We Are Transitioning in Different Ways, and that is OK!
Since we began transitioning to the NGSS, we have all taken different approaches in how we are integrating these new standards into our classrooms. As a digital learning coach, I always meet teachers where they are and we grow together from that starting point. We are all unique individuals with different experiences and skill sets, so of course we are each transitioning in our own way. It is important for all teachers to realize that this is OK!
Understanding the Basics- Let's Take a Step Back
With little time provided for professional development outside of my coaching role, this blog is the only way I can reach the majority of you who are following along. It seems that there have been some misinterpretations about the rollout of the curriculum found on this website since the very beginning. I want to back up for a moment and clarify how this curriculum is to be used.
Since there are a lot of teachers creating resources and redesigning lessons out there to support this curriculum, PLEASE SHARE YOUR WORK on the Padlets found within the Overview and Description documents! This will help us revise the curriculum and provide insight into the various needs of school sites. In addition, your voice and expertise will be shared with others and integrated into the curriculum!
Implementing the MS NGSS Curriculum
The curriculum on this site was written in a way to support differentiation and mastery learning in the science classroom. However, there are multiple ways to actually implement this curriculum and not everybody is ready to shift all of their practices at one time. The document, "Implementing the MS NGSS Curriculum", provides an explanation of how to use this site and a couple ways in which to implement the curriculum. In trying to help teachers realize that it is OK that we are all in different places, I created an analogy with rabbits jumping down a path as described below.
The idea of following a path comes from the book "Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard" by Chip and Dan Heath. In this book, the authors use the analogy of people or an organization going through change as a person riding an elephant. Riding an elephant can be difficult because most of the time the elephant seems to disagree with the rider, making it difficult for the rider to go in the correct path. This is a comparison to the disagreement between the heart and the mind when faced with change. In our minds we see the value of the NGSS and agree it is a good direction for science eduction, but we emotionally hold on to our traditional ways of teaching and our tested and true lessons and resources that we have seen work in the past. Publication companies who sell textbooks and science kits are working hard to also change to meet the requirements of the NGSS. However, it appears that many companies are also holding onto some old habits. A complete redesign of how we teach science is necessary to really make the intended shift to the NGSS. Switch is an incredible book, and I suggest anyone struggling with change themselves or within their PLCs should consider giving this a read.
The one idea I want to share from this book is that the first step of change requires providing a path for the elephant and the rider. The curriculum on this website is that path. It scripts the critical moves like what three dimensional learning looks like and shrinks the change into pieces that teachers can handle. It is much easier to redesign a lesson that already hits the requirements of a performance expectation than to create one from scratch. The curriculum is not intended to make you feel restricted, but to help you move forward on your journey to teaching the NGSS. The way you implement the curriculum is up to you!
Choosing How You Ride Down the Path
At our last curriculum planning meeting, I was trying to make everyone feel OK about the fact that we are moving at different rates and in different ways through the curriculum. Some are experimenting with mastery grading and four point rubrics, while others are using traditional rubrics and teaching practices. Some are still in Unit 1 while others have moved on more quickly. This is all OK! We are all on the path of implementing the NGSS.
I used the analogy below to help explain and share what I am experiencing at different school sites. The path the rabbit is jumping down is the curriculum and the rabbit is the teacher. In this first image, a teacher is using the mastery approach to learning and using the standards-based grading system of giving a final grade at the end of each assessment. In this case, the grade reflects the overall degree of mastery of the performance expectations found within the assessment on a particular set of related concepts. Students work through assessments at their own pace and opportunities for revision are provided. This is a student-directed approach in which we are shifting the responsibility of learning to the student. Please do not confuse this with independent learning. Although the role of teacher in this model has become more of a facilitator, supporting struggling students through their journey has never been so necessary!
In the second image below, a teacher is using a whole class approach where everybody participates in each part of the assessment at the same time. This is a more teacher-directed approach. In some cases, a teacher may allow students to work on prior parts of the assessment, but each part is graded separately in the gradebook. This approach to grading is one that teachers and parents are more accustomed to and may be an easier shift for many teachers. Both four point mastery rubrics or traditional additive rubrics may be used in this model, but be aware that using the traditional additive rubrics in this model may very likely make grading an overwhelming and time consuming task.
In the third image below, a teacher is significantly redesigning the curriculum as shown by the rabbit jumping off of the path. In this case, a teacher will spend quite a bit of energy and time trying to improve the parts of the assessment. We definitely encourage this because it helps provide us with more resources when we revise the curriculum. However, these teachers need to be careful not to go off the path too far by using the evidence statements as a guide. Please also be aware of traditional teaching practices creeping back into the curriculum like the use of worksheets, note taking and prescribed labs.
We may also have a few teachers that are continuing to teach the former CA '98 science standards and have not jumped on the path or want to create a path of their own. This is inevitable that a few teachers will want to see all this new curriculum and change in action before they will transition. We are all unique individuals with individual needs. Just know that the support is there when they are ready within our district wide and department PLCs.
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 and practices found within the NGSS. Her most current work as a TOSA is focussed 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 acting as a Professional Learning Facilitator and Instructional Coach for NSTA.