Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Going Big: Getting 1200 Teachers to Implement the Next Generation Science Standards

As I discussed earlier, my school system has 114 elementary schools.  That equates to roughly 400 teachers per grade level. That means in August, I have 1200 teachers who will begin teaching the NGSS for the first time.  How will I meet the professional development needs of the equivalent of an army regiment?

Let's start with the traditional face to face option.  On August 17th, I will hold a half day professional learning experience for all 1200.  There will be five centers, one in each geographic area.   At each center, a classroom teacher who piloted the curriculum this year will lead a professional development focused on practical implementation strategies they used during the year.  A session which will give them an opportunity to gain some hands-on experience from the perspective of a student.  This session will be preceded by a video based professional development which digs into the inner workings of the curriculum guides.

On top of that, my staff and I have been going into classrooms all year video recording the aforementioned pilot teachers implementing the lessons. These videos are embedded in the associated lessons as "need it right now" professional development.  We don't have them all, but many of them.

Lastly, is the curriculum itself.  Each guide and lesson is an opportunity to improve the pedagogical and content knowledge of teachers.  One thing I've learned this year as a result of writing curriculum and watching it being taught, is that the NGSS are confusing for the uninitiated.  Teachers need to understand the performance expectations in order to understand why they are teaching the curriculum we wrote.   As Steven Pruitt said in his top ten list , simply reading the NGSS does not mean you understand them.

To overcome this, my district has invested time in helping us understand the concepts of Learning Goals and Success Criteria.   I discussed Success Criteria in an earlier post.  Those are the much lauded "I can" statements.  As I've worked on understanding these in the context of the NGSS, I made a pretty significant upgrade to my lesson plan structure.

The table below is the outcome of several design iterations.  It starts with an engaging essential question followed by the PE.  The color coded section is an hommage to the NGSS.  On the left, are the learning goals.  This section comes directly from the three components of the PE.  These are what students are expected to understand.

This word "understand" is a difficult one.  How do we know students understand something?  This is where the Success Criteria come in.  These are directly from the evidence statements.  While these are three dimensional, they tend to learn toward one of the PE components more than another.

Below the colored section is the student friendly version.  The Success Criteria are the non-negotiables. The Success Criteria (aka "I can" statements) are a starting place.  They are specifically what students will do to demonstrate they understand the Success Criteria.  These are negotiable.  A teacher may decide that the lesson we wrote will not meet the needs of their student.  They can develop their own "I can" statements based on the needs of their students.

The example below comes from the grade 5 Earth Systems topic page.   As always,  I look forward to your comments and questions.    

Essential Question:  How is water distributed around the world?
Standard:  5-ESS2-2. Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.
Learning Goals(s): (based on the components of the performance expectation)
Students will know and be able to:
Success Criteria: (based on the evidence statements)
Students can:
  • Describe and graph quantities such as area and volume to address scientific questions.
  • Students graph the given data (using standard units) about the amount of salt water and the amount of fresh water in each of the following reservoirs, as well as in all the reservoirs combined, to address a scientific question
  • Nearly all of Earth’s available water is in the ocean. Most fresh water is in glaciers or underground; only a tiny fraction is in streams, lakes, wetlands, and the atmosphere.
  • Students use the graphs of the relative amounts of total salt water and total fresh water in each of the reservoirs to describe that:
    • The majority of water on Earth is found in the oceans.
    • Most of the Earth’s fresh water is stored in glaciers or underground.
    • A small fraction of fresh water is found in lakes, rivers, wetlands, and the atmosphere.
  • Standard units are used to measure and describe physical quantities such as weight and volume.
  • Measure quantities of water using metric units. 
Student Friendly Learning Goal(s):
I understand:
Student Friendly Success Criteria:
I can:
  • the amount of water found in oceans, lakes, rivers, glaciers, groundwater and ice caps can be represented.
  • create a graph showing the relative percentages of each source of water on Earth.
  • most of the water on Earth is in the oceans
  • freshwater is distributed unequally across the Earth
  • explain where freshwater can and cannot be found on Earth in relation to where people live. 
  • liquids are measured in volume using liters as its unit.   
  • measure quantities of water to represent each source of water on Earth if all water equaled 1000 ml.  


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  2. First time reading your blog. Love it! I am a gifted specialist (former 4th grade classroom teacher) trying to educate myself in all things NGSS. Our district is working towards implementing the NGSS and in my opinion, struggling. I love science and want to help move this effort forward. Big question, how do you get a huge group of teachers to understand the instructional shifts necessary to even begin implementing the NGSS. How did you, as an administrator, educate yourself on the standards? I have been going to as many trainings on my own as I can find and feel like I have barely touched the surface. Any words of wisdom? Thanks!

    1. Once upon a time, I was in charge of G&T for another school system. I tell my staff all the time that we are making this up as we go. There have been a number of blind alleys we went down and had to back track. Trial and error has been my constant companion. The table I ended my post with is the latest attempt to help teachers understand the NGSS at a deep level. Some of them think we make this stuff up. This table has helped to simplify the complexity of the NGSS. You should also take a look at my post regarding learning progressions. We are trying to move towards customized instruction. It drives me crazy watching kids get retaught content they already know. In the long term, we will try to figure out what small group instruction in science looks like. Each group doing something different commensurate with their needs.

  3. Thanks, you are motivating me to get busy at our school. At my first introductory meeting of NGSS, teachers were very enthusiastic.

  4. Thanks Eric! We're adopting NGSS-built materials for K-5, and some of our planning discussions have been about strategies for simultaneously conducting initial-use PD for teachers while also introducing them to NGSS (no K-5 PD on NGSS yet).

    I like the idea of drawing from the PE & evidence statements to describe what students should learn to do. While clearly standards-based and 3-dimensional, this could be done in a way that does not overwhelm folks who are new to NGSS. Hmm...could also guide some simple formative or summative assessments.

    Thanks for the coaching.

  5. Eric, I have been trying to subscribe by using your Follow By Email widget. I cannot get any email address to work, work or personal. Any ideas?

  6. Thanks Eric! I follow your blog and get inspired each time you post. We are working hard this year K-12 with making shifts and teaching with the standards. I like how you took the evidence statements and created the success criteria as it is another way to really get at the heart of the three dimensions and what we are wanting our students to do!