4 Common Stumbling Blocks to Implementing NGSS in Instructional Practices and How the National Research Council’s New Guide Responds to Them

Okay, I admit it. I’m over the moon excited about a new publication. I know. I know. I’ve got to get a life. And this publication isn’t even fully fledged yet. It’s the National Research Council’s Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, and an Advance Copy, in other words uncorrected proofs, was released on January 8, 2015. (p.s. It’s free here.)

The reason I’m so excited about this release is that it provides a kind of blueprint for those of us who teach science to kids or who coach the teachers who do. It can help us begin to address implementation of the NGSS.

The thing is, just like bad habits, it’s really hard to change our educational practices . . . really, really hard. We grew up with teachers teaching science in a textbook sort of way; perhaps we’ve taught it that way ourselves for many years. If I can’t even get over my high school typing class training and finally stop adding two spaces after every period, it’s certainly not going to be easy for educators to teach science using the radically different approach that the NGSS requires.  It will take time and possibly permission from ourselves to let go of outdated practices that seemed to have value in the past.

The GUIDE, as I will now lovingly call it, is very forgiving on that score.

  • “It may be tempting to expect to see results in students’ achievement within 1-2 years, but it will likely take a minimum of 3-4 years for teachers to transition to effectively teaching the new standards. … It takes several years for changes in instruction to become stabilized.”
  • “It is important for school leaders to be prepared to accept less than perfect outcomes in the initial years of implementation of the NGSS.”
  • “It is also important to emphasize that implementation is a 5 – 10 year process, and stakeholders need to be supportive of the long-term goals rather than focus solely on short-term results.”
  •  “It is unrealistic to expect teachers to completely transform their instruction at one time or even quickly. They will need time and on-going support to take incremental steps toward the instructional vision, over a period of at least 2-3 years. For example, teachers might start by teaching only one new or redesigned unit that incorporates science and engineering practices and focuses more in depth on the target disciplinary core idea.

So let’s breathe a collective sigh of relief. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and we all know it. But having said that, there are several things we might begin working on immediately in our own practice, looking to the GUIDE for . . . well, for guidance. And possibly for that much needed authorization to change.

Here are 4 very common stumbling blocks to NGSS implementation that I encounter when I visit schools. We could easily begin addressing them right away by first being aware of them and then recognizing how out of synch they are with the new standards.  We can start having professional conversations about them. We can definitely call ourselves on them whenever we are tempted to allow these stumbling blocks to NGSS implementation  to get in the way of helping students develop into the scientists and engineers they inherently are.

As colleagues, we can begin having the conversation about the stumbling blocks to NGSS implementation .

As colleagues, we can begin having the conversations about the stumbling blocks to NGSS implementation . (Teachers from Posen Intermediate)

SB 1. In some schools and school districts, current schedules, assessment priorities, and district/school cultures marginalize science, giving little time for it during the typical school day.

Response: According to the GUIDE,
“The combination of the NGSS and the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics offers opportunities to strengthen students’ learning through use of similar strategies across the curriculum. All three sets of standards emphasize student reasoning and arguing from evidence – even through the nature of an effective argument and what counts as evidence is specific to each subject. Science and engineering problems can be used as examples while teaching mathematics. Science topics can be explored through using science-related trade books or magazine articles for reading in language arts classes. These activities can help support science learning, but they cannot provide all of the science learning opportunities that students need. Conversely, engaging in the science practices requires student to apply their mathematics and literacy skills in the context of their science classrooms and so can help students further develop those skills.

While engaging in the scientific and engineering practices, students will regularly construct oral and written arguments that focus on presenting and evaluating evidence for claims, resolving differences, and refining models and explanations or on improving engineering designs. Students will seek and evaluate information from a variety of sources to support and extend their science understandings. They will read, write, and communicate orally about science ideas. Students and teachers will use mathematics and computer-based tools and simulations flexibly and effectively to support investigations, data collections, and analysis and to develop understanding of key concepts.”

SB 2. Some teachers have a difficult time weaning themselves from the traditional “facts, formulas, and definitions” approach to introducing science concepts and assessing student understanding. They persist in starting with the definitions and having students read the appropriate textbook chapter. They ask information recall questions in assessing students on science content.

Response: According to the GUIDE,
“It is also important to emphasize that a student’s ability to memorize facts, formulas, and definitions not be a prior condition for engaging in the practices; rather, it is through developing models and explanations and engaging in argumentation to refine and improve explanations that students come to understand the value and meaning of definitions and facts.

SB 3. Some teachers are still teaching the “Scientific Process” as a linear, step-by-step model and in isolation from actually “doing science.” They often “cover” this at the beginning of the school year by starting with lessons or a unit on “The Scientific Method.” Classroom walls still have “Scientific Process” charts posted on them, and students still copy the “Steps of the Scientific Method” into their science notebooks and take tests on it.

Response: According to the GUIDE,
“ … the scientific and engineering practices work in concert with each other, they are not intended to be learned in isolation from each other. For example, as students analyze data they will likely use some mathematics. As they generate, discuss, and critique explanations, they will rely on model-based and evidence-based argumentation and reasoning. As they design and carry out investigations, they will need to revisit and refine their initial questions. And as they obtain and evaluate information from multiple sources, they will need to ask questions about what they are reading and its sources etc. The practices are neither a set of steps in a process nor a recipe as to how to proceed; rather, they are tools to be used as needed and often one needs more than one tool at a time for a question or problem.”

SB 4. Some teachers claim that they can’t teach science or implement the NGSS because they don’t have textbooks for their students.

Response: According to the GUIDE,
“At the time of this report being written, the committee was not aware of any year-long comprehensive curriculum resources at any grade level built explicitly for the NGSS, though a number are under development. Developing and phasing in a full set of new curriculum materials aligned with the NGSS will take time.” “To be able to evaluate whether or not curricula actually meet the expectations of the NGSS, it will be important for educators to experiment with trying some of the instructional shifts before selecting or developing curricula.” “ … textbooks that include all possible topics rather than focusing on the disciplinary core ideas should not be selected for use. Similarly, textbooks should not be selected that include the disciplinary core ideas, but do not include approaches that have students engaged meaningfully in the science and engineering practices to develop and use those disciplinary core ideas. Some school districts are moving toward use of open access materials rather than undertaking traditional textbook adoption.

NGSS requires a new approach to teaching science.

The NGSS vision of instruction is not textbook based, covering the content in linear fashion.

Bottom line, the NGSS vision of instruction is not textbook based. It requires the use of multiple kinds of materials and resources, including things you already have on hand, such as your school yard, and including online resources that are plentiful and free, except for the time you have to invest to find them. There is great value in teachers collaborating “to evaluate existing materials and lessons for how well they reflect all three dimensions of the NGSS” and participating “in a group activity to redesign a particular unit can be an effective professional development opportunity.” And to put a fine point on it, the GUIDE states that “waiting before beginning to change instruction,” until you have textbooks and other curriculum materials that are NGSS aligned is one of the major pitfalls to avoid in NGSS implementation. So the best way forward is simply to begin.

I know I’ll be drawing inspiration from the GUIDE in the coming months. I encourage you to do the same. It’s free, succinct at only 90 pages long, and represents your tax dollars hard at work.

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.



Filed under book review, collaboration, NGSS, professional development, science teaching, The Scientific Method, Uncategorized

3 responses to “4 Common Stumbling Blocks to Implementing NGSS in Instructional Practices and How the National Research Council’s New Guide Responds to Them

  1. !

    love this – much! Exactly my feelings! Thank you!


  2. Jillian Ryan

    Thanks Penny! These are some great tips, I will definitely pass them to my school. Especially, the part about it taking time to see the results from the change.


  3. You are amazing Penny. Great post. This will be so helpful for many!


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