RECOMMENDATION 9 Do not rush to completely replace all curriculum materials. States, districts, and schools should not rush to purchase an entirely new set of curriculum materials since many existing materials are not aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Until new materials are available, district leadership teams in science will need to work with teachers to revise existing units and identify supplemental resources to support the new vision of instruction. In searching for supplemental materials, district leaders and teachers should look for those designed around goals for student learning that are consistent with the NGSS.
RECOMMENDATION 10 Decide on course scope and sequencing. State and district leaders will need to make decisions regarding the scope and sequence of courses in science. Scope and sequence is especially important for grades 6-12, for which the performance expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are organized in grade bands (6-8 and 9-12). The process of planning scope and sequence should be guided by the strategies outlined in Appendix K of the NGSS.
RECOMMENDATION 11 Be critical consumers of new curriculum materials. District leaders should plan to adopt and invest in curriculum materials developed for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) when high-quality materials become available and in keeping with their own curriculum adoption schedule. District leadership teams should use a clear set of measures and tools with which to judge whether curriculum materials are truly consistent with the goals of A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and the NGSS. Individuals involved in the adoption process should be trained to use those measures and tools.
RECOMMENDATION 12 Attend to coherence in the curriculum. Curriculum designers and curriculum selection teams should ensure that curriculum materials are designed with a coherent trajectory for students’ learning. The performance expectations in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are the target outcomes for the end of a grade level or grade band, and curricula will need to elaborate on a sequence of experiences that will help students meet those expectations. Students need to experience the practices in varied combinations and in multiple contexts to be able to use them as required to meet the NGSS performance expectations.
A set of standards is not a curriculum; rather, it defines the outcomes expected for students from the enacted curriculum. In the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) these outcomes are framed as performance expectations that include practices as well as disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts. However, because the practices work together in coherent investigations or engineering projects, working toward the performance expectations typically requires engaging students in more combinations of disciplinary core ideas and practices than the combinations specified in the performance expectations (Krajcik et al., 2014). Thus, teachers need resources that articulate coherent trajectories of questions to investigate or problems to solve that bring together target core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and practices. Such resources may include text materials, online resources (such
as simulations or access to data), materials and equipment for investigative and design activities, and teacher manuals that include supports for pedagogical strategies needed to enact these lessons. A fully developed curriculum may provide all of these as a single package, but often teachers will draw from multiple resources in designing their instruction.
Among the critical curriculum resources for science are time, space, equipment, and expendable materials that can be used for investigative and design projects (National Research Council, 2006b). Districts need to consider how their schedule, space use, and materials budgets can be designed to support the NGSS student goals or can impede achieving them. The need for these resources often makes providing quality science teaching more expensive than some other subjects. Sharing of equipment, materials supplies, and even space by several teachers can provide some economies in purchasing, but it requires a well-developed management and replenishment system to function well. One example of such sharing, at the elementary level, is kits on carts.
The NGSS describes the year-by-year sequence of standards for kindergarten through grade 5 and groupings of standards for grades 6-8 and 9-12. Explicit curriculum scope and sequence plans will need to go further, deciding how to sequence topics within each year or grade block and how to ensure that students engage in all the science and engineering practices and apply all the crosscutting concepts in multiple disciplinary contexts. For suggestions of grouping standards for middle and high school courses, see Appendix K of the NGSS.
Simply defining what standards are to be “covered” in a given year will not be sufficient. Coherence within a unit, between units across a year, and from one year to the next is key in engaging students in the type of knowledge building targeted in the NGSS (Fortus and Krajcik, 2012; Reiser, 2013). Curriculum units need to be crafted such that they present coherent investigations or engineering problems, in which questions and phenomena motivate building and using disciplinary and crosscutting ideas, This approach can be contrasted with simply sequencing topics in traditional sequences that make sense to experts but are unmotivated for learners (Krajcik et al., 2008, 2014). Curriculum units need to be sequenced across a year so that students can build ideas across time in coherent learning progressions, in which questions or challenges, gaps in models, and new phenomena motivate developing deeper disciplinary core and crosscutting ideas.
States and districts, in conjunction with science coordinators and educators, will need to decide on and implement course options to provide a coherent sequence of science instruction across the grades. They will also need to plan how
to transition to a new sequence without creating large gaps in students’ learning. This planning may involve consideration of how science course sequences coordinate with course sequences in career and technical education. Educators will then need to seek curriculum materials that match the chosen sequence of instruction. Teachers will need to understand their part in the multiyear scope and sequence and support students in building on their prior knowledge, while they learn new topics or deepen their understanding of those they have taught before. To do this, teachers need opportunities to communicate and collaborate both within and across grade levels and school levels.
As this report was being written, the committee was not aware of any yearlong, comprehensive curriculum resources at any grade level built explicitly for the NGSS, though a number were under development. Developing and phasing in a full set of new curriculum materials aligned with the NGSS will take time. There are, however, some existing research-based curriculum materials with evidence of impact on student learning that support students in science and engineering practices and address some of the disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts from the Framework (see Sneider, 2015). Schools and teachers can work with these materials or adapt their existing materials. Efforts to use such research-based materials or selectively adapt existing units could help districts shift classroom teaching toward the vision of the Framework and the NGSS and help teachers develop a deep understanding of the NGSS. It will also help teachers and district leaders to be better able to evaluate the quality of more complete sequences of curriculum materials as they become available. Box 5-1 discusses the relationship of curriculum and professional development.
District leaders should coordinate collaboration among K-12 teachers to evaluate existing materials and lessons for how well they reflect all three dimensions of the NGSS. Instructional units on topics that are included in the standards for a grade level should be adapted to focus around student learning experiences that engage students in the science and engineering practices or replaced with research-based materials that do so, when available. These revisions may involve eliminating topics or units that are not included in the NGSS. They also may involve seeking units originally designed for other grade levels by refining and revising topics that were previously not included at that grade level.
Individual teachers should not be expected to redesign curriculum unaided. Participation in a group activity to redesign a particular unit can be an effective professional development opportunity (Penuel et al., 2011). When possible, the redesign team should include outside experts, including content-area experts,
PAIRING CURRICULUM MATERIALS WITH PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Evaluations of the Local System Change initiative (see Box 4-1 in Chapter 4) show that lessons based on instructional materials designated by the district were more likely to be rated as high quality than lessons that were heavily modified by individual teachers (Bowes and Banilower, 2004). Use of district-designated instructional materials was positively correlated with several key outcomes, including more frequent use of investigative classroom practices and greater emphasis on important and developmentally appropriate mathematics and science.
Professional development also played an important role in supporting teachers to change their instruction: more lessons of teachers who participated in more hours of professional development were rated as high quality. In self-contained classrooms at the elementary level, participation in professional development was positively related to the number of hours spent on science instruction (Heck et al., 2006b).
The combination of professional development and the use of designated instructional materials appears to have had a greater effect than either factor alone (Bowes and Banilower, 2004). Also, as teachers participated in more professional development, their use of the district-designated materials increased (Heck et al., 2006b).
experts in curriculum development, and experts on the effective implementation of science practices in the classroom. That expertise can considerably enrich the outcome of a redesign effort and the teacher learning that occurs through the work.
Designing a quality set of curriculum resources for a new course or course sequence is a demanding multiyear, multi-expert team process. In designing, development teams need to include experts in science, science learning, assessment design, equity and diversity, and science teaching, each at the appropriate grade level (National Research Council, 2014a). Those working to develop new resource materials, instructional units, and comprehensive curricula based on the Framework and the NGSS will need to ensure that student tasks and assessment activities in the materials (such as mid- and end-of-chapter activities, suggested tasks for unit assessment, and online activities) mirror the integration of the dimensions that are expected in the vision of instruction.
The curriculum materials will need to include support for teachers to use the formative assessment process to gather information about student learning
in all three dimensions (National Research Council, 2014a). Developers need to recognize that most traditional approaches to curriculum materials, in which teachers or expository text present new ideas first, and then students apply them in labs or exercises, do not reflect the three dimensions of the NGSS, in which students engage in the science and engineering practices to develop and use the disciplinary core and crosscutting ideas with guidance from teachers. Attention to the practices students are expected to engage in and the ways in which teachers can support students in developing these capabilities are as important as attention to the disciplinary topics and ideas that are to be learned. Curricula will need to achieve a new balance between time spent in the productive struggle to investigate and explain phenomena or to design problem solutions and the number of topics addressed (see, e.g., Southwick, 2013).
The curriculum designers also need to consider multiple dimensions of diversity and how to connect with students’ cultural and linguistic resources. Although designers are used to taking account of these issues in text and perhaps also in the pictures included with the text, the issue of building instruction around real-world phenomena and design tasks around real-world problems adds a new dimension to this issue, which provides both new opportunities and new challenges for sensitivity to equity and access concerns (Lee et al., 2014). For guidance on supporting diverse populations, see Appendix D of the NGSS.
Eventually it will be time for a state to adopt or a district to purchase new science curriculum materials. Before doing so, they will need to have made course scope and sequence decisions about their middle and high school programs so that they can seek materials matched to their courses. To design a scope and sequence that also reflects the goals of the Framework and the NGSS, districts can find guidance in Appendix K of the NGSS.
Before actually selecting the materials to be purchased, school and district leaders should become critical consumers of curriculum materials on the basis of experience of what it means to teach science that meets the vision of the NGSS learning goals. They should approach the adoption of texts and planning of units or lessons with a clear set of criteria for consistency with the vision of the Framework and the NGSS. Evaluation processes for curriculum materials that only look at what content topics are included in the materials will not be useful. Rather, the “content” needs to include all three dimensions of the NGSS, and they must be developed in a coherent fashion so that the resources support instruction
that meets the vision of the Framework and the NGSS. For example, textbooks that include all possible topics rather than focusing on the disciplinary core ideas should not be selected for use. Similarly, textbooks should not be selected that include the disciplinary core ideas but do not include approaches that have students engaged meaningfully in the science and engineering practices to develop and use those disciplinary core ideas.
Some school districts are moving toward use of open access materials rather than undertaking traditional textbook adoption. But use of open access materials also needs to be guided by the vision for science learning in the Framework and the NGSS and a clear set of criteria for consistency with the vision. The materials will need to be carefully sequenced to support students’ developing understanding of the core ideas and crosscutting concepts.
A claim that a curriculum is “aligned” to the NGSS does not mean that it was designed specifically for the NGSS and fully incorporates the practices and crosscutting concepts and follows the progressions of core ideas. It is likely, as has occurred with Common Core State Standards, that many of the most rapidly available textbooks and related resources claiming alignment to the NGSS will be superficially rather than deeply aligned and will not have been substantially redesigned (see Herold and Molnar, 2014).
Without clear criteria for making choices, districts could spend significant money on materials that are not what they really need. The selection process can be facilitated through the use of tools that support a systematic evaluation that goes beyond judging superficial alignment and take account of inclusion of all three dimensions (practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas) with coherent sequencing. For example, working with science educators, administrators, and experts in science learning, Achieve developed the EQuIP Next Generation Science Standards Rubric for use as a tool in selecting curriculum materials. (The EQuIP NGSS Rubric is available online.) Such a tool can form a useful starting point for states and districts as they develop their own evaluation tools.
Teacher leaders can be valuable participants in the process of identifying quality curriculum materials that are consistent with the Framework and the NGSS. In order to be able to evaluate curriculum resources, it will be essential for teacher leaders to have experience with modifying existing lessons or units for the NGSS or designing and implementing new ones.
Teachers often use curriculum resources from multiple sources to design and support their own units for teaching particular topics. As teachers redesign their units in the context of the NGSS, they should consider whether there are
new resources available that better support instruction that follows the vision of the Framework and the NGSS. To do so, they need good evaluation tools and procedures, just as in the case of larger scale district adoption and purchase of materials.
A “standard by standard” approach to curriculum does not work for the NGSS. The NGSS are student performance outcomes for the end of a grade level or grade band; they are not a list of activities for the classroom. Covering standards one at a time would lead to redundancies and fragmented learning. The particular combinations of the three dimensions represented in the NGSS are not prescriptive of how they should be combined in instruction. Facility with any one practice requires using others, and all of them need to be experienced in the context of learning multiple different core ideas. That is the way that students can gain facility in using them in any particular context in a testing situation. Moreover, in order to provide time for students to undertake investigations and engage in discourse, there is insufficient time to address each standard separately. Instead, standards will need to be bundled into instructional units that recognize the interconnections between the science and engineering practices, subideas within and across disciplinary core ideas, and the role of the crosscutting concepts in elucidating these connections (Krajcik et al., 2014; Pruitt, 2014).
To be able to evaluate whether or not curricula actually meet the expectations of the NGSS, it will be important for educators to experiment with trying some of the instructional shifts before selecting or developing curricula. Having teacher teams reevaluate existing materials, explore potential materials, and work strategically to adapt particular units of instruction to align with the NGSS will help build capacity for teaching in ways that align with the NGSS. Without this depth of experience, teachers will not be prepared to recognize curricula that do a good job of incorporating the three dimensions of the Framework throughout student learning.
Curriculum materials are not the only resources that teachers need in order to implement the NGSS vision of instruction. Every investigation or engineering design project requires space, equipment, and resources, whether it is a laboratory-type investigation, a field study conducted in the school yard, or an engineering project conducted in the classroom. Other significant resources need to be considered, which include storage and preparation space, supplies, equipment for measurement and data collection; appropriate access to computers and software; availability of classroom space; and a master schedule that supports work on projects over time (National Research Council, 2006b).