5 Things You Can Do To Start Implementing NGSS

Elementary Science High School Middle School NGSS NGSS Newbies

I made a LOT of mistakes when I first started implementing NGSS in my classroom.  The first one  was that I really thought I could do all of the things that I had in my head right away.  I worked endless hours, and truthfully didn’t produce much great content.  I should have narrowed my focus a little at a time.   Instead of taking on everything all at once, here is my list of 5 Things You Can Do To Start Implementing NGSS.

5 Things You Can Do to Start Implementing NGSS

1. Come up with an initial game plan with your team.

I cannot stress this enough… the more people that you involve in this initial part of the process the better.  Ideally, you would work with your entire team of teachers and include some administrators in this process.   By working as a team you will have more buy-in and will be less likely to have to redo your work later.  It’s awful to see teachers writing units and assessments only to have them replaced later.


What should elementary school teachers consider when starting with NGSS?

The standards are grade specific for elementary school (grades k-5).  You can decide which order you will teach these standards in, but there are 2 models already available for these grade levels on nextgenscience.org: the topic model and the thematic model.

Note that 6th grade is classified with middle school.  There are still many districts that teach 6th grade in an elementary setting.  If you are in a district where this is the case, I strongly encourage 6th grade teachers to discuss their NGSS implementation strategy with the middle school teachers and administrators.

What should middle school teachers consider when starting with NGSS?

In middle school, the one major consideration is deciding if you will use an integrated model of a discipline specific (Earth and Space Science, Life Science and Physical Science).  Here are some pros and cons of each model type:

  • Discipline Specific:
    • Pros
      • Teachers can stick to the content they feel most comfortable teaching.
      • It is easier to use old textbook and materials to support the transition.
    • Cons
      • It may be more difficult for students to make connections between subjects and to the cross-cutting concepts.
      • There is a lack of connection between subjects.
      • Potential over-reliance of teachers on old materials.
  • Integrated Model
    • Pros
      • It is easier to make strong connections between concepts.
      • It allows you to teach about the interconnection between disciplines and how these disciplines rely on each other.
    • Cons
      • Teachers will likely have to teach topics outside of their comfort zone.
      • Textbooks and materials don’t line up.

I have taught both integrated and non-integrated middle school science.  My strong preference is for integrated courses because I see a HUGE difference in student understanding.  However, it is significantly more difficult to make that transition.

What should high school teachers consider when shifting to NGSS?

I think that this part of the process is significantly more difficult at the high school level.  There are so many things to consider including the alignment of your NGSS coursework with all of the following:

  • The school’s graduation requirements.
  • Your current academic pathways (the order that courses are taught in).
  • The role of elective courses.
  • College entrance requirements.

As I mentioned before, I started teaching NGSS when I was working in a 7-12th grade school and this was pretty difficult to wrap our heads around.  Student are expected to have coursework from each of the three disciplines (Earth and Space Science, Life Science and Physical Science) and physics and chemistry both fall under physical science.  At the time, students were required to take 3 years of science.  As freshman they took Earth Science and as sophomore they took biology.  However, in their third year students were allowed to choose either chemistry, physics or anatomy.  This model left most students with significant gaps in the NGSS standards.  Additionally, the state I teach in only requires 2 years of science instruction.

Different schools solve these problems differently, in the way that works best for them, but this story goes to show that this process is sometimes a bit more complicated than you might originally think.

2. Review the Disciplinary Core Ideas.

When you look at all of the standards in their entirety, they can be more than a bit overwhelming.  However, the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) most closely resemble the old standards because they tell you what a student should know before they leave your classroom.


Before you dive deeper into the standards, get familiar with what is (and is not) in the DCI.  Some of these things might surprise you.  For example, as I have mentioned before, there is no longer a requirement to teach atomic structure in middle school.  Students should be able to distinguish between atoms and molecules, but they don’t have to know about protons and neutrons.

3. Start thinking about phenomena.

Phenomena is such a vital piece of NGSS instruction.  To learn more about why, check out this post.

While I believe you should be using phenomena all of the time, it isn’t reasonable to expect that you will be able to have it all right away.  Try making a list of phenomena that you can use in your classroom.  I am starting to keep track of things that I see out and about in the world using the hashtag #ssphenomena.  I just started so it’s a short list, but I will keep on adding to it.

4. Assess the materials you already have.

Many of the activities you already have can be used with some minor adjustments.  Is there a way to make your labs more inquiry based?  Can you include phenomenon?  Can you add add science and engineering practices or use the lessons you have already created to teach crosscutting concepts?

You may also realize that some of the material doesn’t fit with your curriculum anymore.  Again, you don’t have to get rid of it all at once, but start phasing it out.

5. Choose a Crosscutting Concept and Science and Engineering Practice to focus on.

By narrowing your focus, you are more likely to create high-quality content that requires less revisions in the future.  You can choose the Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Concepts that you are most comfortable with, or choose the ones that seems to show up a lot in your grade level.

Both the SEPs and CCC’s should be explicitly taught, so create a clear method for helping your students to understand these concepts.

Not sure you are getting it right??!?

Check out this post on 7 Common Mistakes Teachers Make When Shifting to NGSS.

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