Own It! Build It! Share It!: Thoughts on NGSS Professional Learning
By Dave Tupper
As CA NGSS teachers of science our goal is that “All students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology” (National Research Council). In order to realize this vision, we are asking teachers to approach science instruction in a new and novel way. This gives us all one thing in common...the need for deep professional learning to address the key innovations around teaching and learning required of the CA NGSS. Our kids are depending on us.
Though there may be challenges in terms of time, funding, competing initiatives, and the like, as professionals we recognize that implementing the CA NGSS without quality professional learning is not a viable option. So, how might we get started? In the words of a wise colleague….Own it! Build it! Share it!
Be an advocate. No matter your sphere of influence, whether it be with your grade level, your site, district, or even county office, we all need to keep pushing. It may be hard to think about for some of us, but the NGSS are not “,new” they were adopted by the California State Board of Education on September 4, 2013. In the 5+ years since then, many of us continue to refer them as “our new standards.” They are no longer new, and we need to communicate that to our administrator and teacher colleagues. If necessary you can leverage the recent CA Dashboard news that future state measures will include performance on the California Science Test. Knowing that the standards are here and educators need professional learning to implement them effectively is not enough. All professional learning is not created equal and research continues to indicate that improving teacher practice requires high quality, long term professional learning strategies as close to the classroom as possible (Loucks-Horsley, S). For most of us, it will take some creative thinking to figure out how we might orchestrate the kind of professional learning that stays true to the spirit and intent of the NGSS, and transfers into classroom practice. The “Drive-by” 2-hour session once a year is not going to cut it…so what can be done? Creativity is key and it can be very helpful to shift the mindset from all of the ways it can’t be done, to thinking of all the ways we can make quality professional learning happen.
Finding a way
Having established high-quality NGSS professional learning as a non-negotiable, finding a way to provide it is a logical next step. Understanding that districts vary widely in size and complexity in terms of professional learning systems, structures, policies, and practices, a few common strategies seem to have shaken out as we consider providing science professional learning.
What is already in place?
A useful early strategy might be to determine what professional learning structures already exist in your setting (district, site, grade level) that may be leveraged. Is there an established plan for science? Are there existing PLC structures? Instructional Coaches? Nothing? Other? Many districts provide a “PD Day” or “Professional Growth Day” just prior to the school year and perhaps again mid-way through the school year, is something like that available? What expertise and/or enthusiasm already exists? Initiating conversations across the system and taking an inventory of opportunities and resources is a nice place to start.
Take what they give you, do good stuff & leave them wanting more
It is likely that the early professional learning opportunities around NGSS will be much too short in duration and not address the depth, complexity, and rich opportunities for the type of student learning and engagement NGSS provides. That is OK...as a start. Whatever the opportunity, endeavor to provide (or share) relevant, high-quality learning that leaves people wanting more. As a colleague once mentioned to me, “Do something good and tell someone, tell someone, tell someone.” You are creating advocates and building enthusiasm across the system...word will spread laying the groundwork for additional professional learning. As an aside, this can provide an opportunity to address some of the funding issues via LCAP, School Site Plans, etc., initiate those conversations and continue to advocate.
Get creative and exploit convergences
With teachers and administrators recognizing the need for more professional learning around NGSS there still may be constraints in terms of the aforementioned issues of time, money, and competing initiatives. If you are lucky there will be numerous dedicated opportunities for NGSS professional learning, if not, working creatively and thinking “out of the box” can allow you to create opportunities that don’t add much to the calendar and/or budget and more importantly don’t diminish the quality of the NGSS professional learning. These may include things like: Facilitated Lesson Studies (one of the most effective strategies utilized by the California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative), coaches/other experts providing site/district/grade level professional learning, modified lesson study, science sessions as a “have to” at district professional learning days, admin/teacher led sessions at sites, a series of sessions around SEPs, after school/early out sessions, cross-content work r.e. math/ELA practices overlap, etc. Your context will determine how this can look for you. With even small districts having many moving parts with a complex calendar(s), a recommendation would be to initiate conversations, build communication channels, get requests in early, and build relationships with those in charge of calendars at both the site and district level.
Sharing the Load
Having leveraged existing opportunities as well as built new ones as you utilize the capacity built within your own system, there are a few other important things to consider. We know that change is a process and the transition to NGSS implementation, even with high-quality professional learning, is going to take time. To that end, we need to recognize that none of us can do this by ourselves, but will need help in the form of a thought partner as we move forward in a coherent manner. Happily, the science education community is a collaborative, forward-thinking community ready and willing to help each other on this journey of continuous improvement as we continue to do good things for kids. CSTA and many organizations stand ready to help provide guidance, feedback, planning, professional learning, and more. The California Department of Education, Ca Science Framework, CA NGSS Rollouts 1-3, CA NGSS Rollout 4, your local County Office of Education, The California Science Projects, K-12 Alliance@WestEd, Exploratorium, and others all offer a wealth of resources.
What can you do?
Consider where you are in this journey. What has been done so far? What might be your next step? The Ca NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative project directors represent districts of all sizes from 120,000+ students to less than 4,000 and are more than happy to share our journeys and individual insights around our professional learning successes and challenges as you Own it! → Build it! → Share it!
National Research Council. A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. National Academies Press, 2012.
Loucks-Horsley, S. "Love N Stiles KE Mundry S Hewson PW Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics 2003 2 Thousand Oaks."
David Tupper a teacher on special assignment for the Lakeside Union School District, a project director in the California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, lecturer in the San Diego State University School of Teacher Education, and is co-chair of CSTA’s NGSS Committee.