Simplifying The NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

The Science and Engineering Practices can be a lot to take in, especially when we’re moving toward integrating them on the day to day. However, when we think about these practices as “bundles” with each bundle serving its own purpose in our students’ learning, we can begin to see regular opportunities to integrate practices in our science classrooms.

How can I get a grip on these Science and Engineering Practices?


If you’ve been at the NGSS for awhile, the term “Science and Engineering Practices” should be pretty familiar. That said, understanding how to incorporate them can be pretty tricky. They are meant to be used — to discover, make sense of, and demonstrate mastery of  science content. That’s a tall order! Plus, there are eight of them! It’s a lot to wrap your brain around.

The more I have used the SEPs, though, the more I have realized I tend to use them in predictable ways.  In fact, I can probably boil down my use of each practice to one of THREE ways:


🧐 Investigating Practices:

  • Asking Questions
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Investigating Practices are all about helping students discover the content.  Students are making observations to develop questions and investigating their questions to collect data. Then, they are organizing that data in order to analyze and interpret it to draw conclusions.   


🧠 Sensemaking Practices:

  • Developing and Using Models
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Constructing Explanations

Sensemaking practices are where they take it a step further. These practices support students as they organize their observations to explain a phenomenon.  They synthesize their discoveries to develop cohesive understandings and communicate those understandings through models and explanations. These practices are also great at illuminating what students have learned, so I have found these are perfect to incorporate into formative and summative assessments.  


⚖️ Critiquing Practices:

  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  • Obtaining Evaluating and Communicating Information

Critiquing Practices ask students to dive deeper, think more critically, and develop the skills to evaluate ideas and defend their understandings.



Why Bundle The Science And Engineering Practices?

By thinking about the practices in these “bundles,” I’ve been able to identify the best “place” for each practice in my lesson sequences.  I frequently use the Investigative Practices when the intent is to introduce new content, while Sensemaking Practices come in later in the sequence after students have had time to explore content on their own.   Critiquing Practices are often summative assessments, or at the very least, come in later in the instructional sequence when students have had some time to develop and form their understandings.

DISCLAIMER: Now that’s not 


to say that’s always the case! Students can go right from an Investigative Practice  like Developing and Using Models into a Critiquing Practice like Engaging In Argument From Evidence if you ask them to prove why their model makes the most sense… But in general, you’re probably not going to launch your unit with Engaging In Argument From Evidence when your students have not collected any evidence!


Resources For The Science and Engineering Practices

Integrating Engineering: A How To Guide – Are you neglecting the engineering side of the SEPs? Wondering how to incorporate engineering into your science class? Check out this blog post to get you started! 


NSTA Science and Engineering Practices Matrix – Wondering what “Engaging In Argument From Evidence” actually MEANS!? Not sure what students should really be doing when they are Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information? This resource can offer some clarification on what all goes into each Science and Engineering Practice at each grade level! 

What I See, What It Means: Teaching Students To Analyze and Interpret Data – Grab this freebie tool to help students analyze and interpret the data they are working with.