NGSS: Aligning Your Science Content to the Standards

how your content will change when you transition to the NGSSLast week I discussed how the NGSS was asking teachers to shift their mindset from science education as a focus on facts to teaching in three dimensions. If you missed it, you can access that post here.  The next step in this transition is to understand the shifts in content that come with aligning your classroom and curriculum to the NGSS.

Transforming Your Content

There is a lot of information out there.  And our students don’t need to know it all.

Research has shown that experts understand the core ideas and practices of their fields.  They don’t – and realistically can’t – memorize all of the random facts associated with each core idea.  Rather, by understanding just the general concepts, they are able to make sense of new information and even apply it to solve problems or answer questions.

Typically, instruction (across many disciplines) has emphasized memorizing random facts.  Who won the battle of Gettysburg? What does mitochondria do? Is Pluto a planet or not?

NGSS-aligned instruction bypasses those random facts to focus on the big concepts. How do cells contribute to the function of living organisms? What is Earth’s place in space? How do molecular interactions explain properties of matter?

These are big questions that involve a complex understanding of a variety of topics, and it’s a whole lot harder to Google an answer. And in fact, there are likely many responses or approaches that would be appropriate. The goal isn’t for students to spit back one specific response, but rather, integrate a myriad of facts to explain a much broader concept.

What does that mean for you?

Shifting From Facts To Ideas

steps to shift your classroom curriculum to better align to the NGSS and teach for true conceptual understanding

The Chopping Block.

If you’re going to give students time to dive deeper and develop stronger understandings of big ideas, you’re inevitably going to have to take that time from somewhere else.

Now don’t worry, if you REALLY love a topic, you can probably find a way to use that topic as a vehicle to teach a Next Generation Science Standard… The Next Generation Science Standards is not a curriculum. It is a set of standards, and you can be creative with how you teach those standards. So if you really love circuit science or biomes or space exploration – or if you have to teach it as a part of your school’s curriculum – you don’t need to quit the NGSS to do it. You can totally make it work! (Learn how I did it with biomes here!)

But in order to make room (aka time) for truly understanding the big ideas – the disciplinary core ideas – you’re going to need to give up some of the details.  Remember, they can always Google it.

How To: Transform Your Content

So, how do you start this process? There’s really two options when it comes to transitioning your curriculum.  If you’re looking to make small changes, read ahead.  If you are looking to make BIG CHANGES, you’ll probably want to check out this free workshop at the Science Teacher Tribe, “Bundling The Standards.”  Sign up as a FREE member to get access to the workshop and a notes organizer.

So, small changes:

First, you will need to examine what you are currently doing.  Then, you’ll want to figure out where the NGSS already ”fits in.”  This isn’t just about plugging in standards though – you will need to make revisions to the actual units as well – but this method lets you build from what you’re already doing.  There’s no need to start from total scratch (unless you are ready to make that big leap into bundling your standards to create a whole new curriculum).

steps to shift your classroom curriculum to better align to the NGSS and teach for true conceptual understanding

Lastly, you will take your curriculum to the chopping block. Ok, it’s not quite so dramatic. Basically, you just need to figure out which topics align fantastically and are obvious keepers, which topics are not aligning at all (you’re probably going to want to chop those), and where you have gaps. (Where do you have standards that aren’t being addressed? And how can you address them?)

Remember that when you are diving deeper into content – when you are truly teaching in an NGSS aligned classroom – your students are going to need extra time to grapple with the ideas and concepts.  NGSS instruction takes time. Students must explore concepts independently, come to their own explanations, revise those explanations, and oftentimes explore again.

Don’t cut depth to increase breadth.  Our education system has been attempting that for quite awhile now, and it hasn’t worked.  We have disengaged students who may or may not be able to spit back facts but for sure don’t understand the important concepts.  They may be able to tell you what condensation is, but they can’t explain why it happens: where did that water come from!? (That first picture makes sense now, right!!)

resources To Help Transform Your Content

how to evaluate your science curriculum to better align its content to the NGSS

To help you with this process, I created a curriculum evaluation tool.  You can complete the graphic organizer step-by-step to get a good picture of where you’re at and where you will want to move to. From that point, you can begin transforming individual units to actually meet the standards and start teaching for conceptual understanding in your science classes.  Remember, this is a long road – don’t get overwhelmed.  Take it step by step, and you will get there.  And again, there’s a growing teaching community – including the Science Teacher Tribe – that can provide resources, support, and guidance as you shift to the NGSS. You can access the resource (actually, all of the resources!) here after you join as a FREE member.

Looking For More?

If you are looking for additional trainings and resources on these topics –  teaching with the three dimensions, the SEPs, CCCs, engineering in the classroom and so on, you may be interested in the NGSS Your Science Class self-paced course, starting this fall.  You can try out the first class free here by joining the Science Teacher Tribe as a FREE MEMBER.

Remember, adopting a Next Generation state of mind takes time. It’s going to take some serious shifts in our understanding of science as a discipline and its three dimensions, the content of our classrooms, and the strategies we employ during instruction.

Today, I covered the second step — making some tough decisions about your content based on the standards.  Stay tuned to learn more about shifting your instructional strategies to better align to the intent of the NGSS.

Then again, if you just can’t wait, you can watch a whole video workshop about it here.