Shifting Instructional Practices
When you think about NGSS, you think about using Problem Based Learning (PBL) or 5E strategies to help develop students who are ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow. So the idea of sequencing the standards seems counter intuitive to developing these types of creative lessons. Many argued that we needed to build capacity with the Science and Engineering Practices first or that we should use a model for developing PBL lessons that has been provided by several highly reputable organizations. I must admit that I once argued the same thing, until I realized that the we had already been doing this with teachers and we would need to continue to do this for many more years to come. What we really needed was to figure out was a game plan for what we were going to be teaching in the Fall.
We are fortunate in TUSD that we have STEM programs at every middle school, many trained Project Lead the Way (PLTW) teachers and teachers who already practice PBL and 5E lessons. We are also entering year four of the TUSD Connect Initiative which provided a device for every student and digital learning coaches who have been building capacity in teachers and students with instructional technologies. These highly trained teachers were invaluable in helping sequence the standards and brainstorming learning activities to try and meet the requirements of the NGSS .
Working with the Standards
At the start of the PD, we reviewed the storylines and how to read the NGSS. We then decided on the units or instructional segments from the storylines that each group was going to work on for the day. This was done by first having teachers use sticky notes to place over the content in the storylines they felt very comfortable in teaching. This strategy was twofold, first showing the degree of integration and how much we are going to need to support each other during the transition. The second was to group the teachers by expertise.
The next step of the process was to carefully read through all of the Performance Expectations (PEs) found within the unit. They were to highlight the scientific concepts only found within the PEs. They then read the CA NGSS Framework narratives for their unit and highlighted scientific concepts in one color and any ideas that showed integration in another color. Teachers then processed all the highlighted information by placing it into a VENN diagram. The categories were the science domains found within their unit; Earth, Life, Physical, and Engineering. The overlaps provided ideas for integration between the domains. During this process, dialogue was encouraged about lesson ideas and practices they read in the vignettes. This dialogue lead to many of the lessons that were brainstormed at the end of day.
The process described above was vital to the next steps of sequencing the standards and opening teachers' minds to some of the instructional shifts that might need to appear in the unit. We then began to sequence the standards, starting with DCIs and then adding in the SEPs and CCCs. However, we did not just place the DCIs in the order in which we thought they should be taught. We thoughtfully developed a story to tell using big ideas, real world issues, and phenomena to connect the domains of science within each unit and throughout the years.
Lastly, we brainstormed lesson ideas to potentially reach the requirements of the NGSS and placed the PEs in the sequence. The teachers did a fantastic job of incorporating the three dimensions and instructional shifts into the brainstormed lesson ideas. However, we all realize that this is a work in progress and an iterative design process. All of this is just a starting point and we will continue to revise the lessons and assessments as we grow in our understanding of the NGSS.
You will notice in the sequences below that a row of of "additional concepts" was added directly under the DCIs. The reason for this was to help teachers transition. Some of the science concepts they included will absolutely need to be taught to support the other concepts. However, many of the concepts listed come from the CA 98' standards lessons that we have all taught for so long. As we continue to move forward, more and more of these "additional concepts" will be weened out as we focus on the goal of improving our curriculum. I spent many hours over the summer digitizing this work and all of the sequences can be found below. These sequences are now the cornerstone of our transition to MS NGSS in TUSD.
Cari Williams is a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for the Tustin Unified School District in Southern California. She holds a MS in Instructional Design and Technology from Cal State Fullerton and works on the side as a consultant writing science and STEAM curriculum and training teachers. After working for 12 years in the classroom as a middle school science and STEAM teacher, she transitioned into the role of Digital Learning Coach in 2013. In this role, Cari helped teachers innovate curriculum and shift pedagogies through the integration of educational technologies. Her most current work as a TOSA is focused on engineering design in robotics, computer science, and Makerspaces. She is an official VEX Robotics event partner hosting tournaments for teams from around Southern California as well as leading 28 robotics programs servicing over 100 teams in the Tustin Unified School District. Although her expertise has taken her deep into STEAM education, she remains passionate and engaged in helping teachers transition to the NGSS through participating as a Science Peer Review Panelist for Achieve and as a Professional Learning Facilitator for NSTA.