By Ted Willard, Director of NGSS@NSTA

Many educators are familiar with the idea of backward design in curriculum planning. As educators begin thinking of how to implement the Next Generation Science Standards, the architecture of the standards leads to questions about how to start. With NGSS, what to focus on depends in part on whether you are planning assessment or instruction.

The performance expectations provide direction to assessment developers of what students should be able to do at the end of instruction.  They are not designed to describe what students are doing during instruction.  Furthermore, for students to be able to successfully achieve a particular performance expectation, they will need to engage in several different practices to develop their understanding of a disciplinary core idea.

For example, consider the following performance expectation:

MS-ESS1-1. Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons. [Clarification Statement: Examples of models can be physical, graphical, or conceptual.]

This performance expectation was constructed with the following two disciplinary core ideas in mind:
ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars

  • Patterns of the apparent motion of the sun, the moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, predicted, and explained with models.

ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System

  • This model of the solar system can explain eclipses of the sun and the moon. Earth’s spin axis is fixed in direction over the short-term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. The seasons are a result of that tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of Earth across the year.

The performance expectation also is meant to guide assessment of the following practice:
Developing and Using Models

Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to developing, using, and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems.

  • Develop and use a model to describe phenomena

While NGSS based assessments of students will check their ability to develop a model, instruction should not be so limited. For students to learn what they need to know about the seasons, they will need to engage in multiple practices, not just the practice of developing and using models.  They will most likely need to ask questions, analyze data, construct explanation, etc.

That said, it is important that instruction subscribe to the vision behind the standard that students engage in scientific and engineering practices to develop and understanding of disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts.

NSTA is developing a portal for teachers to share resources and part of the site will be curated.  In thinking through how this work will be done, we have been using the general rule that at a minimum, for a resource to be considered aligned to NGSS, it must address at least one disciplinary core idea AND one scientific and engineering practice.  However, that practice does not need to be the practice that is used in the performance expectation.

If a resource can’t be used to help students engage in a practice, it is hard for me to see how it could be considered aligned to NGSS.  Keep in mind that the overall list of practices is fairly wide-ranging.

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

So when planning instruction around NGSS pay attention to the Practices, Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts in the Foundation box.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)