CSTA Classroom Science

Tracy’s NGSS Implementation Journey: Lessons to Share

By Jennifer Kassel and Debra Schneider

Vision matters, not just funding: Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) became a part of the K-12 Alliance’s @WestEd CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative (EII) in 2014-15. With equal parts, excitement and apprehension, six teachers and one administrator from Tracy joined with seven other districts and two charter management organizations (CMO) to explore the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). We wondered how we would make the tectonic shifts—in content and pedagogy—required to implement NGSS-aligned science teaching in our district. For some years before then, very little science had been taught to students in K-5 classrooms. We questioned our collective ability to learn these transformative ideas and to teach them to our colleagues. We faced making decisions without experience and without much context. Our vision guided us. We committed to a vision of our students learning to see themselves as scientists and engineers, engaged in making sense of phenomena in the world around them. This shared vision calmed our worries and drove our efforts. 

Professional learning through expert partnerships: TUSD worked with the K-12 Alliance and the San Joaquin County Office of Education STEM department to learn and practice innovative professional learning strategies. We received in-depth training and support to learn these strategies. For the next four years, from 2014-18, over 50 Tracy teachers-leaders met regularly to engage in lesson study and attended summer science institutes, planned and carried out by collaboratives of Early Implementation Initiative (EII) members, working engineers, and scientists. During these events, we took deep dives into the content and pedagogy demanded by these new science standards. Seeing the success of the work motivated more teacher-leaders’ engagement. The original leadership team facilitated lesson study and ran district trainings; new teacher-leaders volunteered to take on district and site-based work to teach colleagues, build scope and sequence guides for every grade, and partner with schools who did not have staff members in the grant work. Now we wondered how in the world we would scale this project to reach all sites and all teachers. We refocused on our vision: students actively engaged as scientist and engineers. This motivated us to make more ambitious plans: to build capacity, to expand our efforts, and to sustain the work beyond the life of the Early Implementation Initiative grant.

Persist through growing pains: In the summer of Year 5 of NGSS K-8 implementation (2018-19), Tracy held their own series of three summer institutes, planned and carried out by TUSD EII teacher-leaders; many of these teachers took a risk and stretched themselves into new roles. New teacher-leaders joined the project and learned to facilitate a TLC lesson study at their school sites and to present to their staff colleagues about “implementation basics”: the cognitive science of student learning, how to use phenomena as the focus of science lessons, and how to plan science lesson sequences using the 5E Instructional Model. Now at every one of TUSD’s 13 K-5, K-8, and 6-8 schools, there is a science leadership team working with site administration to shift instruction to student-centered, inquiry-based, phenomena-focused science teaching. Site-based teacher-leaders receive support at bi-monthly district training meetings to maintain the quality of our efforts but expanding to all sites has exposed challenges and the need for differentiated solutions. We plan to continue this model of site-based leadership as we take on our new project: a PreK-12 STEM pathway for all TUSD schools funded by a Department of Education early- phase Education Innovation and Research grant. 

Take one step, then another: When other LEAs ask us about how to implement NGSS, we make sure to tell them that others can do this, too. None of this work was “invented” by TUSD nor was it envisioned by the Tracy team in 2014. We learned from and copied the work of the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd, our EII partner districts and CMO, and the California Science Teachers Association. TUSD received expert support from the San Joaquin County of Education’s STEM department and TUSD district administrators who made NGSS implementation a site priority. We believe our success comes not only from having the gift of the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd Early Implementation Initiative grant but also from holding our vision central, making strong partnerships with expert groups, and staying flexible and persistent in the face of questions and challenges. What is your NGSS implementation journey? 

These reports are useful for those seeking more information about the efforts of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative: 
o    Next Generation Science Standards in Practice: Tools and Processes Used by the California NGSS Early Implementers. (View Report)
o    The Needle is Moving in California K-8 Science. (View Report
o    The Synergy of Science and English Language Arts: Means and Mutual Benefits of Integration. (View Report)
o    Administrators Matter in NGSS Implementation: How School and District Leaders Are Making Science Happen. (View Report)
•    Developing District Plans for NGSS Implementation: Preventing Detours and Finding Express Lanes on the Journey to Implement the New Science Standards. (View Report)

Jennifer Kassel is a Teacher on Special Assignment in the Professional Learning Department and a member of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative Core Leadership Team for Tracy Unified School District and a member of CSTA.

Debra Schneider is the Director of Instructional Media Services and Curriculum and the Project Director for the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative for Tracy Unified School District and a member of CSTA.



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