CSTA Classroom Science

Reviewing NGSS Instructional Materials with a Lens for Equity

By Dr. Leena Bakshi, STEM4Real and Ines Trinh, San Lorenzo USD

There’s a lot of discussion around instructional materials and what materials adoption you should be going through right now.  In my opinion, the best part of an adoption process is professional learning around the standards as seen with the CA NextGen TIME training tool (Toolkit for Instructional Materials Evaluation). Choosing instructional materials should NOT turn into a popularity contest. It should be a decision where districts choose an implementation team and focus on professional learning around the standards. This is exactly why STEM4Real and San Lorenzo USD partnered to create a science study team truly dedicated to choosing science instructional materials using thoughtful intentions, focused professional learning, and an ingredient often forgotten, a lens for equity. 

San Lorenzo is a district located in Northern California, just east of Oakland, CA. Serving roughly 10,000 students with almost 75% of the students on Free or Reduced Lunch, the high needs community was in need of a teaching force that could choose instructional materials with their needs in mind. It was necessary for them to build community within the elementary teachers and create a systematic plan for instructional materials evaluation. Teachers who participated in the program received hourly pay and met after school once a month with a focused topic grounded in equity. Teachers had a chance to collaborate with a cohort of TK-5 teachers and science experts on a monthly basis with year-long support and follow up while receiving the latest information on the CA NGSS and Common Core from a team of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics experts, thus emphasizing interdisciplinary instruction. Through this district-wide community of practice, teachers were able to provide students with a strong science foundation and equitable opportunities for success in science grades TK-12 and to set the foundation for success in middle and high school. This network of support for NGSS implementation prepares teachers for the pilot of instructional materials next year that is aligned with current district initiatives/adoptions, Fountas and Pinnell Classroom, Restorative Justice Practices, San Lorenzo’s anti-bias guiding principles as well as the math pilot that is currently in progress. Therefore, through this collective decision making, elementary teachers do not see science instruction as “another initiative”. In a time where science scores will be on the CA School Dashboard, both teachers and administrators have a vested interest in working together to support science instruction. The only way to do this is to focus on instruction and pedagogy, and less emphasis on materials and artifacts. Through our collaboration, we truly wanted to start an impactful process that changed the culture of the district and reignited the passion for elementary science teaching. This is evident in the topics we chose to focus on: 

  • All Standards, All Students: Creating a Culture of Collaboration through the lens of Social Emotional Learning 
  • Phenomena-Based Instruction and 3-Dimensional Learning: Using culturally relevant phenomena to drive science instruction using the TRU Framework (Teaching for Robust Understanding) 
  • The CA Science Framework, and the 5E Model as tools for instructional materials and SLZUSD anti-bias guiding principles for educational equity
  • Incorporating Engineering and the Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) and the use of local resources to support Environmental Education and the NGSS
  • Formative Assessment and Assessing 3-Dimensional Student Learning: Understand how we can assess for “all standards, all students”
  • Case study student analysis, cohort reflection, and culminating presentations

Having this lens for equity, anti-bias, and student-centered instruction allows teachers to look at examples of science instructional materials through the context of their school and community. We know as teachers, that it is very difficult to agree on an adoption. There is no one adoption that is perfect. However, the reality is that we need to equip our elementary teachers with interdisciplinary science instructional materials to ensure that they can teach science every single day to ensure equitable access and instruction for all students. Regardless of what you choose as a department, here is what we suggest: 

  • Consider Your Context: Take the time to consider your context when starting your plan for adoption. Ask yourself the following questions: Who are my students? What is their home language? What are the demographics of the community? What classroom and school resources are available to assist you in teaching science, and conversely, what classroom and school limitations detract from your ability to teach science? What key factors will influence your planning and science teaching? If you don’t have this information, how could you build connections/relationships with your students and their families to learn more? 
  • Invest in Professional Learning: Use the CA NextGen TIME Training. The professional learning is built into the evaluation of instructional materials to equip teachers in making an informed decision. Pay teachers for the time that they put in so that they can truly learn the instructional shifts necessary for NGSS 3-dimensional learning. 
  • Have an instructional framework in mind: Check out open source resources with a solid framework in mind. For example, Pinterest can be… well, interesting, however, if you stick to the BSCS 5E lesson plan (engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate) then you can decide what is a good “engage” lesson or what is a good “evaluate” for assessment. We also utilize the TRU Framework (Teaching for Robust Understanding) to create powerful and equitable classrooms. 
  • Put Students First: Put your students at the heart of the instructional materials adoption. Think about actual students in mind and ask yourself whether or not they would be able to interact with the text or if there are resources for English Learners or Students with Disabilities. Only then can we truly think about equitable outcomes for our students.
  • Sustaining and Scaling: Invite instructional coaches and administrators from different grade levels and subject areas to ensure that this work is sustained throughout the entire adoption. San Lorenzo was intentional in reaching out to the secondary science instructional, Tara Sikorski, to look at vertical articulation during the pilot. It was also vital to include literacy coaches, particularly at the elementary level to support science instruction. 

As you and your district embark on choosing instructional materials, remember that instructional materials simply cannot replace good pedagogy. Though instructional materials are vital in providing informational text and sources for phenomena, the NGSS calls for a shift in our teaching practices that illuminate our students and create equitable opportunities for student-centered sense-making. 

Getting to know our demographics and students is the most important part of this process. Districts can then choose resources that are culturally relevant, have accessible phenomena and ensure that every student group is reached. Teachers should be equipped with tools to support English Learners and Students with Disabilities. Building these learning opportunities requires us to learn about our students and their lived experiences. That way, we can truly meet the spirit of the NGSS when it says, “all standards, all students”. 

Dr. Leena Bakshi is the founder of STEM4Real, a professional development nonprofit focusing on STEM content professional learning combined with principles of social justice and equity for every student. She currently serves on the CSTA Board of Directors as the Board Secretary. Leena@stem4real.org 

Ines Trinh an active CSTA member and science instructional coach from San Lorenzo Unified School District and has spearheaded TK-12 NGSS implementation at the district level and specializes in early childhood education. itrinh@slzusd.org 

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