For the past two years, I have spent much of my free time writing curriculum found on this website to help support teachers who were beginning to transition to the NGSS. This journey began three years ago when I was an instructional coach supporting science and STEM teachers and we were told that our school district was adopting the integrated middle school model for the NGSS. This was not the decision all were hoping for, but many like myself were relieved to have a direction to begin moving forward.
Since not everyone was on board and since few to none of the teachers had actually read the K-12 Framework for Science Education, there was a lot of confusion as to what this shift to new standards entailed. As we have all seen over the years, the idea of change was met with some resistance. Mostly due to the fact that some teachers were not comfortable teaching content from the newly adopted science domains and others were already happy with the curriculum they were teaching. And then, the CA Framework for the NGSS was released.
The CA Framework did some of the heavy lifting for us by bundling the PEs. It also provided vignettes and examples of what this new style of teaching might look like in the classroom. But again, very few teachers actually read the CA Framework so I figured this was a good place to begin talking with teachers about the new standards.
I met with each middle school science department separately and we dissected one middle school instructional segment of the CA framework. We looked at the bundling of the PEs, began to brainstorm and share ideas for lessons that we already had that might be useful, and sequenced the DCIs to create a coherent storyline around the focus of the instructional segment provided in the CA Framework. In the end, the teachers saw the value of the integrated model and began to understand the idea of three dimensional learning once we looked at how the CCCs and SEPs might fit together with the DCIs. It was a great starting place and we had moved in the right direction just before we reached our summer vacation of 2016.
Looking back, it is at this point in the journey where we should have sought professional learning opportunities from those who better understood the vision presented in the K-12 Framework for Science Education as offered by NGSX or NSTA. As the case in many other school districts across the nation, these types of professional learning opportunities did not exist and/or were not provided. Instead, a group of teachers were tasked with an intense week of writing NGSS-aligned curriculum that would be piloted during the 2016-2017 school year.
Anticipating the struggle these teachers would have, I digitized and edited the sequences they created to remind them of their learning and share their thinking with one another. I then dove in to try and write a couple lessons for the first instructional segments of the CA MS Integrated Framework. I used the evidence statements as a guide and found many NGSS resources online and curated them all into this document. The online resources were invaluable and the lessons were raw and unrevised. But, we at least had a starting point for teachers to begin planning their first few months of the school year.
The teachers did a great job using the 5E model to begin thinking about how they would implement their first few lessons, but did not get very far into curriculum planning. They were provided a few more days of curriculum writing time throughout the year but many found the process frustrating with opposing views and work styles. I found that the teachers did a fantastic job using the online resources to find lessons, simulations, videos, and articles that aligned to the DCIs and some SEPs, but they did not have the time or capacity to write them up into NGSS aligned, three- dimensional lesson plans.
This is when I began to write up the lessons using the resources they found as well as new resources I had found into a logical 3D learning progression that built proficiency towards a PE or targeted set of PEs. Looking back, I can clearly see now that the focus of the learning progression was on the resources we found and not on the phenomenon the students were trying to figure out. Although we used phenomenon to anchor the series of learning experiences with students, the role phenomenon played in the classroom was not leveraged enough to elicit student questions and motivate student learning. It was used more as an exploratory or introduction activity. In some classrooms, the phenomenon could have been considered optional. With all of my new learning acquired from working with the people associated with NSTA and Achieve, I have a much deeper understanding of the role phenomon plays in curriculum design and directing student learning. But, this is where we were at the time and as a coach, this is were I met my coachees.
I also took this opportunity to begin raising awareness of some of the shifts that were starting to trend in education as many of us educators were beginning to reflect on our teaching and grading practices, finding ways to provide more student-centered learning experiences, and leveraging the transformative power of techonology within our classrooms. The development of the four-part learning progression model and publishing the curriculum on this website has allowed me to provide a launching pad for teachers to begin shifting and reflecting on these types of instructional practices, even if they did not have the luxury of meeting and working with an instructional coach. The goal of all of this was not to claim best practices, but to provide context for reflection and discussion around these extremely important topics in education. The conversations teachers were having with me and in their professional learning communities provided strong evidence that this was working. Teachers were taking risks, reflecting on student learning, and growing by leaps and bounds. The systematic approach used through the implementation of the four-part learning progression encouraged, supported and helped to promote the following shifts in instruction:
As with any new model, there are revisions and changes that need to be made and every teacher will implement the lessons found on this website in a different way. Some teachers have found the grading of four products per learning progression to be difficult, others have found students to take advantage of the self-directed differentiation, and some have found the learning progressions to take too long to implement. These are all rich discussion topics that need to be had with your colleagues. Through these discussions, some teachers have realized the need for hard deadlines, others realized the need to explicitly teach students how to peer assess and provide constructive feedback, some edited and shortened the learning progressions, while others realized that there were still opportunities within student-directed differentiation to provide some whole class, direct instruction mini-lessons to help support the concepts taught within the learning progressions.
As a coach, these learnings are considered a huge success as teachers have begun to reflect and grow on their own. Many other success stories were seen immediately including teachers explicitly using the three dimensions within their instruction, eliminating zeros from their grade books, using phenomenon to anchor a series of learning experiences, finding differentiated strategies to support struggling students, and developing efficient practices to provide timely feedback and assess student learning during class time.
The quote below from The Innovators Mindset by @GeorgeCouros below has helped to inspire me to do something big as we transition to the NGSS. I wanted teachers to take this opportunity of change to really think about some of the practices we have used in our classrooms for decades and in some cases, centuries.
In the end, I have realized that we are missing some vital instructional shifts that need to be adjusted in order to better align our practices to the vision presented in the K-12 Science Education Framework which will be the topic of the next blog post. However, before the "next phase" of learning begins, I think it is very important to acknowledge how hard all of you teachers have been working to make shifts in your practices. Even the smallest shift should be celebrated!
And if you are not ready for the "next phase", then by all means, allow yourself the freedom to figure out these shifts at your own pace. Just like we need to allow for differences among the students in our classrooms, we also need to allow for differences among the community of educators that works tirelessly become better at our jobs. Thank you for all you do.
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.