Science Curriculum: One Size Fits All?

With the shift to NGSS, adopting a science curriculum has become a major hurdle to many science teachers. There simply is not enough time to create every science unit from scratch, and that leaves teachers searching for a “one size fits all” type curriculum that can meet their students needs, while also meeting the standards.

One size fits all science curriculum pin

Does one size fit all?

In short, no. The curriculum available for NGSS is disappointing to a lot of teachers. After adopting a specific curriculum, many teachers begin to feel like their students just aren’t connecting to it. Even resources and curriculum that is loved and praised by some teachers, may seem like it isn’t meeting the needs of students in other classrooms. That alone lets us know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to curriculum.

Why Doesn’t One Size Science Curriculum Fit All?

Our students don’t always have the same experiences as students in other places of the world. This means a single science curriculum cannot be relatable to all students everywhere. This statement is especially true when it comes to anchoring phenomena that is presented. Typically, the phenomena is what hooks students into a unit, and guides their questions. However, if students can’t relate to a phenomena, or they don’t have an emotional connection to the phenomena presented, they will not be engaged. In short, different phenomena will be applicable to different students.

Another thing that keeps curriculum from being “one size fits all” is the storylines presented. With curriculum, storylines are often already mapped out from beginning to end. They are laid out in a series of steps and lessons that have a specific sequence to follow. However, storylines need to be driven by our students. When beginning a unit, the storyline doesn’t need to be fully mapped out by us, or by a curriculum. Instead, it needs to be co-created with our students in order to answer the questions they have.

I know many teachers would love a truly “one size fits all” approach that they could adopt and implement statewide. Curriculum creators would love to make things relevant to everyone. Unfortunately, that is just not possible with NGSS. Even if you look at a single state like New York, the same phenomena that would be relevant to students living in different areas. Students living in an urban area like New York City, would not have the same relevant phenomena when compared  to the students living in more rural upstate areas. What it takes to engage different groups of students will be different, which is why there will never really be a one size fits all science curriculum.

How Can I Make Purchased Science Curriculum Work?

Maybe you or your school have already purchased a curriculum that isn’t quite meeting the needs of your students.  You can still make it work for your classroom by treating it as the base of your unit. Change out the anchoring phenomena to make it more relevant if you need to. Change the storyline a bit by moving lessons around, taking lessons out, and adding things in as needed. Making a few small changes can make the curriculum more relevant, without having to change the whole thing.

After giving the curriculum a chance, you might also find that things you thought would not be interesting to your students, ends up being really engaging for them. For example, my colleague began a space unit with her students. She didn’t think it would be relevant, but students were really engaged. This was due to current events in space that students knew about, like the new Mars Rover.

However, this unit may not work in the future, because it won’t be as timely. As we all know, what works for students one year, may not even work the next years’ students. Overall, you can still use curriculum you already have to expose students to all the content you had intended. It may just not be in the order you anticipated, or the order the textbook suggested.

While it is true that “one size fits all” curriculum cannot truly exist, that doesn’t mean all of the curriculum is bad. It may be that you need to see where your curriculum is lacking, and fill in the gaps with different phenomena, or an altered storyline. When using a curriculum, the most important thing to remember is to be responsive to your students, and make changes as necessary.

Find Out More

Find out more about science instruction by joining my Be Curious Community Cohort this fall.

You can also listen to the full podcast episode covering this topic below, or by clicking here to be taken to Apple Podcasts.