Thursday, November 7, 2013

Steps for Implementing New Science Standards

Reviewing a district science program and implementing changes to it is not a simple or straightforward process. I worry that district or school leaders might approach the change by aligning their content at each grade to new standards and adopting some new curricula. Recent research-based science guides (such as the NRC Science Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards) will take much more in-depth and ongoing professional development to use well. I've thought through some basic ideas for what teacher work time and workshops should look like as groups re-imagine their science programs. I decided to include time frames that are a bit dreamy, being beyond what districts might actually consider reasonable. Though, to do the work well, I do think teachers will need even more time than I list here. Notably, this process would take multiple years, where teachers have additional time in PLCs between the meetings detailed below to share ideas, analyze student work samples, and review progress.

1) Vision - Teams of teachers start with considering their own overarching goals for students and vision for science education in their district. It would be ideal to have parents and/or community members as part of this conversation, particularly bringing in science professionals. I don't think teachers should determine their vision for science in their community alone or solely based on the NGSS. What's important in your community?  I like this goal statement from NRC as a vision. 
*would likely take a half day

2) Basic Understanding - Teachers then receive some help in understanding the structure and intention of the new standards. Some schools might have a stellar science teacher or two who could go to some workshops/webinars, read the framework and facilitate the learning process for the other staff. For districts looking to NGSS as a guide, this CESA 2 website has some introductory PD resources, slides and activities that were developed in WI. NSTA also has fabulous webinars for understanding the NGSS.
*would take at least a half day

3) Lesson Example - Teachers want to see examples of standards-based instruction. So, next, I think teachers would benefit from being led through a hands-on lesson, where each step is linked explicitly to elements of the standards. The NRC Framework's practices and crosscutting concepts would be important to highlight in this lesson, though the way the content, practice and big ideas connect will be the critical piece (three dimensional learning). The facilitator should explicitly state his/her thinking for how/why to link these three dimensions throughout the sample lesson. Teachers could also use models and strategies for how to modify their existing lessons to address these concepts and facilitated time to try it themselves.
*would take at least a half day

4) Audit of Current Practice - Some schools make a brief review of their current practices and materials part of the process, but really introspecting on current work takes significant time. What do lessons in classrooms look like now? Do outside experts observing our practice agree with us on the level of rigor and inquiry in our lessons? Teachers need to be safe to honestly reflect on the shortcomings of their science instruction. With a solid understanding of the vision of the new science standards for instruction, they'll likely see room for improvement. In this audit stage, to get comfortable with this change, most teachers like to first map out how the content they teach will change with the new standards. I repeatedly emphasize they don't have to entirely change their content in one year! It's CRAZY to think teachers can effectively change science content and practice in a year! Seriously, nuts! Be nice to teachers and carry out this process of changing content and pedagogy over at least three years (realizing true alignment will take even more). Aim for one unit each year. This work of mapping out content and instructional practice really needs to take place within a K-12 team. If you're looking to the NGSS, the appendices provide support for this mapping process (see the left column links). Appendices J and K specifically provide secondary course mapping ideas. In this process, teachers also decide whether or not they want to pursue adoption of new curriculum (though it will likely take 3-5 years after standards are released for quality, aligned materials to be produced). Additional discussion points in a science program audit would include course sequences and offerings, resources available, school culture and community/business partnerships.
*would take 2-4+ days depending on curriculum adoption plans

5) Ongoing PD - As they begin to rethink their curriculum and pedagogy, teachers continue to build their understanding of science and engineering practices, particularly in light of their current practice. Teachers need particular help in the high leverage areas of scientific modeling (great resource - Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching) and science talk (see TERC's Inquiry Project). Considering how to differentiate instruction to engage all students in these practices certainly makes sense here.
*would take at least a half day

6) Progression of Big Ideas - The big ideas or crosscutting concepts of science will be less familiar to teachers than the practices and will need their own attending to. The process would be similar to building understanding of the practices, but the crosscutting concepts can be uniquely used to generate driving questions for unit development. "How does weather shape the world around us?" brings in cause and effect. "What happens at microscopic through macroscopic aspects of a polluted river ecosystem?" brings in ideas of scale and potentially system models. "How have societal energy sources and usage changed over time and why?" brings in energy and matter as well as stability and change. Lessons linked to the world around us offer natural differentiation tools to meet the needs of all learners. Driving questions linked to a consistent set of big ideas offer a natural means to link science learning within and across grade levels.
*would take at least a half day

7) Assessment - Assessment and the use of assessment data needs support across all curricular areas, so professional development would not have to always be science specific. The use of portfolios, notebooks, and performance-based assessments is, perhaps, more intuitive in science, and these methods could use more emphasis. It's difficult to meaningfully include the science and engineering practices or crosscutting concepts in a multiple-choice test, though I think groups like NAEP are making progress in that respect. A recent conference at ETS on science assessment brought together the top minds in the field, and many of their presentations and reports can be found online. The National Academies released a report in 2014 on linking assessment to the Next Generation Science Standards. Achieve recently published some sample secondary, performance tasks.
*would take at least a half day, with ongoing reflection on assessment results

8) Engineering - Science teachers rarely have engineering backgrounds, and the move toward STEM and real-world science instruction requires engineering connections from K-12. While many WI schools use curricular programs like PLTW and EiE, simply adopting these or similar programs isn't going to cut it. Teachers need significant time to gain an understanding of engineering and how to build engineering extensions for their science units. Again, this work needs to be done vertically so students do not test bridges and clean oil spills in grade after grade. Many great resources continue to come out to support engineering education. I particularly like all that PBS is doing with STEM!
*would take at least one day (though could be combined over many days with a district STEM initiative)

9) Interdisciplinary Connections - Particularly at the elementary level, we need to think about how to link learning across subject areas. Science teachers, like all teachers, need further support with interdisciplinary instruction. If I started a school, it would be focused on project-based learning (PBL), and I think that interdisciplinary, real-world approach is the best way to teach science (and everything!). Great PBL resources can be found from Edutopia and BIE.
*would take at least one day, particularly at the elementary level

10) Equity - In the process of rethinking science programs, a focus on all students is critical. Teachers continually ask for specific examples of how to structure their classes and lessons for differentiated learning. It's not easy! Authors of the NGSS provided some support that could be applied regardless of the standards being used in a district. Appendix D and the related case studies provide a wealth of ideas for teachers to support all of their students in meeting rigorous science standards.
*would take at least one day

11) Evaluate and Improve - Both formatively and summatively, teachers need time to reflect on these changes in practice and the effectiveness of implementation. This process should involve reviewing student products and other assessment information to consider areas for improvement. The cycle never ends!
*would take at least a half day and PLC time moving forward

Added bonus - Brian Reiser, a science education guru at Northwestern, wrote this useful article on effective science instruction and structuring professional development to improve science programs. 

What am I missing on this list?  Is it too unrealistic?  Let me know your thoughts...


  1. Kevin, thanks for sharing this well thought out vision of an NGSS implementation model. I think you are right to expect that many districts may not give this shift the time it requires, so perhaps the question we need to answer is which of these points will have to be prioritized out of the gate? In our district we are using PD time to give teachers as much time as possible to "practice" the 8 practices and get them DOING science so that they may be more comfortable going forward introducing students to this skill set. Beyond what you stated, I also wonder about how I might reach the needs of teachers who may be uncomfortable with the new DCIs to be aligned at their grade level. How can our districts better serve their needs to "brush-up" on the core ideas that govern the scientific world?

    1. Sean, thanks for your comments and questions! I think prioritization is a great point. I think #1 is an area that often isn't prioritized enough and should be. Teams of teachers often jump into reorganizing their instruction to meet the new standards while not having a clear vision of what science instruction and programming should look like. Your idea of emphasizing the practices could help support teachers in developing this vision. In terms of new content, there are clearly many venues, though I don't know what would be best for your teachers. Universities and non-profits host LOTS of summer programs for science teachers where they learn content (and these programs often don't fill up). Online courses, such as through AMNH, can be useful. As a teacher I took many evening and summer courses from my local community college to get more depth in science subjects.