CSTA Classroom Science

High School NGSS- “Where’s My Curriculum?”

By: Peter A’Hearn

At long last, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) curriculum is finally here! The state has approved 29 instructional materials for use in K-8. The list can be found here. But wait a minute, those are all K-8, what about high school? There are high school programs for NGSS but since the state doesn’t formally approve high school curriculum, they just don’t go through a state approval process. That said, the pickings are slim so many districts are waiting a few years to adopt high school curriculum until more choices are available.

In the meantime, many districts are paying teams of teachers to create their own units, or asking high school teachers to do it on their own. But NGSS is much more complex than past standards. How do you make those 3 dimensions work together and find the phenomenon that will both interest your students and take them deep in the science? How do you help your students use the Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts in a meaningful way to build understanding? It would be nice to have some examples to teach before trying to design our own units. 

"Wouldn’t it be great if there were free high-quality NGSS units that could be used to get started? Well, there’s OpenSciEd, a nationwide collaboration designed to provide free high-quality NGSS curriculum. Open SciEd just released their first units. 

For grades 6-8. 

Okay, no love there for high school teachers. They are in discussions about whether or not they will get to high school after finishing their middle school program."

So is there anything out there for high school teachers? There is not a complete year of the curriculum, but there are examples of high quality, field-tested NGSS units out there. A place to start is with units that Achieve (the non-profit that facilitated the development of NGSS) has evaluated as “Quality Examples of NGSS Units.” They can be found here, and there are 2 physical science and 3 life science examples. 

If you dig deeper and see where these units come from, you will find more units based on the same design principles. For example, iHub Biology from the University of Colorado has 3 units available for high school. These aren’t a full year of instruction, and they don’t necessarily meet some needs like integrating Earth science. However, they are a place to find a complete unit to teach and get the feel for what 3D learning feels like in your classroom.

There is also a whole year chemistry course that is a collaboration between the Concord Consortium and Michigan State University and can be found here

So, what if your school or district is moving toward the three-course model, and you want to try out a unit that integrates Earth science? Well CSTA has got your back with learning sequences developed and field-tested right here in California as part of the 2018 Climate Summit at the California Science Education Conference. The K-12 units can be found here. The summit is being repeated this year with short courses to highlight the units. Registration information for the summit is here, and for the short courses is here

You’re not alone; there are some examples out there for high school teachers to get started on. I know that many districts have built their own units and taught and refined them for a few years. If you have units that work well and you are willing to share, please send links in the comments!


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Peter A'Hearn

Written by Peter A'Hearn


Peter A’Hearn is a self-proclaimed science education troubadour and is the President-Elect of CSTA. (2019-2021).