How can you incorporate content that isn’t quite “in the standards”?
I’ve always been super fascinated (and found my students are too!) with disease and viruses and all that, but it’s technically not in the NGSS. If you do a search of the standards, you won’t find the term “virus” anywhere. I don’t think you’ll even see “bacteria” but I admit I haven’t tested it out. So does that mean you can’t teach these topics? What if you believe they are truly important?
Well, breathe easy, my friend. You can ABSOLUTELY still teach topics that aren’t “technically” listed in the standards. You just have to get creative.
Like I said, I just find bacteria and viruses and disease as a whole totally fascinating, and I wanted to find a way to bring this topic into my classroom while still supporting student understanding of the big ideas in the NGSS.
To do that, I examined my standards and found I could make a strong tie to these topics through my life science unit on the organization of living things (cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems). When you think about it, it fits SO WELL and is a great engaging anchoring phenomenon.
In my classroom, students begin this unit — dubbed Body Invaders — by exploring viruses. But before diving too far into viruses, I engage my students in a card sort activity and follow-up discussion about what it means to be alive. This ends up tying well into Cell Theory a bit later on, and it sparks some curiosity about viruses… which share some of the characteristics of life without fully meeting those “alive” qualifications. It’s also fascinating, because while most students have some understanding of what it means to be alive — activating prior knowledge — there’s typically some examples you can use to challenge those ideas as well.
After the “Is It Alive?” card sort and discussion, students investigate viruses in greater depth — gaining an understanding of what viruses do (briefly dropping hints of cells and cell structures), how they reproduce (coming back to that Cell Theory and the characteristics of life), and how they adapt (touching on body systems that students will study later on).
They wrap up this activity sequence by engaging in argument from evidence to determine whether they would consider viruses alive or not — because while the general consensus is “not alive,” we are still discovering new information that could challenge our understanding (like the fact that some viruses CAN reproduce independently!).
Incorporating The Content You Want
By incorporating a topic that isn’t technically “in” the NGSS as my anchor phenomenon, I’m able to address information I believe is important — and is simply fascinating — while supporting students’ developing understanding of the Disciplinary Core Ideas identified in the standards. In order to understand the phenomena of viral illnesses like the flu, students must understand cells, cell structures, the body as a whole, and how it all works together. They can then apply that knowledge to explaining how you catch an infection and why it does what it does to your body.
While many complain that the NGSS are “too vague,” when you start getting creative, the “vagueness” is more a blessing than a curse. The NGSS gives you the big ideas, and you fill in the details!
What topics do you LOVE to teach and how do you tie them to the standards?