7 Common Mistakes Teachers Make When Shifting to NGSS


There are common mistakes teachers make when shifting to NGSS.

Let me start by saying that we are all doing the best we can. Most of us don’t have curriculum and are being asked to ask to figure it out as we go. All of these are mistakes that I have made. I often still make them.   Sometimes it’s unintentionally. More often it’s because I just need something to get through the week.

These are just a few things to think about and be aware of as you move through NGSS adoption.

1.  Focusing Too Heavily on the Disciplinary Core Ideas

Sample DCIThe last set of science standards that were given was a list of things that students were supposed to know when they left our classroom.  It was an exhaustive list of seemingly unconnected ideas.  The only thing they had in common was “Earth Science” or “Life Science”.

This encouraged teachers to focus on content knowledge and rote memorization.  “Drill and kill” was what we called it early in my teaching profession.  We taught students to take multiple choice tests.  We failed to teach the connection between concepts, problem solving and application.

When I look only at the DCI, there is a strong connection to the “old standards” in the way they are written.  Again, the DCI focuses on what students should know.  While this may be a decent place to look for early lesson objectives, this is really only the tip of the iceberg.  Focusing too heavily on the DCI will continue to leave students without those deeper skills.

2. Reusing Old Material without Updating It

A lot of us are desperately rearranging our old material into new piles to make them “fit” NGSS.  We have so little to work with, that we are making do with what we have.  I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that.  However, I think we need to be mindful that this should only be a temporary solution.

For example, I have done a “Phases of the Moon” activity using Oreos. Students are given a chart with the phases of the moon.  This is a good lesson, but it doesn’t quite meet the NGSS  mark. Though this does include modeling, a key component of NGSS, there isn’t any discovery or inquiry involved.

However, that doesn’t mean that you should get rid of all of your old stuff.  Some of  it might already be great.  Other lessons might need a little help.

You could easily update the old Oreo lesson and make it align really well with NGSS.  Here is what you could do:

  • Check out this Kinesthetic Astronomy Activity from the California Academy of Sciences.    In the activity, students are given a light source (to mimic the sun) and a model moon on a  stick.  They are told their body represents the Earth.   Then, they are provided with a chart that shows the phases of the moon and told that they have to recreate the moon phases in that order.  I swear, I never remembered the phases of the moon, or the direction the moon moved in relationship to the Earth before this.  But this stuck.  It’s really good!
  • Give the kids the oreos (and probably some other stuff).  Take away the chart and have them create the model themselves.  Ask them to use other materials to represent the Earth and Sun.

3. Giving Students TMI (Too much info!)

Try to limit the notes that you are giving them.   This is one of the reasons that I stopped making PowerPoint presentations for my classroom.

As often as possible.  Try to figure out ways to allow them to discover the information themselves.  This is tricky, and more so in some subjects.  When I taught high school chem, the inquiry piece was pretty limited.  Inquiry in Chemistry can be pretty scary.  Also, the things that you teach in chemistry can be highly complicated and conceptual.

In this case, I relied heavily on PhET simulations.  Before I lectured on atomic structure, I would have them use this PhET build an Atom simulation  and this activity sheet.  I eliminated the lecture piece for this particular concept, and the information stuck quickly.

4. Not Using Evidence Statements


They are your friend.   Evidence Statements can be used to come up with performance tasks, essential questions and objectives.  Use them for backwards planning purposes.  If you want toknow more, check out this blog post that includes a short video explaining how I use evidence statements.  They are fantastic for backwards planning purposes.

5. Believing Something is NGSS Just Because it Says So

I hate to drink the hater-aide here.  But a LOT of people are producing content that doesn’t really fit the NGSS Standards.  Teachers Pay Teachers is full of them.

Do your research.  You can google any evidence statement for any performance expectation.  Read a little and see if the resource really fits that standard.  If you aren’t sure, any good TPT author would be happy to answer your questions.

6. Using the Same Old Assessments

Those multiple choice benchmarks have got to go.  Your district may still make you give them, but you should be able to decide how you count them.

I have pretty much eliminated all tests in my classroom.  Instead, I am phasing them out for performance tasks.  Again, I am using those evidence statements to plan performance tasks.

It is a long and drawn out process, but even my district leadership agrees that common assessments will look much different in the future.

7.  Don’t try to do it all at once.

In this case, do as I say, not as I do.  I love writing and re-writing curriculum.  In fact, I think that when things get a little too dialed in, I get kind of bored at work.  But my hair is getting VERY gray and in am lucky to make it to the gym twice a week.

Do better than me and focus on the 9 billion other things you have going on.

And hopefully, we won’t be in eternal limbo.  I am hearing from many of you that your districts are starting to adopt curriculum so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel on a daily basis.

It is an endless rabbit hole.  You have to be okay with good enough most of the time.

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2 thoughts on “7 Common Mistakes Teachers Make When Shifting to NGSS”

    1. Yes! Absolutely. Especially when using them with google classroom. They are fantastic and its a great way to eliminate some of the paper in your classroom.

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