Supporting Students Through The Transition To The NGSS

How can you support students as they transition to new expectations with the NGSS?

One struggle I see over and over with teachers implementing the NGSS is the shift toward discovery-oriented instruction.  Discovery-oriented instruction is along the lines of inquiry, but it’s a bit more focused than simply letting students inquire and investigate.  There are clear content goals you want your students to reach, but it’s up to them to get their understanding there. You simply provide the resources and structure the activity to guide them to that “ah-ha!”

When you’re just starting out with this approach, most students aren’t huge fans.  I have heard over and over from teachers (and from my own students) how they “just want the right answers.” “Can’t you just give us the notes?” “This is too hard.”  Students who have been fed information for so long aren’t big fans of the struggle of figuring it out.

That said, it has been my experience that with a lot of support in the beginning, students with this kind of background can definitely still transition to a new “discovery” approach without totally shutting down or giving up.  For many, their hesitation stems from fear of failing. They just want the right answer, because they don’t want to risk being wrong. So how do you address this?

Tips and Tricks To Supporting Students

When I do my explore activities and ask my students to make meaning from their experiences (which is really just what the NGSS is about), I use a lot of guiding questions that focus their observations, ask them to make guesses and predictions, and encourage them to take risks with their ideas.  Each explore activity has an analysis worksheet that guides their thinking in this way, so that when we go to discuss their ideas, they have already had ample time to think them through and reason them out.

Early on, I also provide “support stations” where students may be able to check some of their answers. I always require them to keep their original answer and write anything new from the support station in a different color pen/pencil, so that I can still track their thought process.  That said, they get the support they feel they need while I still get their participation and engagement. We follow all of these explore activities with discussions that help students clarify their understandings and address misconceptions. I really emphasize that the goal is for them to figure it out, but I’m there to help, and we WILL get them to “the right idea” in the end!

These approaches have worked well for me with a range of students — from middle schoolers in a private school setting to low-income urban high schoolers.  Your students CAN do it – it just may take a little extra help getting them there. How do you support students who are reluctant to engage in the “struggle” of discovery-centered teaching?


Want to learn more about creating those “ah ha” moments?

Check out this blog post to learn more about structuring your lessons and units to support a discovery-centered approach. 


If you’re ready to dive into NGSS professional development that goes beyond the WHAT and gets into the HOW, be sure to check out iExplore Academy. Get a preview of what professional development inside the program is like by enrolling in the free mini-course, Intro To The NGSS, today