Science Teacher In Training

Just another site

Water Quality Data

Go to the follow link and compare your water testing data to the data taken in July of 2010.

What was different? What was similar?


Water Quality Class Photos

Aligning Curriculum to NGSS: Lesson Plans

My most recent goal for this summer: Organize lesson plans that align with the NGSS identified for each of the courses I teach.

The steps that have led to this point:

1. Identify NGSS performance standards which I incorporate in my curriculum already. (see previous post)

2. Identify NGSS performance standards in which I am weak or have left out in the past. (see previous post)

3. Identify NGSS performance standards that seem to “fit” best within each course I teach. Adjust the placement of NGSS performance standards to ensure balance in number and appropriate content connections. (I have updated these from my previous documents – samples of different parts of the Excel spreadsheet are shown below.)

Sample 1 (left): General Science course, A few of the performance standards are listed and unit #/name is indicated

Sample 2 (right): Overall planned layout for my General Science course: I list lesson names as I have completed them, I am still in process…

GSSample1 GSOverallStandards

4. Start developing lessons! (This is easier for ones that I have done before or with which I am more familiar.)

I have tried to use the 5E model of lesson planning and have created a basic template that includes the NGSS performance standard (along with my state’s matching standard – our state has not yet adopted the NGSS), where this lesson fits within the other lessons in the unit, the parts of the lesson matching with each E of the 5E model, and which Science and Engineering Practices are highlighted for the different parts.

Here is a link to a sample lesson that includes the basic lesson template. I try to limit each to 1 page and include enough detail so that I know what I intend to do, but not explicit details of the different activities (these details I have in other files or resources).

PS1-1 The Atom

A few points of reflection/emphasis:

1. The NGSS drives my curriculum development process. I do not limit myself to one text or curriculum resource, but try to find what works with the NGSS and my students well.

2. It has been easiest to start with topics/lessons with which I am most familiar – or ones I already teach.  This has helped me get rolling and has allowed me to test out my template and optimize it with familiar material.

3. Sometimes I have 5 lessons for 1 NGSS performance standard, other times I have 1 lesson that covers 2 NGSS performance standards. I figure this will even out in the end. I don’t set a firm limit in this area – whatever lessons that will adequately help students learn the material.

4. Adjustments will be needed. Some areas I go into too much depth and could pull back, some areas I do not go into enough depth. Inevitably, students’ needs will change and I will need to adjust my plans to fit their needs. I plan to use these lesson plans as a loose framework and will adjust as needed.

5. I plan to roughly estimate teaching/learning time necessary for different lessons but anticipate I will find myself low on time the first time through. As mentioned in reflection point #4, I will note these areas and look for ways to adjust in the future. It won’t be perfect my first year, but it will be a start!

As usual, please let me know if you’d like to see more samples or a copy of any of the documents I mention. My email is  I would also love to hear where you’re at in the process – what’s worked for you, what hasn’t worked for you, etc.

Letting Students in on the Secret

This year, our instructional coach has been leading professional development preparing for our staff to embark in a Professional Learning Community structure this coming school year.  I am excited about the process and potential for collaboration!
One thing our instructional coach emphasizes in relation to standards-based learning is to let students in on the secret. In other words, share the standards with them – make it very clear what it is they will be learning.

A few things I’m beginning to do regarding this process:

1. Posting the Science and Engineering (S&E) Practices in a visible place in the room where we will refer back to them frequently.

Here is a document in which I’ve pulled the titles of each S & E Practice and made them into page-sized signs:

Science and Engineering Practices – NGSS

2. Making a page-size sign of each NGSS to post in the front of the classroom as we are working towards a certain content standard. On each sign, I included the letter/# code used in the NGSS for easy referral. I created a working title for the standard (though I am not 100% satisfied with all of the titles) and, most importantly, included the Performance Standard.  Again, I wanted the title in order to refer to the standard briefly, but I think the most important part is the performance standard itself.  Though some of the wording in the standards may be difficult for students to understand, I think it is important that they are “let in on the secret,” and I plan to “unpack” the standard with them, going through any difficult vocabulary as we introduce each standard.

Here is a sample of one “sign”: PS1-1 Periodic Table and Properties of Elements

I am printing each sign, laminating it, and putting it in an easy-to-access place so that I will be more likely to change them as the year unfolds. I may even set up a way for students to be in charge of posting these as they change.

Questions I still have:

1. What are the benefits/detriments to posting standards? I know some school districts require this and am aware of some drawbacks. I would be interested in learning more about doing this well and effectively in my classroom.

2. How will I help students stay organized and doing meaningful work with each standard? Is a binder or notebook organized by standard appropriate? Should I use a lot of structure or allow for more student freedom in the organization of their materials?

As always, please feel free to email me ( or reply to a post with your questions/suggestions/thoughts or if you want copies of the documents I’ve posted.

Patterns of Science Skills (2013-2014 Update 3)

Once our team read through the NGSS and picked out science skills, we began to see repeating patterns of skills.  This was a relief as we realized that we didn’t have to recreate the wheel and that students would really be able to hone their skills over their years in our classes.  AND, we already incorporate these process skills in some ways, so we aren’t starting at ground level with all of this! Again, relief.

So, it might be good at this point to say that the NGSS includes a separate set of “Science and Engineering Practices” (I will abbreviate these S&E practices)that run alongside the content performance standards. There are 8 identified in the NGSS and listed in no particular order. See for a list and description of these.

Now, what I was not expecting to find, is that these same S&E practices were used in the language of the content performance standards! My colleague had the awesome idea to scan through the NGSS again and mark all of the standards that stated “ask a question” or “construct an argument,” etc. He created a long list. This process will help us as we begin to structure the foundation of our classes – the scientific process – and decide how to teach it and give students meaningful experiences to learn how to engage in it.  Where would we start? Which S&E practice is the most important? Which might be easiest for students to access and master at the beginning of the year? Which should wait until later in the year? These are all questions which will be informed through the following document. This document is an Excel spreadsheet (can you tell I love Excel spreadsheets?) that lists all the practices we saw stated in the NGSS content standards and the S&E practices the corresponded to each. Then, the standards in which these practices are mentioned are marked.

This document is NOT ideal and it is rather “wide” as an Excel document, but it is a starting place. Again, I will only provide a snapshot of part of it – please let me know if you’d like to see a full version ( We may have missed some practices in some standards or marked them when you may not have – so I recommend that you go through at least part of this process for yourselves! Learn by doing:)

Science Skills NGSS

Unpacking Science Skills (2013-2014 Update 2)

Our small science department (2 people, 1 middle school, 1 high school), along with our instructional coach, sat down a couple days this year to “unpack” the NGSS.  “Unpacking” the standards entails reading through them and really getting an understanding of what they say, what they include, and what they exclude.

Our first endeavor in “unpacking” the NGSS involved identifying science skills that were stated in each standard.  Our goal was to notice patterns throughout the NGSS. For instance, many performance standards include “constructing an explanation based on evidence.” This is something students need to be taught in addition to/alongside the content.

Why is “unpacking” important for ME to do? Why can’t someone else do it for me?

Imagine a student in your classroom. They are feeling overwhelmed by the material and raise their hand to ask a question. Do you answer it directly or do you redirect them to a resource where they can begin to figure it out and later check back in with them to help clear up any further questions? I argue for the latter. I argue that one of my roles as a teacher is to teach students how to learn on their own and find and access resources.  I will not always be there to answer the student’s questions, but if the student learns where to find credible answers to these questions, then they will be able to continue learning and asking more questions!

I tell that example because I think we, as teachers, are familiar with this type of student – the one that just wants the answers. Now, put yourself in the place of this student who is seeing a huge document of science standards for the first time. I naturally want to ask, who has read through these already? What have they learned? How do they think I should implement them? What materials have they made for me to use? These questions are valid and important as we seek ways to ensure quality implementation of the NGSS and work towards an efficient and reasonable process.

However, I argue that it is important for WE as teachers to read the standards and “unpack” them for their full meaning. This involves time, energy, grappling, asking questions, talking to colleagues, more time, etc.  But trust me, it pays off! Once you know WHAT you expect students to learn, then you can better work on quality ways to measure IF students are learning (assessments) and provide interventions for those having difficulty learning as well as extensions for those who have already learned it. (Note: These 4 important points for educators are borrowed from the PLC implementation process put forth by the DuFours that our school is currently learning about – more thoughts for another time.)

What does the”unpacking” process look like? Where do I start?


First off, you will be glad to know that some educated and knowledgeable people have begun to publish books that help teachers and administrators implement the NGSS. Besides the Framework and NGSS themselves, the following 2 books are great resources – I have read much of the first and am waiting to receive the 2nd in the mail today!

1. Translating the NGSS for Classroom Instruction by Rodger Bybee

2. Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS: A Professional Development Facilitator’s Guide

Just do it!

Next, arrange a time to sit down with the standards (either a text version or the online version:

Here is a photo of a part of one document we used as a science team to start unpacking the standards.  It lists each content standard and provides columns for “unpacking.” It is a working document and incomplete at this point. We started looking at the science skills described explicitly in the content standards. You could also start with the scientific principles addressed, crosscutting concepts, etc.

(As usual, please email me at if you’d like to see a copy of the full spreadsheet.)

Unpacking NGSS


Summer: A time to revisit and reevaluate (2013-2014 Update 1)

I have been on summer vacation from the school year for 1.5 weeks now. As many fellow educators are finishing out their school year or enjoying the beginning of summer, I have been rejuvenated as what I have dubbed a “teacher dreamer.” I am a nerd about the curriculum development process. Unfortunately, this process is difficult to work on in depth during the school year – what is in place can be tweaked but not reevaluated. Each year, as students leave the classroom and I have time to breathe and regroup, I take the time to revisit and reevaluate.

So, what I plan to do first of all is to post a few things that I have worked on with my teaching team over the course of the school year. This work revolves around the NGSS and curriculum implementation. We have updated some documents and taken them further than we did last year.

The first document I will post is a portion of of an Excel document we used to assess our current curriculum.  This document lists all the NGSS (Middle School and High School), as well as columns for grade levels and/or courses. As we read through each standard, we briefly decided – do we include this in our curriculum this currently? and in which class?  I began this process last year, but I revisited it with the middle school teacher at my school in order to get a bigger picture vision for where we are 6-12.

I reiterate from last year that the NGSS performance expectations are meant to serve as just that – expectations of performance or what students should be able to do at the end of the given grade band.  They serve as a starting point for assessment and curriculum, while not strictly defining the assessment or curriculum.

Here is one small part of the HS portion of the document (Again, please feel free to email me at for a copy of the spreadsheet.)

Current NGSS pic

Adventures in Curriculum Mapping: Step 5 – Meet with others and Redo it!

Adventures in Curriculum Mapping: Step 5 – Meet with others and Redo it!

5. Oh man, I was afraid of this…. I knew that after talking over my process with others, I would realize things I would need to change.  While this might feel like I wasted a bunch of time, I will accept it as a learning process.  Here’s what happened: I talked with a fellow science teacher and got some good insights on the curricular decisions I was making. Also, I met with administrators and another science teacher at my school and identified some areas in my curriculum that I needed to rethink.  Also, the NGSS came out with a recommended curriculum mapping order that I found VERY helpful. (See – Explore the Standards and you’ll find it on the left…)

I took the suggested curricular map from the NGSS and put the standards in order based on what I thought worked best for me and my students.  I chose the version of the NGSS curriculum map that included 3 courses and spread out the Earth and space standards among the 3 course (biology, physics, and chemistry).  Different curriculum map choices are available for different schools’ course arrangements.

Here’s what my notes looked like. I decided against sticky notes this time as it felt like it would take too long.  I had a copy of the NGSS content standards in front of me as I worked to put the standards in the most logical order for my school.


And that concludes what I’ve done so far!  I updated my Excel document with the changes (and saved the old version to keep as a document of my progress/process).

My next step: Continue to design and improve my instruction based on the curriculum map (see previous post).  I will be working with the 9th grade curriculum first and making small improvements in other courses as I have time.  Next year, I will make the biology curriculum my main focus and so forth…

Let me know if you have any questions! Again, please share and learn from me:)

Adventures in Curriculum Mapping: Step 4 – Putting it into Excel

Adventures in Curriculum Mapping: Step 4 – Putting it into Excel

4. Now, I realized that I cannot keep these brightly colored, sticky-note filled pieces of paper forever.  I next decided it would be best to create an Excel document of my progress so far.  It became a list of the standards in order per class.  At first, I created 2 versions of each course – I organized by NGSS and 1 organized by IA Core standard. I roughly correlated the NGSS with the IA Core science standards.  At this time, the IA Core science standards are in place, so I wanted some documentation of how they correlated with the NGSS.

I took a picture of my Excel document and posted it here.  I realize that some might be interested in the document itself. Please leave me a comment or email me at and I can get you a copy.


Step 5 to be continued on the next post…

Adventures in Curriculum Mapping: Step 3 – Ordering the chaos

Adventures in Curriculum Mapping: Step 3 – Ordering the chaos

3. After staring at sticky note standards for a while, I was beginning to lose site of what each standard really said.  So, I decided to rewrite the standards in short phrases to better help me put them in order.  I suppose Steps 2 and 3 (and maybe even 4) could be put together in 1 step, but that’ll be up to you. I am already learning ways to be more efficient… Again – please learn from me…

Here’s what my written-out standards looked like. You can see that they’re in some sort of order (or at least a little more so than before).


Step 4 will be continued on the next blog post. Thanks for reading!!

Post Navigation