look different, but your overall topic sequence may not. 


The Phenomenon Model

That said, the phenomena model is the recommended model. In the phenomenon model, standards are bundled in an instructional unit designed to explain a particular phenomenon.  For example, students may observe that wildlife habitat ranges are changing.  A phenomenon like this could tie together Life Science standards are resource availability and interactions in ecosystems with Earth and Space Science standards that cover weather, climate, and global climate change.  Throughout the unit, students would work toward understanding why Earth has so many different environments (in terms of weather and climate), how organisms survive in those environments,. and how changes to those environment can impact organisms and populations.  Students could then apply this understanding to explain why habitat ranges are shifting in response to global climate change.

While the phenomenon model is the best aligned to the intent of the NGSS, it may require greater changes to curriculum at both the course level and across grades in a grade band (6-8 or 9-12).  It is ideal for an integrated curriculum, because it allows for standards from different disciplines to connect around the anchor phenomenon.  This supports students in developing an understanding of the interrelatedness of the disciplines as they truly work in each discipline to explain the phenomenon being studied.  With this in mind, if you are working with an integrated set of Performance Expectations and have already been tasked with developing a new course outline, I would highly recommend this approach.  In that situation, it may not be any more difficult to implement than the Topic Model, and it better aligns to the intent of the NGSS.

So at this point, you really need to make a choice integrated or discipline-specific. Phenomenon Model or Topic Model.  While the Phenomenon Model IS the recommend model, neither approach is WRONG.  And realistically, it may not even be your choice.  Your school, district, or state may have chosen for you.  Please know WHATEVER approach you are using, the MOST important change you make will be to the WAY you teach, NOT to the way you organize your content.  You can still “NGSS” your science class even if you are not integrating your curriculum or organizing standards around phenomena (and you are still going to use phenomena even IF you choose the Topic Model! Not going to get out of that one!).  So don’t fret too much about this decision make your choice and move on!


Where can I learn more about bundling?

First, check out the NGSS site on bundling!

If you need help with the actual bundling process, check out iExplore Academy to get my step-by-step approach to bundling.  More than that, let me walk you through creating cohesive units that tie your standards together, assessments that evaluate students on all three dimensions, and carefully crafted instruction that fosters student discovery of the content. End the course with a completely self-designed NGSS-aligned unit while earning a certificate of completion from iExploreScience.

If you’re not ready to enroll in our full professional development program, check out the free mini-course – Kickstart AHA: Intro To The NGSS – to get a handle on the basics.  Discover what the NGSS REALLY looks like in the classroom.