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Angie DiLoreto

K-12 Science Curriculum Developer
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Authentic/Authenticity 3.5, 3.13

Students are frequently asked to engage in prescribed science investigations that have already been fully designed in the curriculum. It can sometimes be very challenging for students to find those investigations personally meaningful. Ideally, the phenomena they study should be personally compelling. This includes making meaningful connections to the everyday practices, expertise, and needs of students’ families and communities, and making visible the connections between students’ everyday lives and the many ways science and science careers that already do or could contribute to their lives, and their family and community.

Build Knowledge (Learning Progressions)*

Knowledge building is achieved within and across grade levels through intentional learning progressions, which are typically categorized and organized by subject and they map out a specific sequence of knowledge and skills that students are expected to learn as they progress through their education. NGSS describes the progression of DCIs, SEPs, and CCCs in science in the grade band endpoints which describe the content that occurs at each grade band.

NGSS identified a small number of disciplinary core ideas that all students should learn with increasing depth and sophistication, from Kindergarten through grade twelve. Practices also grow in complexity and sophistication across the grades. NGSS suggests how students’ capabilities to use each of the practices should progress as they mature and engage in science learning. Each of the eight practices has its own progression, from kindergarten to grade 12. Crosscutting concepts are repeated within grades at the elementary level and grade-bands at the middle and high school levels so these concepts become common and familiar across the disciplines and grade levels. Crosscutting concepts should also grow in complexity and sophistication across the grades. Repetition alone is not sufficient. As students grow in their understanding of the science disciplines, depth of understanding crosscutting concepts should grow as well.

NGSS articulates how ideas should build across time and between science disciplines. There are several related aspects of coherence emphasized in the Framework and NGSS. The commitment in the Framework and NGSS is to articulating how ideas should build on earlier ideas. Within discipline, this means articulating the disciplinary core ideas as progressions, in which more sophisticated versions of the central science ideas are built iteratively across time. Indeed, each disciplinary core idea is represented in increasing sophistication across multiple grade bands. There is a K-2 version of the explanation, a 3-5 version, 6-8 and 9-12 answer to the same question. Each version goes deeper, drawing on what has been figured out in that discipline (e.g., life science, physical science, earth and space science) in prior grade bands. However each grade band results in a coherent explanatory model that is a satisfying answer to part of the question. Figure 2 shows an example of how the explanation for one of the life sciences ideas (LS1.C), How do organisms obtain and use the matter and energy they need to live and grow?, is built across time. The figure summarizes the explanation built at each grade level. In each grade band, students develop a coherent explanation, supported by evidence, convincing as far as it goes, but with some aspects unexplained or black-boxed that can be opened up in the next grade band.

*Not represented in the Unit Evaluation Document

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) 1.4, 5.14

The Next Generation Science Standards align grade by grade with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts, so concepts support what students are learning in their entire curriculum. Connections to specific Common Core standards are listed for each NGSS performance expectation, giving teachers a blueprint for building comprehensive cross-disciplinary lessons.

The intersections between NGSS and Common Core teach students to analyze data, model concepts, and strategically use tools through productive talk and shared activity. These practice-based standards help teachers foster a classroom culture where students think and reason together, connecting around the subject matter and core ideas.

Computational Thinking*

Although there are differences in how mathematics and computational thinking are applied in science and in engineering, mathematics often brings these two fields together by enabling engineers to apply the mathematical form of scientific theories and by enabling scientists to use powerful information technologies designed by engineers. Both kinds of professionals can thereby accomplish investigations and analyses and build complex models, which might otherwise be out of the question.

Students are expected to use mathematics to represent physical variables and their relationships, and to make quantitative predictions. Other applications of mathematics in science and engineering include logic, geometry, and at the highest levels, calculus. Computers and digital tools can enhance the power of mathematics by automating calculations, approximating solutions to problems that cannot be calculated precisely, and analyzing large data sets available to identify meaningful patterns. Students are expected to use laboratory tools connected to computers for observing, measuring, recording, and processing data. Students are also expected to engage in computational thinking, which involves strategies for organizing and searching data, creating sequences of steps called algorithms, and using and developing new simulations of natural and designed systems. Mathematics is a tool that is key to understanding science. As such, classroom instruction must include critical skills of mathematics. The NGSS displays many of those skills through the performance expectations, but classroom instruction should enhance all of science through the use of quality mathematical and computational thinking.

*Not represented in the Unit Evaluation Document

Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) 1.4, 1.11, 2.1, 5.2, 5.3

Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) are concepts that hold true across the natural and engineered world. Students can use them to make connections across seemingly disparate disciplines or situations, connect new learning to prior experiences, and more deeply engage with material across the other dimensions. The NGSS requires that students explicitly use their understanding of the CCCs to make sense of phenomena or solve problems

Differentiation 3.6

Differentiation refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. Strategies such as flexible grouping, cooperative learning, learning contracts, learning stations/centers, tiered assignments, independent study, direct instruction, authentic and alternative assessments, multimedia, inquiry, and problem-based learning can be used skillfully and purposefully by to fit the many needs and varied interests of students.

Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) 1.2, 1.11, 2.1, 5.2, 5.3

The fundamental ideas that are necessary for understanding a given science discipline. The core ideas all have broad importance within or across science or engineering disciplines, provide a key tool for understanding or investigating complex ideas and solving problems, relate to societal or personal concerns, and can be taught over multiple grade levels at progressive levels of depth and complexity.

Discourse 3.4, 5.4

Student talk is critical for helping students to make sense of their learning and to build understanding throughout a unit. Science discourse is also an informal formative assessment opportunity for students to uncover student ideas, thinking, and naive conceptions which is vital to building student understanding. Discourse can transpire as whole-class discussions, partner sharing, or small group work, but opportunities for student-to student talk is critical for engaging all students in talk and to reduce the one-way communication that often occurs when the teacher leads a whole-class discussion. Talk is most effective when teachers present students with key questions in light of evidence collected. Another important aspect of.

Ethical 1.12

As research and technology are changing society and the way we live, scientists can no longer claim that science is neutral but must consider the ethical and social aspects of their work. Through discussion and reflection, students can come to realize that scientific inquiry embodies a set of values. These values include respect for the importance of logical thinking, precision, open-mindedness, objectivity, skepticism, and a requirement for transparent research procedures and honest reporting of findings. (Framework for K-12 Science Education)

The NGSS articulates within the Understandings of Science that “Science and technology may raise ethical issues for which science, by itself, does not provide answers and solutions, for example, science knowledge indicates what can happen in natural systems—not what should happen. The latter involves ethics, values, and human decisions about the use of knowledge. Many decisions are not made using science alone, but rely on social and cultural contexts to resolve issues.”

Engineering Problems & Engineering Design 1.4, 1.7, 1.8, 3.9, 3.13, 3.16, 3.17, 3.19

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a commitment to integrate engineering design into the structure of science education by raising engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry when teaching science disciplines at all levels, from Kindergarten to grade 12. Engineering design is not just applied science. As described in Appendix F: Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS, the practices of engineering have much in common with the practices of science, although engineering design has a different purpose and product than scientific inquiry.

Appendix I goes into further detail about the concepts and practices integrated throughout the NGSS. “The purpose of defining “engineering” more broadly in the Framework and NGSS is to emphasize engineering design practices that all citizens should learn. For example, students are expected to be able to define problems – situations that people wish to change – by specifying criteria and constraints for acceptable solutions; generating and evaluating multiple solutions; building and testing prototypes; and optimizing a solution.”

The core idea of engineering design includes three component ideas:

  1. Defining and delimiting engineering problems involves stating the problem to be solved as clearly as possible in terms of criteria for success, and constraints or limits.
  2. Designing solutions to engineering problemsbegins with generating a number of different possible solutions, then evaluating potential solutions to see which ones best meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  3. Optimizing the design solution involves a process in which solutions are systematically tested and refined and the final design is improved by trading off less important features for those that are more important.

It is important to point out that these component ideas do not always follow in order, any more than do the “steps” of scientific inquiry. At any stage, a problem-solver can redefine the problem or generate new solutions to replace an idea that just isn’t working out.

Ethnicity 4.1-4.5

An ethnic group, or an ethnicity, is a way to identify a group of people often based on similarities such as common ancestry, language, history, society, culture or nation. Ethnicity is usually an inherited status based on the society in which one lives. People can and often do have multiple ethnic identities.

First Hand 1.9

Refers to information or experience direct from the original source or personal experience. In the context of science instructional materials, first-hand means that students can personally experience a science phenomenon and/or engineering problem. While many phenomena can be observed first-hand by students (shadows changing shape and position throughout the day, a spoon in a glass of water appearing to bend), but some can’t be due to scale (physical size or timeframe), geographic location, frequency of occurrence, safety, or a variety of other factors (volcano erupting, changes in climate). Science materials should present phenomena and/or problems first-hand when possible and feasible. when first-hand is not possible students should experience the phenomenon/problem as directly as possible, such as using multimedia, video, or computer simulations instead of written text.

Formative Assessment 2.8

Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes. Given throughout the learning process, formative assessments seek to determine how students are progressing through a certain learning goal. Formative assessment in the classroom takes place when a teacher elicits student thinking and makes immediate use of this knowledge in instruction. Formative assessment refers to assessment forlearning rather than assessment of learning, allowing teachers to use knowledge of student understandings to inform their ongoing instruction Formative assessments can be seen as falling on a continuum from formal to informal. Informal formative assessments are ongoing strategies that help teachers acquire information from students that can immediately be used in instruction.

ISTE Standards*

The ISTE Standards are a framework for students, educators, administrators, coaches and computer science educators to rethink education and create innovative learning environments. The standards are helping educators and education leaders worldwide re-engineer schools and classrooms for digital age learning, no matter where they are on the journey to effective edtech integration.

*Not represented in the Unit Evaluation Document


Models appear in NGSS as a CCC (#4 Systems & System Models) and an SEP (#2 Developing & Using Models). Scientists explain of phenomena and define a system under study by constructing a conceptual model. Conceptual models are explicit representations that are in analogous to the phenomena and systems they represent. Conceptual models allow scientists and engineers to better visualize and understand a system or phenomenon under investigation or develop a possible solution to a design problem. Conceptual models include diagrams, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations. Although they do not correspond exactly to the more complicated entity being modeled, they do bring certain features into focus while minimizing or obscuring others. Students develop models to represent ideas about the natural world to each other, and then collaboratively make changes to these representations over time in response to new evidence and understandings. Student use models to develop questions, predictions, and explanations, analyze and identify components of a in a system, and communicate ideas.

*Not represented in the Unit Evaluation Document

NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) 1.0

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was a result of the coordinated work of twenty-six Lead State Partners in collaboration with critical partners, including the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to develop the NGSS based on the NRC’s K-12 Framework for Science Education. The NRC Framework describes a vision of what it means to be proficient in science; it rests on a view of science as both a body of knowledge and an evidence-based, model and theory building enterprise that continually extends, refines, and revises knowledge.

The NGSS integrate the three dimensions introduced in the NRC Framework into its student performance expectations. As a result of this innovation, the NGSS look completely different than previous science standards and implementing them requires a major shift in classroom instruction and learning.

Non-dominant 4.6, 4.10

Non-dominant refers to those communities that have historically been marginalized and often times smaller in population than the mainstream community. The term non-dominant describes a powered societal relationship not a fixed status of a community.

Performance Task 2.10

A performance task is any learning activity or assessment that asks students to perform to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and proficiency. Performance tasks yield a tangible product and/or performance that serve as evidence of learning. Unlike a selected- response item (e.g., multiple-choice or matching) that asks students to select from given alternatives, a performance task presents a situation that calls for learners to apply their learning in context. A performance task for science should include at least 2 of the 3 dimensions.

Performance Expectations (PE)*

Within the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), there are three distinct and equally important dimensions to learning science. These dimensions are combined to form each standard – or performance expectation – and each dimension works with the other two to help students build a cohesive understanding of science over time.

The NGSS is not a set of daily standards, but a set of expectations for what students should be able to do by the end of instruction (years or grade-bands). So, the performance expectations set the learning goals for students, but do not describe how students get there.

“It should also be noted that one performance expectation should not be equated to one lesson. Performance expectations define the three-dimensional learning expectations for students, and it is unlikely that a single lesson would provide adequate opportunities for a student to demonstrate proficiency in every dimension of a performance expectation. A series of high-quality lessons or a unit in a program are more likely to provide these opportunities.” ( Innovations.pdf )

The NGSS website contains a searchable database which can be used to examine any of the three dimensions of teaching and learning, or the associated performance expectations, separated by grade level. Due to the complex nature of the standards, results may be arranged by DCI, PE, or topic.

*Not represented in the Unit Evaluation Document

Phenomenon/Phenomena 1.5, 1.6, 1.8, 1.9, 2.9, 3.8, 5.3, 5.5, 5.19

Phenomena are observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict. The goal of building knowledge in science is to develop general ideas, based on evidence, that can explain and predict phenomena. Engineering involves designing solutions to problems that arise from phenomena, and using explanations of phenomena to design solutions. Phenomena are the context for the work of both the scientist and the engineer.

Phenomenon can anchor science units as well as lessons. In both cases, the process of gathering evidence to explain the phenomenon engages students in learning activities that help students to uncover core science idea using the NGSS science practices. By investigating compelling real-world phenomena, students have opportunities to apply science and engineering practices to disciplinary core ideas and gain a better idea of crosscutting concepts.

Phenomena are sometimes thought to be just a “hook” to start a unit, however this is to always academically productive. Science instruction has often been centered on learning general knowledge rather than exploring and explaining specific phenomena, such as directly teaching Newton’s Laws of Motion rather than learning about them through an engineering design challenge. By exploring phenomena, students have opportunities to apply science and engineering practices and to build their own larger scientific conceptions and identities. Phenomena should drive units and keep students working to “figure out” rather than “learning about.”

Race 4.1-4.5

Race is socially constructed and is often shaped by historical constructions in a society. It is not a real biological or genetic phenomenon. Race is however socially real, carrying significant social and cultural weight that impacts peoples’ lives. Race and racial identity can be a source of culture, strength and community but it also can be used in powered and oppressive ways, thus using race as a category needs to be accompanied with an explanation or framing. For example, tracking racial demographics in advanced placement courses can make disparities in opportunities to learn visible. Or for example, tracking the racial diversity of images of scientists in curricular materials can help to ensure that children have equal opportunity to see themselves as developing scientists. Research has shown that children and adults associate white males with scientists. Ensuring curricular materials expand this image of scientists is important for student learning.

Scientific American article – Race is a Social Construct, Scientists Agree

Scientific and Engineering Practices (SEPs) 1.1, 1.4, 1.11, 2.1, 5.2. 5.3

The Scientific and Engineering Practices (SEPs) are what students do to make sense of phenomena. They are both a set of skills and a set of knowledge to be internalized. The SEPs reflect the major practices that scientists and engineers use to investigate the world, as well as design and build systems. See Appendix F in the NGSS Appendices.

Social Justice 3.3

Social justice refers to a concept in which equity or justice is achieved in every aspect of society rather than in only some aspects or for some people. A world organized around social justice principles affords individuals and groups fair treatment as well as an impartial share or distribution of the advantages and disadvantages within a society.

Social justice includes a vision of a society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and the society as a whole. (Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, Adams, Bell, Griffin, 2nd ed., Routledge 2007)

Summative Assessment 2.9, 2.10

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. Given at the end of the year or unit, summative assessments assess a student’s mastery of a topic after instruction. Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement at the conclusion of specific instructional period, and therefore they are generally evaluative, rather than diagnostic—i.e., they are more appropriately used to determine learning progress and achievement and measure progress toward improvement goals. Typically given at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year, in the form of tests, assignments, or projects, they are used to determine whether students have learned what they were expected to learn. What makes an assessment “summative” is not the design of the test, assignment, or self-evaluation, but that it is used to determine whether and to what degree students have learned the material they have been taught.

Three-Dimensions/Dimensional (Teaching and Learning) 1.4, 2.1, 2.8, 2.14, 3.4, 5.4, 5.13

Within the NGSS, there are three distinct and equally important dimensions to learning science. These are the three strands of knowledge and skills that students should explicitly be able to use to explain phenomena and design solutions to problems. The three dimensions are the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs), and Science and Engineering Practices (“the Practices” or SEPs). These dimensions are combined to form each NGSS standard – or performance expectation – and each dimension works with the other two to help students build a cohesive understanding of science over time. This is what students’ experiences in classrooms implementing the NGSS should reflect: developing and using elements of the three dimensions, together, purposefully (i.e., to explain phenomena or design solutions to problems). Students should explicitly be able to use these three strands of knowledge and skills to explain phenomena and design solutions to problems as part of both instruction and assessment in science.

Lessons and units aligned to the standards should be three-dimensional; that is, they should allow students to actively engage with the practices and apply the crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of core ideas across science disciplines.

The NGSS website contains a searchable database which can be used to examine any of the three dimensions of teaching and learning, or the associated performance expectations, separated by grade level. Due to the complex nature of the standards, results may be arranged by DCI, PE, or topic.

Unit Storyline 1.8, 5.1

Storylines are a coherent instructional sequence driven by phenomena. A unit storyline should be comprised of a series of lessons, interconnected in such a way that enables students to form explanations for phenomena introduced in the unit. NGSS Storylines outline some examples of what students can learn in NGSS classrooms.

Thus, although NGSS is represented as a collection of performance expectations, it is not productive to view these as isolated or modular learning goals. Teachers need to shift their mindset toward viewing instruction as building a coherent storyline, in which questions are grounded on phenomena, leading to investigations, and students develop models through argumentation, and refine those models through new phenomena that challenge existing models. The shift here is from a disciplinary organization, in which the discipline provides the breakdown and ordering of ideas, to organizing around the sensemaking activity. This shift poses challenges for teachers that are farther reaching than what is apparent on first perusal of the standards.

Washington State 2013 K-12 Science Learning Standards (WSSLS)*

In 2013, The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) adopted the Next Generation Science Standards as the Washington State 2013 K-12 Science Learning Standards (WSSLS). These standards describe what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. The Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science Learning (WCAS) is the first statewide science assessment aligned to the WSSLS and was administered by the state in spring 2018 at grades 5, 8, and 11 assessments are being developed based on these standards and will be administered in spring 2018.

*Not represented in the Unit Evaluation Document

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.