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.

New TEKS and GSE Compliant Interfaces

We’ve got great news! We mapped our games and assessment items to meet science standards for Texas and Georgia middle school students. This means we have two new interfaces into our product; one that is built for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and, one for the Georgia Standards of Excellence (GSE).

This interface is in addition to our standard Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) interface.

Interested educators from Texas and Georgia can access the new interfaces by contacting us and requesting their accounts be made TEKS or GPS compliant, respectively. Simply contact us and request your preferred interface.

The new TEKS and GSE compliant interface from Legends of Learning.

“Cobb Schools are excited to be using the engaging Legends of Learning resources to teach our Georgia science standards,” said Sally Creel, STEM and Innovation Supervisor, Cobb County Schools. “Teachers are working hard to maximize every minute in the classroom. We don’t have time to waste on resources that do not align to our standards.”

If you haven’t checked out the Legends of Learning platform yet, give it a shot! All teachers can try LoL games for free. Create your account today.

In addition to TEKS and GSE, we are currently working to integrate our games with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL).

“We know there is a shortage of quality classroom material that will help educators teach to these standards in the important subject area of science,” said Josh Goldberg, chief strategy officer, Legends of Learning. “We understand teachers in Texas and Georgia have been waiting for this news because they have been telling us for a long time that LoL helps their students master complex science lessons.”

Let us know if you have any feedback or questions relating to our curriculum-aligned games and interfaces.

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.

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