New NGSS White Paper Offers
a Layperson’s Guide

Our new NGSS White Paper offers a comprehensive look at the new science standards, and the challenges they present to educators on a district, school, and classroom level. The paper seeks to provide a knowledge baseline for educators who are just starting to grapple with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Main ideas covered include science and engineering principals (SEPs), cross-cutting concepts (CCCs), and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), and resources to help teachers adapt. The paper then addresses some of the challenges that teachers may face as they implement in the classroom.

Finally, the NGSS white paper offers a series of resources to help teachers looking for content and methods to bring the standards to their classroom. These resources are independent of the 90 lessons and thousands of games and assessment items on the Legends of Learning platform that map directly to the NGSS’s middle school DCIs.

“For me, the hardest part of implementing NGSS has been that at times I feel like the standards ‘gloss over’ certain topics. Then [I] dive straight into others in a lot of detail,” said April Thompkins, a Legends of Learning Ambassador. “Sometimes when I feel like if I follow the standards as they are written (with the instructional boundaries/limits), my students might not have the background they need. [It’s hard] to learn new material later in the year or in the next grade level.”

Kristin Wajda, another Legends of Learning Ambassador, voices this concern: “I know some teachers that just use the same activities each year because its [sic] easier. With the new NGSS curriculum, I’m hoping that teachers will embrace the change and create new experiences for their students.”

Interested parties can download the NGSS white paper here.

What the Heck Is a DCI
(and Why You Should Care)

In our last NGSS blog, we compiled a list of the best content and lesson plan resources for teachers bringing the new standards to their classrooms. In this blog, we dig deeper into how the NGSS standards organize science content through Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs).

DCIs outline the fundamental science concepts for students to learn. Along with science and engineering practices (SEP) and crosscutting concepts (CCC), they form the the three pillars of the NGSS curriculum. 

“The three dimensions work together to help students make sense of phenomena or design solutions to problems, and… develop deeper, more usable understanding of the dimensions,” writes Prof. Joe Kracjik on the NSTA Community site.

Kracjik, who directs the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University, played a leading role in writing the NGSS standards ahead of their 2013 release. To help students connect the ideas they learn throughout their science education — which Kracjik calls “integrated understanding” — the NGSS team developed a total of twelve DCIs, which represent twelve broad topics such as “Earth’s Systems.” Each DCI is broken into several subcomponents whose content increases in complexity from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Creating a Foundation of Knowledge

By building on years of learned material, the DCI subcomponents cultivate a foundation of knowledge that students can build on. While students still learn new, increasingly advanced material in every grade, each new concept follows a logical progression from the material they have mastered over the years.

On the Legends of Learning platform, all 90 Learning Objectives across Earth and Space, Life, and Physical Sciences were derived directly from the DCI subcomponents. For example, the Biodiversity and Humans Learning Objective contains eight science games covering material from subcomponent D of the DCI, “LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity.”

Along with covering the specific content of the DCIs, our games help to accomplish key pedagogical goals of the NGSS. As Lauren Madden of Education Week points out, “Learning by doing, designing solutions, and stepping back to see how the scientific ideas are connected to other things give students a more robust understanding of content.” Studying science principles in an interactive game-based learning environment allows students to develop that understanding and retain the material they learn.

As most teachers know, this is not a new phenomenon. Students have always responded better to hands-on learning methods. What changes over time is what those methods look like. Nature field trips, planetariums, and chemistry labs have been, and continue to be, vital interactive learning experiences for students.

The ever-growing presence of computers and tablets in the classroom opens countless doors for interactive learning experiences. Legends of Learning’s online science games present a valuable opportunity to harness the power of these technologies and spark student interest in science for every lesson.

Implementing NGSS in the Classroom

Since states began deploying Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) standards seven years ago, 18 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards in full. Now many schools and teachers are just beginning their NGSS journey. Finding actual curriculum and content challenges implementation.

The NGSS standards seek to create engagement in the classroom. With the NGSS teachers make science learning an active exercise, but finding engaging NGSS content and exercises to achieve that? Now that’s a challenge.

Many teachers visit Legends of Learning for its NGSS content. There are few wide ranging series of content and lesson items for the entire NGSS suite, much less the entire middle school suite (Earth and Space, Life, and Physical sciences). Others are looking for more depth to help students get a grasp of the content.

“For me, the hardest part of implementing NGSS has been that at times I feel like the standards ‘gloss over’ certain topics, then dive straight into others in a lot of detail,” said April T., a Legends of Learning Ambassador. “Sometimes when I feel like if I follow the standards as they are written (with the instructional boundaries/limits), that my students might not have the background they need to learn new material later in the year or in the next grade level.”

Implementation Requires Science, Engineering, and Crosscutting Techniques

While there is great content built off of the NGSS DCI content system available, there is still a wide range of activities that teachers need to take on. Successful implementation requires a multidimensional approach to teaching to be the norm in every science classroom. This requires extending beyond the traditional content first approach. Now teachers must focus on science and engineering practices (SEP) and crosscutting concepts (CCC) requires different ways of thinking, lesson planning, and daily instruction.

In the case of SEP, teachers need to implement exercises that help students embrace the principles of scientific inquiry. On the engineering side, teachers challenge students to define a problem and resolve it via a solution. Other principles involved in NGSS’s view of SEP, include:

  • Developing and Using Models
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

About Those Cross-Cutting Concepts

Though more intuitive, CCC teaching challenges educators in different ways. Traditionally, teachers give lessons in an isolated, linear fashion. NGSS assumes that various aspects of science and its topics cut across lessons.

For example, one might learn that seeds germinate and produce plants (Life Science), but weather and climate changes may create new challenges that prevent the plant from successfully growing.

NGSS recommends teachers make sure that students understand the following crosscutting concepts:

  • Patterns
  • Cause and Effect
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Systems and System Models
  • Energy and Matter
  • structure and Function
  • Stability and Change

“There is a big push to make sure that our students are becoming comfortable identifying and explaining the SEPs and CCC’s that are being presented in our different units and activities,” added April T. “We were given 1/2 day PD time this year to plan with our grade level cohort (or as a department, schools go to determine how they wanted to use their time). We came up with an activity or a system (it was pretty open ended) to make sure the SEPs and CCCs are being embedded into our instruction.”

NGSS challenges teachers to create lessons that address all three principles; DCI, SEP, and CCC. Many teachers actively seek out the resources and getting the training to succeed. To help, our next blog in our series will offer a series of content and lesson plan resources to help teachers bring the new standards to the classroom.

For Teachers
For Schools
For Districts