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Navigating the NGSS Standards in 3rd-5th Grade

The Next Generation Science Standards don’t have to feel like a foreign language. This post helps break down each component of the NGSS framework so that you can plan strong, standard-aligned science lessons.

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Education is constantly evolving with updated standards, best teaching practices, new modifications, and handling so many student concerns. All of this is happening while ensuring learning still takes place.

While handling all the changes, it is okay to get overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed out. Especially when standards change on you. My state recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards and they felt like a foreign language to me at first.

Change is hard, but it is vital to remember that it is not impossible and I’m here to help! I’m going to help break down the NGSS standards for you and give you all of the vital details for navigating the NGSS standards in elementary education.

What are NGSS Standards? 

The Next Generation Science Standards were designed with teachers and students in mind. Foundational elements include inquiry, engineering, and wonder to help spark the magic of science in students. 

Before looking at how the NGSS can be taught with a specific concept, let’s examine what a performance expectation looks like. 

NGSS Standards 1

At the top of the card, there is a goal for what students can do once they understand the material. The three colors below it-blue, orange, and green- are key to know because they will help show how students will understand the content. 

The blue section tells the Science and Engineering Practices, which is what students will do.

Students may be

  • making models
  • asking questions
  • analyzing or interpreting data
  • working on computational thinking

The orange section is the core idea, such as Earth Science, Life Science, Physical Science, and Educational Technology. Therefore, this represents the core ideas on what students are going to learn.

The green part represents the crosscutting concepts, which means how people think about science, such as through patterns or cause and effect. 

Each performance expectation is a three-dimensional standard to help ensure students are truly engaged with the content. It is no longer sitting back and listening to a lecture but having students actively involved in an inquiry-based way of thinking. 

Implementing NGSS

In order to see how to take the information on a student performance card and create a lesson, we will look at a plant and energy booklet. 

Blue: Science and Engineering Practice

All students learn differently but an aspect that is similar is engagement. When students are engaged and focused, they are invested in learning the content because they are enjoying the lesson. This is a key part of the student performance card because it is the action behind the lesson or what students will do. In this booklet, there are several ways students are being active learners. 

NGSS Standards 2
NGSS Standards 3

In each of the examples, students are producing something to show their understanding. They are drawing part of a plant, the process of photosynthesis, and creating their own food web. After learning about each of these components, students have the opportunity to reflect upon their thinking and actually show their knowledge. 

Orange: Disciplinary Core Ideas 

Since this lesson is about plants and energy, it falls under the Life Science category. Therefore, students are going to focus on how plants make energy. In addition to this, students are going to focus on producers versus consumers and how energy transfers. 

NGSS Standards 4

In this example, students are going to read about photosynthesis. Students will then use prefix and suffix information to define photosynthesis. Students will again do this when talking about different types of producers and consumers. 

When looking at the orange category, consider this part your state standard information. This contains what students are going to learn, which is always a key part of any lesson. 

Green: Crosscutting Concepts 

Crosscutting concepts focus on how students think about science. In this example, students are looking at patterns, cause and effect, and flows and cycles.

For patterns, students are looking at the consistency among plant development in addition to similarities in food webs.

For cause and effect, students will see if there is a break in a food web, an entire species may starve. For flows and cycles, students have numerous opportunities to show how the core concepts work. 

In this NGSS Aligned Plants and Energy Booklet, students are learning the core content in an inquiry-based way. They are answering the tough content statements through exploring new vocabulary and concepts in a hands-on way. They are not simply taking notes followed by an assessment, but they are always actively involved in the lesson.

The Next Generation Science Standards were not developed to overwhelm teachers, but they were made to help teachers reflect on their lessons and see what improvements can be made in order to ensure students are truly learning and reflecting. 

Students need to understand science in order to help America remain innovative and creative. By utilizing the NGSS, students will have a strong understanding of content and practice regardless of what state they live in. In addition to this, the NGSS is a vertical curriculum, so students have 10 performance expectations in elementary school and 20 by the time they get to high school. This means that students will truly be guided in their content to increase the depth of knowledge.

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