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 Are Crosscutting Concepts and Why Do They Matter?

In our last NGSS blog, we took a closer look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), the standards’ mechanism for organizing science content. This blog discusses another, more abstract pillar of the NGSS’s three-dimensional learning model, crosscutting concepts (CCCs).

The CCCs are ideas that apply across the entire range of DCIs, and NGSS defines seven of them:

  1. 1) Patterns – Observed patterns in nature guide organization and classification and prompt questions about relationships and causes underlying them.
  2. 2) Cause and Effect – Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. Deciphering causal relationships, and themechanisms by which they are mediated, is a major activity of science and engineering.
  3. 3) Scale, Proportion, and Quantity – In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different size, time, and energy scales, and to recognize proportional relationships between different quantities as scales change.
  4. 4) Systems and System Models – A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.
  5. 5) Energy and Matter – Tracking energy and matter flows, into, out of, and within systems helps one understand their system’s behavior.
  6. 6) Structure and Function – The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions.
  7. 7) Stability and Change – For both designed and natural systems, conditions that affect stability and factors that control rates of change are critical elements to consider and understand.

With CCCs, teachers can deliver new content in the context of older material taught successfully, adding continuity to the long-term science curriculum.

Legends of Learning Ambassador April T. says, “[t]here is a big push to make sure that our students are becoming comfortable identifying and explaining the SEPs and CCCs that are being presented in our different units and activities.” This push is important, but it comes with challenges.

Smithsonian Science Education Center Director Katya Vines points out that interweaving CCCs with DCIs and SEPs “will certainly be challenging to American teachers not used to this way of teaching. It will require a strong concept-based curriculum, additional teacher training, and appropriate assessment materials.”

While science curricula traditionally focus on specific content, the NGSS’s “three-dimensional” approach places importance on ideas that are more abstract and can be more tougher for students to learn, and for teachers to teach.

Getting Teachers on Board with CCCs

With these challenges in mind, making sure teachers understand how CCCs work and why they are necessary is key. The California Academy of Sciences compares the concept of CCC to a study of how expert and novice chess players organize information:

Expert chess players think about groups of pieces and the strategic moves they can make, while novices tend to focus on the individual pieces. Like the expert’s mindset, CCCs group pieces of scientific information by broader similarities to fully understand each piece’s importance.

Learning science without CCCs is more like the novice perspective, failing to consider how the different scientific principles relate to each other across the broader field of science.

Bringing CCCs to Students

The next challenge is actually teaching students. As unfamiliar as teachers may be with CCCs, students probably struggle more with abstract concepts. This makes NGSS pedagogy crucial to success.

NGSS Writing Team Leader Cary Sneider has a number of tips for teaching CCCs. He recommends targeting only the CCCs that best apply to the grade being taught. Since NGSS outlines detailed performance expectations for each grade, it is fairly simple to determine which CCCs are appropriate.

Sneider continues, “the best time to introduce a crosscutting concept explicitly is after the students have used the concept in two different contexts. So, for example, after the students have studied patterns in plants and animals, and again in relation to weather, the teacher can help the students see how both topics involve patterns, and how identifying patterns helps them better understand those subjects.”

This “learn by doing” approach is useful because students are best able to understand concepts when they see examples. However, it’s not only students who learn by doing; teachers do, too. The next task is finding out what teaching CCCs looks like in practice.

The Research + Practice Collaboratory published a series of worksheets for teachers that “can be used as part of a multi-component assessment tasks—or they can be used in formative assessment discussions in the classroom.” Each worksheet is full of detailed, fill-in-the-blank questions for each of the seven CCCs to apply them to any relevant subject matter.

In addition, Community Resources for Science compiled a webpage with videos, presentations, NGSS publications, NSTA webinars, and a number of in-class exercises that cover CCCs as a whole, as well as each specific concept, to help educators teach them.

Legends of Learning’s 90 learning objectives are based on the content-based DCIs. The resources mentioned in this blog, and more from our upcoming NGSS white paper (which will be found on our resources page), help teachers bring the three-dimensional NGSS model to their classrooms.

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.

Legends of Learning in the News

1. District Administration – Science-focused platform and game content to be released
In March 2017, Legends of Learning released its educational games (edgames) platform in 100 middle schools across the country. The games meet the standards for middle school science curricula, and CEO Vadim Polikov conducted a 1,000-student study in partnership with Vanderbilt University to demonstrate the games’ efficacy and ability to engage students.

Polikov will facilitate additional surveys and studies to provide more evidence in support of the Legends of Learning methodology in the near future. He explains, “Educators’ time is at a premium now, so providing them with something that is demonstrably effective and easy to use has a far greater chance of being implemented.”

But don’t take his word for it. Talk to one of the hundreds of teachers in the Legends of Learning Ambassador program, or better yet, start using the platform and become an Ambassador yourself!

2. DC Inno – Oregon Trail-Inspired Startup Wants More Video Games In Schools
“Who would’ve thought that one day Oregon Trail would inspire someone to start a company?” asked Samantha Sabin, staff writer at DC Inno. She was amazed at how Legends of Learning co-founders Josh Goldberg, Geoff Livingston, and Vadim Polikov formed their educational technology (EdTech) company.

The three men hypothesized curriculum-based edgames could engage kids in learning, and tested the theory in conjunction with Vanderbilt University researchers prior to establishing the company. The study showed vast improvements in test scores for students who played the games. Once the results were in, Legends of Learning launched their edgames platform in March 2017.

3. USA Today – ‘Spotify for learning games’ coming to classrooms
On March 27, 2017, Legends of Learning launched its edgames platform, an easy-to-use interface featuring 900 middle school science games for today’s classrooms. The company calls the platform “Spotify for learning games.”

Game developers, or “artists,” create standards-based games for “listeners”—teachers, administrators, and students. Teachers can earn free access to the platform in exchange for providing the developers with feedback.

Additionally, schools can pay about $10 per student for a learning management system (LMS) that measures student progress in the games. USA Today calls the platform “an all-you-can-eat menu of games,” and teachers like Rebecca from upstate New York agree – students playing the games are hungry to learn!

4. Getting Smart – Innovation in Education Is More than a New Approach
CEO Vadim Polikov writes that Legends of Learning brings a new strategy to education innovation: academic research. He hypothesized that edgames could improve student engagement in the classroom and put the theory to the test with help from Vanderbilt University.

The study provided Polikov with the evidence needed to establish Legends of Learning, a company that provides an online edgames platform that teachers use to bring games into their classrooms. Polikov’s work also contributes to the broader academic literature, with potentially massive implications for the future of education.

Another huge point of emphasis is ease of implementation. With an idea like this, Polikov says, “When it is easy and obvious, the barriers to widespread acceptance are much lower.” Legends of Learning achieves this with its intuitive platform, which is easy to use for students and teachers alike.

5. WTOP – DC startup Legends of Learning aims to be ‘Netflix’ for educational games
Legends of Learning provides all the ease and entertainment of Netflix and Amazon with its online edgames platform, amplifying productivity, engagement, and learning in the classroom. The platform hosts 900 games and counting, all of which are based on curriculum standards – NGSS, TEKS, SOL, and more.

The Legends of Learning platform is free for teachers as long as they provide feedback to help developers improve the games. Schools have the option to track student progress for a low-cost subscription fee.

6. EdTech Mag – Q&A: Vadim Polikov’s Startup Brings Game-Based Learning to Science Class
EdTech Magazine asked CEO Vadim Polikov what inspired him to form Legends of Learning, an EdTech company that provides curriculum-based games for classrooms across the country. He replied with his own childhood experience, stating, “To this day, I don’t remember what I learned in eighth-grade history, but I am a history buff because I played Civilization.”

Polikov’s background as a research scientist led him to explore why the game impacted him so. He partnered with Vanderbilt University to assess how edgames affected students and learned that games truly do, qualitatively and quantatively, increase engagement and test sores.

7. Baltimore Sun – Legends of Learning raises $9 million for expansion
In April 2017, DC- and Baltimore-based EdTech startup Legends of Learning announced it had raised $9 million from investors, including the Baltimore Angels. Legends of Learning will use the funds to expand the platform and related services, such as analytics and tracking. The company will also add employees to grow its library of games into other school subjects and grade levels and to serve more schools.

8. Baltimore Business Journal – Former Astrum Solar exec raises $9M for edtech startup
Legends of Learning, a new EdTech startup in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, closed a successful seed funding round totaling $9 million. The company offers an online platform for edgames – 900 of them, so far – supporting the middle school science curriculum. The seed money will be used to expand into other subjects and grade levels and to hire new company employees.

9. Potomac Tech Wire – “Today’s top story: Edtech Startup Legends of Learning Raises $9 Million in Seed Round”
A DC- and Baltimore-headquartered startup, Legends of Learning, reported $9 million in seed funding for its online education games platform. The platform features 900 games across the middle school science curriculum. The seed money will allow the company to expand into more grades and subjects, as well as conduct additional studies on game-based learning and its impact on student engagement and achievement.

10. DC Inno – The DC Inno Beat: NEW MONEY
Legends of Learning, a DC EdTech startup that offers learning games based on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), is poised to grow. Thanks to a strong $9 million round of seed funding, the company will grow its staff from 14 employees to 30. It will also develop games for other grade levels and school subjects.

11. Technical.ly – DC edtech company Legends of Learning has raised $9 million in seed funding
In March 2017, EdTech company Legends of Learning released its online platform containing 900 middle school science games for the classroom. At the same time, it raised $9 million in seed funding. The funds are earmarked for growth; the company will be hiring new employees in the spring and summer to expand into subjects across all K-12 grade levels.

12. EdWeek – Do Digital Games Improve Children’s Math Skills?
Students in Florida’s Hillsborough County schools are showing improvements in math after using classroom games such as TiViTz. In addition to higher achievement, teachers are reporting increased enthusiasm among students playing these edgames.

A 2014 study showed that nearly three quarters of K-8 teachers nationwide are using digital games in their classrooms. Related studies, like the one conducted by Legends of Learning founder and CEO Vadim Polikov, have demonstrated strong positive correlations in student achievement – and enjoyment – with the use of digital edgames.

13. EdWeek Market Brief – K-12 Dealmaking: EVERFI Raises $190 Million; Legends of Learning, Marco Polo Raise Funds
Legends of Learning, a new edgames company that launched in March 2017, raised $9 million in its most recent round of seed funding. The company brings research-driven, curriculum-based games to schools.

Its 900 games cover a variety of middle school science topics. With the new funds, Legends of Learning will expand to more subjects throughout K-12 curricula.

14. EdSurge – New Research Proves Game-Based Learning Works—Here’s Why That Matters
In order to successfully implement game-based learning (GBL) in classrooms, edgames must engage students while also supporting curriculum standards. Prior to founding Legends of Learning – an education startup with a curriculum-based GBL platform – Vadim Polikov led an academic study with Vanderbilt University researchers to determine the efficacy of the company’s approach.

The study found that students who played edgames were more engaged in the classroom, and performed significantly better on standardized tests, than those who didn’t play. Polikov has a second, larger study in the works to continue to examine the efficacy of GBL. Research like this is critical in adopting of new, innovative techniques in the classroom, and advancing education in America.

15. EdSurge – How to Roll Out Game-Based Learning—and Boost Engagement—in Your Classroom
Before launching Legends of Learning, an EdTech startup that provides GBL content for classrooms, CEO Vadim Polikov teamed up with researchers at Vanderbilt University to conduct a control study with more than 1,000 8th grade student participants. Students who played the edgames demonstrated stronger understanding of classroom subject matter and scored higher on standardized tests than those who didn’t play. Teachers also reported that students – including those who were normally less engaged in class – had more organic conversations about the subject matter while playing, and had fun doing it!

16. EdSurge – Classroom Gaming Should Be Engaging, Tied to Curriculum—and Not Require Teachers to Code
In order for edgames to be effective, they must be easy for teachers to implement. This can only happen when the games supplement lesson plans with engaging, curriculum-based content.

New education startup Legends of Learning focuses on efficacy, delivering easy-to-use games that adhere to NGSS curricula and fit into short class periods. Before founding the company, Vadim Polikov partnered with Vanderbilt University researchers to conduct a large-sample control study.

The results were promising for both teachers and students, and led Polikov to launch Legends of Learning in March 2017. The company’s platform hosts 900 edgames, and teachers who use it say students are showing improved classroom engagement and better grasp of difficult concepts.

Teacher Discovers Students Want More Learning During Spring Vacation

In two weeks, middle school students across California will be back in the classroom from spring break and taking the California Science Test for the first time. While this is only a pilot year, a committed teacher like Elizabeth Lewellen is worried about how her 8th grade students will perform on the assessment.

So Lewellen, who teaches at Mary Fay Pendleton School on Camp Pendleton, is spending part of her time during this week’s vacation helping students prepare. This has involved letting them use a new game-based learning platform called Legends of Learning that they can access remotely from their homes.

“Legends of Learning is tied to the new Next Generation Science Standards for California so it helps me teach the standards, especially ones I haven’t had time to cover in-depth,” she says. “The key is that the kids enjoy the games and really get engaged…I’m not fooling myself into thinking they would want to learn during time off if it wasn’t for this platform.”

Lewellen says she’s already seeing students achieve learning growth because Legends of Learning lets her observe their activity on an electronic dashboard, even when they aren’t in the classroom.

She is the 2012 Teacher of the Year in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District. Her students come from military families or families who work on the base.

Legends of Learning launched at the end of March with more than 500 curriculum-based education games for middle school earth and space science, life sciences, and physical science curricula. The games, created by over 300 games developers, are based on rigorous academic research conducted in partnership with Vanderbilt University.

The platform was featured in a recent USA Today article that explained how it could overcome a barrier to “getting high-quality learning games into K–12 classrooms.”

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