Transitioning to NGSS with FOSS

Brian Campbell, FOSS Curriculum Developer, Lawrence Hall of Science
September 05, 2014 | Program News

With educators in many states looking at the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), teachers are asking questions about how they should modify their instruction. Teachers do not often have the option of purchasing new materials but are tasked with using what they currently have available. Fortunately, leaders in many states that are transitioning to NGSS do not expect full NGSS implementation for several years, meaning districts and teachers can focus on smaller, more purposeful incremental changes rather than tackling NGSS all at once.

Next Generation Standards

The NGSS do not provide a roadmap for instruction, but rather describe a set of performance expectations, and Framework Boxes, as well as connections to Common Core State Standards. The NGSS are described thus,

The performance expectations are written in a way that expresses the concept and skills to be performed but still leaves curricular and instructional decisions to states, districts, school and teachers. The performance expectations do not dictate curriculum; rather, they are coherently developed to allow flexibility in the instruction of the standards" (NGSS Executive Summary, p. 2, June 2013).

Each standard statement incorporates all three of the domains of science knowledge and skill described in the Framework for K–12 Science Education: 1) science and engineering practices (SEP); 2) disciplinary core ideas (DCI); and 3) crosscutting concepts (CC). Each of the three domains is promoted as having critical importance in the science learning experience of students. The standards are statements of the complex scientific knowledge that students will be expected to communicate as a result of their science learning experience.

We see two major challenges arising from the above. First, the challenge for students to acquire substantial knowledge of the three dimensional standards is no small task. Second, a mechanism for engaging in an assessment process that will efficiently and accurately expose students' knowledge is at this time unknown.

So what's a classroom teacher to do? Clearly the industry has some work to do before the NGSS marching orders are pronounced. What is the interim strategy for transition to the NGSS vision?

What to Do in the Interim

An interim strategy depends on a number of variables that teachers may or may not have control over, such as when new materials can be purchased, the timeframe for full implementation, and amount and timing of professional development. However, there are some appropriate actions that teachers can take to begin this process.

  1. Study the NGSS for your grade level. While it is important for teachers to be familiar with them, it is equally important for teachers to not be overwhelmed. The standards ask a lot of students and teachers, and the transition to them should be purposeful and manageable by teachers.

    Plan to continue using your current science curriculum, paying particular attention to a reinvigorated treatment of the science and engineering practices. This will prove to be very useful for getting a sense for the NGSS vision. The Framework provides more information on the three dimensions.
  2. Read the appendices for NGSS. Appendix F provides specific indicators for the science and engineering practices for K–2 and 3–5. These are particularly useful for planning opportunities using FOSS to help students develop these abilities. Appendix G provides similar guidance for the crosscutting concepts. Appendix I discusses engineering at each grade band. These documents are a good starting point for teachers.
  3. Analyze what you are doing already. Teachers using FOSS already engage students in many of the science practices. While some fine-tuning of some practices might be needed, other practices, such as models, constructing explanations, and engaging in argumentation, may require some exploration on the teacher's part.
  4. Introduce small purposeful changes in instruction. When beginning to transition, science and engineering practices are a good place to start.

By looking through the steps in a FOSS Teacher Guide or FOSS Investigations Guide, an area of focus can be identified, such as collecting and analyzing data. Teachers should consider what will best support students in a deeper engagement with data. Initially, teachers might have one area of focus to keep the lesson length manageable and the focus should change from lesson to lesson building toward a natural incorporation of the revised instructional methods into their standard practice.

Once teachers understand the crosscutting concepts, these can be woven into existing FOSS investigations. Concepts such as cause and effect and patterns are good starting points. They do not require additional materials and can be done with just about any current FOSS content.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

DCIs are more challenging to address if you are unable to get new resources or receive additional training. And students might be assessed on existing state science standards. Fortunately, many states have an NGSS implementation timeline that outlines when full implementation is expected. During this time, the adoption of materials is included, which will provide teachers with curriculum that addresses all three dimensions of the NGSS.

Current FOSS users in districts where resources are limited should become familiar with the three dimensions of the NGSS and initially look for opportunities to enhance science and engineering practices. Some teachers might focus their transition energy for an entire year on SEPs and the following year on CCs. The important idea is that teachers are making purposeful and reasonable instructional enhancements as they transition toward NGSS.

The NGSS are available at