NGSS Curriculum in SFUSD - Lessons Learned
By Eric Lewis
Over the past four years, I’ve been working to create and implement an NGSS curriculum for 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade. As a teacher with 20 years of experience, I know that I could create an amazing curriculum for my own classroom. I also know that things that work in my classroom don’t necessarily work in other classrooms. Something might work or not work due to the myriad of differences inherent in our contexts (teachers, students, school culture, etc.). In my own journey helping to develop SFUSD’s Science Core Curriculum, I’ve learned a lot about what makes curriculum accessible, engaging, and implementable. While SFUSD’s solution won’t work for everyone, there are many lessons learned that can support any district’s plan for NGSS.
There are more and more NGSS aligned curricula out there - how can you choose from among them? When we started investigating the curriculum options a few years ago, we were not too excited about what we found. While there were a few NGSS curricula that were available to review - and many of them were engaging and attractive, - they all failed to meet our criterion around literacy, our desire to teach within the 5E instructional model, and our plan for anchoring learning for our students in the geography and culture of our city. We had decided that we wanted our curriculum to use our city as part of our students’ learning. This meant that many great curricula were just not going to work (unless we put in a lot of work to further develop the curriculum). In the end, we decided to go in different directions at our different grade levels. For middle school, we partnered with Stanford to redo a 6th-grade curriculum that they had developed. We also committed to working with them to develop a 7th and 8th-grade curriculum to meet our district’s criterion. With any curriculum that you’re going to use, the real work is making the curriculum match your specific needs. Even the best curriculum needs to be deconstructed and then reconstructed with your own students in mind. Does the curriculum represent your students? Does it take into account what they’ve already learned? Does it include appropriate cultural connections? Does it utilize the technology that you have (or don’t have)? Making the curriculum work for your students takes time and effort, but this work is definitely worth the effort.
Once we committed our middle school efforts towards designing our own curriculum, we needed to identify who was doing the work to ensure it met our needs and what assets we had. We were lucky that many factors came together to allow us to hire two science teachers that had also had experiences in curriculum development and publishing. We also had the experience and knowledge of our Stanford colleagues to partner in this work. We were also lucky to have the support of Lucas Education Research (a branch of the George Lucas Education Fund or GLEF) to help us make the curriculum accessible and attractive and to document some of our successes. Most importantly, we recruited over 50 teachers in our district to help think about the design of the curriculum in order to keep the diversity of SFUSD’s students at the center of the work. These teachers also tried out our pilot and field test versions of our curriculum - even if the versions weren’t always complete. Through all of these partners (and even more that haven’t been mentioned), we were able to provide our curriculum to our teachers in 6th grade for the 2017-18 school year and to our 7th and 8th-grade teachers for the 2018-19 school year.
Since many of our middle schools were provided technology for their classrooms, we knew we wanted to leverage technology in our new curriculum. Certainly, there are great, free, online resources for students to use. The Google suite of tools is amazing for providing opportunities to collaborate on drawings, data representation, writing assignments, and presentations. In addition, simulations can be found in many, many different sites (though not everything runs on Macs, iPads, and Chromebooks). That said, some of our teachers are self-proclaimed Luddites. So, while we wanted to embrace technology in all ways, we knew that that would alienate some of our teachers and students. In the end, we decided that we’d get the most buy-in with printed books for students (consumables) and a printed teacher version for teachers. Also, we keep our student books on our website as a pdf, so students can always “see” their texts. Finally, GLEF has included our curriculum on Sprocket - where they also host other Project-based Learning curricula. Sprocket provides teachers easy access to all of our teacher and student versions of the curriculum, as well as user-friendly tools for sharing questions, adaptations, and modifications connected to the curriculum. How will your teachers access your curriculum? If your district’s teachers are like ours, you’ll want a few different options.
Finally, we realized that even with a great curriculum, there are many, many pieces that need additional support. Our curriculum includes strategies for English Language Learners and includes ideas for supporting literacy for all students. But, there are many teacher moves that may not be a part of any given teacher’s playbook. We committed time in our first two years of implementation to support teachers in all sorts of ways. Before school started, we had a four-day implementation institute to bring all teachers into the fold around the structure of our curriculum and to actually experience parts of it as learners. Over the course of the first year of implementation, we brought teachers together in Collaboration Days where we analyzed student work, provided time for feedback on the curriculum, shared adaptations and modifications of the curriculum, and learned about what was coming in the curriculum. We also experienced and discussed aspects of the curriculum that provided opportunities to make student thinking visible, practices planning for whole class and small group discussions, and ultimately prepared for video-based discussions around our own practice.
Every district has its own path to follow. As you determine what you will be doing to bring NGSS into your schools, we recommend keeping your students at the center and picking (or developing) something that works for them. Think about the assets that you have already and what you can leverage to support this work. Remember that teaching is an ART and that new teachers and experienced teachers still have things to learn.
If you're interested in finding our more about the curriculum, please contact Eric Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out our website here.
For more information about our curriculum choices for elementary and high school, check out our website here.