CSTA Classroom Science

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

By Elizabeth Cooke



Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background
In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena.

Science education now emphasizes three-dimensional instruction consisting of Crosscutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Practices, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. Many districts, including my own, are in the process of adopting curriculum materials from publishers that are specifically aligned to the NGSS Standards. Before this happens, teachers have to creatively adapt existing materials or craft lessons that reflect the Science Engineering Practices and Cross Cutting Concepts.

Our district has focused on the Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts and examined Disciplinary Core Ideas within a grade band until NGSS aligned curriculum is adopted. There are three tools that I have acquired as an NGSS Early Implementer that are invaluable in crafting robust lessons.

Organizing Science Lessons: Conceptual Flow
As an NGSS Early Implementer, I have learned how to organize ideas under an overarching concept using a conceptual flow map. My lesson study team (Kate Gallegher, Roberta Parker, Kim Plagenza, Juli Ward) and I relied on the following conceptual flow that we created after reviewing the Science Engineering Practices and Cross Cutting Concepts for our lesson on air pressure. Although the Disciplinary Core Ideas are specifically for second-grade physical sciences domain, they reflect California FOSS (Full Option Science System) Module for first grade, that our district has been using.

Instead of disparate facts, the map orders common properties and behavior of air under three main ideas. Air is matter, we breathe oxygen, and the wind is moving air. After mapping the essential ideas, we examined the Cross Cutting Concepts and decided that Cause and Effect and Systems and Models best reflected our lesson. We used to post it notes to order the ideas and CCC and then transferred the notes to an electronic copy. We used the notes to formulate a guiding focus question, “How does the amount of compressed air affect the distance of the balloon rocket?”

5E Lesson Format
After identifying the focus question, we discussed the learning and language objectives and determined how to deliver the lesson and how the students complete the learning tasks. This can be seen in our 5 E lesson Study Template. The 5 E lesson plan is a means of organizing learning tasks into stages which are Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate/Extend, Evaluate. The Engage portion is the hook that catches the students’ attention perhaps with a discrepant event or activity that links past and present learning and experiences to the lesson. The engage serves to focus the students’ attention for the upcoming learning tasks. Students investigate phenomena and use academic language in context during the Explore section. Students then make claims about phenomena using evidence from their observations and information from readings during the Explanation part. The Elaborate/Extend portion allows students to apply their knowledge, investigate their own related questions, and deepen their understanding of the concepts. Teachers assess the students’ learning during the Evaluation stage. The stages of the 5E Lesson format can be used within a single lesson or distributed throughout a unit.

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As part of the lesson study format, we presented instruction to two first grade classes. Each time we debriefed, shared observations of the academic discussions and sought ways to improve the lesson.

Reflective Assessment Protocol
Another invaluable tool is the Reflective Assessment Protocol. This tool allows teachers to determine which students met the objective and understood the concepts and which students needed additional support in just 10 minutes. A tally mark indicates the number of students who met the objective while the names of students are placed next to the key concepts to determine next steps. In determining next steps the students’ misconceptions and reasons for the misconceptions are discussed as well as possible intervention. Here's an example of the RAP Protocol.

These three tools, Conceptual Flow, 5E Lesson plans, and Reflective Assessment Protocol together can assist teachers in preparing for the beginning of the semester. The Conceptual Flow can be revisited throughout a unit.



Elizabeth Cooke is a Science Prep Teacher at Markham Elementary School in Vacaville, California and is a member of CSTA. 


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