Discovering NGSS: A Facilitator’s Experience

I’ve been spending a lot of time of late examining boxed “NGSS ready” curriculums that might serve as the backbone to my district’s elementary curriculum-in-development. The sales experiences have often left me with more questions than answers about what me and other curriculum coordinators will need to do to fully implement and facilitate NGSS classrooms and curriculum. It was with this backdrop I left Burlington for NSTA Philadelphia to participate in a “Discover the NGSS Train-the-Trainer” workshop designed specifically for science education coaches, administrators, and PD facilitators. The workshop provided opportunities to connect with educators like me and wrestle with the NGSS and its implications for classroom curriculum and instruction. I left the conference mentally exhausted from the densely-packed two-day experience, but carrying with me some important takeaways:

#1: Cohesively intertwining the NGSS dimensions into classroom lessons and units is a labor of love (with the potential for fabulous results!)

High school science teacher (and science edu social media mogul), Tricia Shelton kicked us off with an immersive experience in three dimensional learning, by watching short clips of her own students engaged in articulating models of the urinary system.

In order to better understand what three-dimensional learning was, we had to immerse ourselves in an NGSS classroom experience!

In order to better understand what three-dimensional learning was, we had to immerse ourselves in an NGSS classroom experience!

Everyone in the room was impressed to see the potential understanding students command when teachers step beyond teaching to the content and structure their classroom and lessons to deepen student understanding of the practices and cross cutting concepts as well. After identifying the three dimensions her students utilized during the lesson we  “immersed ourselves” in an erosion investigation where we able to both see and “feel” a three dimensional lesson.

Through this see it, hear it, live it experience facilitators (and the teachers that stand to benefit when we bring our experiences back) are more apt to be able to identify the presence of three dimensional learning in their own classroom and/or craft three dimensional learning experiences in the future.

#2: Modeling and exploring phenomena is at the core of NGSS curriculum.

It can be challenging to identify “phenomena”, events that are both comprehensible to students and rooted in one or more disciplinary ideas. “Anchor phenomena”, however take it one step further. These events must be complex enough and engaging enough for students to yearn to develop their own explanations of over several lessons, while leading students toward achieving bundled performance expectations (more on that later.) For Tricia’s class, students tried to come to a scientific understanding of how a healthy high school athlete was able to die due to a water overdose. For my breakout group exploring the topic of climate change, we bounced between several phenomena, from extreme weather patterns and temperature data in various regions of the world, to glacier calving, to changes in animal migrations, to the conflict in Syria.

#3: Storylines will take you from constructing strong NGSS lessons to constructing strong NGSS units.

It is a disservice to our students and ourselves to teach disciplinary core ideas in isolation, even if we are masterfully doing so using the practices while looking at them “through the lens” of cross cutting concepts. Not only will students miss out on making connections across core ideas and the larger science disciplines, but teachers will likely run out of classes to meet all of the performance expectations! Effective storylines combine the exploration of anchor phenomena and additional phenomena through the eight science practices. They examine these phenomena using the cross cutting concepts during their practice in the business of “sense-making”. Storylines carry the content over several weeks and help students draw connections between several disciplinary core ideas. Storylines ultimately lead students to be capable of completing multiple performance expectations under their umbrella, sewing connections between science disciplines and the interconnectedness of all the practices when “doing science.”

#4: Science educators are collectively on a proverbial white-water rafting excursion.

Halfway through our workshop, the moderators used photographs to formatively assessed our comfort with both seeing how three dimensional learning could take shape in our classroom and how comfortable we were with facilitating such changes across our school or district. There were several extreme sports photos to choose from. I ultimately selected the white water rafting photo, mindful of the fact that everyone in the room was “paddling furiously” with an endpoint in the back of our minds, but openly aware of the strong “currents” pulling on us and the obstacles (both hidden and observable) in our way. The workshop was mentally and physically taxing with long hours pouring over documents, appendices, and flow charts. Facilitating professional development designed to meet similar goals in our own districts with educators less familiar with coming science standards changes will be a challenge. It is important for all of us to not become overwhelmed with the challenges and pressures placed upon us, and stay focused on keeping the best course possible, mindful of our long term goals of a scientific literacy for all students.

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About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
This entry was posted in NGSS, Professional Development, Professional Reflections and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Discovering NGSS: A Facilitator’s Experience

  1. Karen Mesmer says:

    A great summary of our two days grappling with the intricacies of moving NGSS into the classroom! Thanks for putting this together.

  2. quadsmom says:

    I was in Philadelphia with you and have throughly enjoyed reading your blog and posts. Thank you for creating this resource.

    • MrMusselman says:

      So wonderful to hear! Thank you for sharing with me. What was your greatest takeaway from the workshop?

      • quadsmom says:

        My biggest take away from the training is that science is finally going to be taught the way it should be with less teacher talking and more student doing.

    • MrMusselman says:

      Which is what makes PD around these standards so important and valuable. It will be a hard shift for some teachers with years of experience and materials built around lecture-demonstrate-lab to confirm classroom models. NGSS requires teachers to be masterful at asking the right questions and providing learning opportunities that lead students to understanding. These skills don’t typically come in a boxed curriculum that many districts will be quick to buy because they are “NGSS-aligned!”

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