3 Obstacles Holding You Back From Implementing NGSS

ngss Jul 03, 2019

Subscribe to our Newsletter for updates and blog posts right in your inbox. 


Limited time to process the nuances of NGSS.

Limited time for science in the classroom.

Solution: Focus on the basics first--The 5 innovations of NGSS

NGSS has five innovations that need to be integrated in each lesson plan and each unit. It's those five innovations put all together that makes your lesson plan or unit plan NGSS-aligned. (I’ll include links at the end to a document that dives deeper and gives specific examples of these innovations as well as few earlier podcasts that discuss them further.)

There's lots of other nuances to NGSS that you can add to your lesson plans once you get these basics of the NGSS innovations down such as storylines, consensus modeling, question formulation technique, driving question boards, and other such terminology that you might have heard in conjunction with NGSS. But those are “tools not rules” of NGSS. The five innovations are the “rules” of NGSS.

Briefly here they are: 

One:  That your lessons and units of study are phenomenon driven.

Look for a  link at the end for  some resources on how to use and find phenomenon for your classroom. Either your students (and you) are going to be making sense of a phenomenon or you're going to be designing a solution to a problem related to the phenomenon. (The first is an example of a science lesson and the second is an example of an engineering lesson).

Second,  you need to ensure that your lessons and assessments are three-dimensional

The three dimensions are: the disciplinary core ideas, the science and engineering practices, and the cross-cutting concepts. Those three dimensions need to be used and intertwined together. There is a common myth is that it’s okay to implement the science and engineering practices first or just focus on crosscutting concepts or just focus on the disciplinary core ideas but that's not NGSS. There was a component of each of those dimensions in the traditional standards, so each dimension by itself isn’t NGSS. 

Explicitly and intentionally using all three of the dimensions together in each lesson is what makes it NGSS.  

For example, you wouldn't focus on planning and carrying out an investigation one day and evaluate your students on that practice and say okay we did a science and engineering practice--I've done NGSS.

Or my students identified cause and effect so that crosscutting concept is checked off and we’re doing NGSS. 

Or my students stated the steps of the water cycle--that DCI is now covered.

What would make an NGSS lesson is the combination of those three.

Students will plan and carry out an investigation to determine what causes the water to form on the outside of my water bottle.

First, students observe the phenomenon (observe a cold water bottle on their desk on a warm humid day). The bottle appears to be leaking. Is it leaking? If it’s leaking, where is the water from the outside coming from? (the inside) Is that true? How can we provide evidence that the water on the outside is coming from the inside?

Plan and carry out an  investigation to find out if leaking water from the inside of the bottle is what is forming the water outside of the water bottle.

That is an NGSS lesson because now you're having students plan and carry out an investigation (SEP) and looking at it through the lens of cause-and-effect (CCC) (what's causing the water to form on the outside).

Where is the DCI you ask?

Well, by finding out that the water is NOT coming from the inside, the only other place it can come from is outside the bottle.


Water in the air?!!

So, students are now using the SEP through the lens of CCC to find out about the water cycle (DCI).

Now, change the lens of the CCC to Matter and Energy. Looking at this phenomenon of the water forming on the outside of the bottle through the lens of the CCC, matter and energy will provide the context needed to understand how water in the air can become liquid water on a solid surface.

Your students now have a deeper, more meaningful and relevant understanding of the water cycle.

Chef’s kiss to NGSS!

The next innovation is progression

You want to explicitly build on students past knowledge and past experiences and skill level of the three dimensions that you are using in this lesson and also look ahead to see what skills that they'll be learning in the future and figure out how you and your lessons will be designed to be a bridge between what they've learned and what they're going to need to learn and be intentional in planning lessons that will build students’ understanding in all three dimensions

Often, in the past, we just looked at building progressions in the disciplinary core ideas, but were not intentional in looking at how we could build progressions in students’ science engineering practices and crosscutting concepts.

Look for a link at the end of this blog post to where you can find the progressions for each of the dimensions (also known as the elements).

It is something that is essential to look at when you're designing your lessons. 

Next innovation is to intentionally integrate English Language Arts and the appropriate math standards for your grade level in your NGSS units.

For most states, that means you'll to look into the Common Core and see what your students are learning in English language arts and mathematics.

I think this is especially helpful for K-5 teachers who have been focusing mostly on Common Core ELA and Math for many years and are probably more comfortable teaching these subjects--well, this might be your gateway into the NGSS. See how you can design your science lessons around what you’re teaching with ELA and Math.

That might also be helpful in figuring out how to get more science minutes in your already very crowded day. 

Then it's the final innovation. We need to explicitly and purposefully ensure all the science standards are accessible and relevant to all our students.

Of course this includes differentiation that you probably are already doing, but also means to choose phenomena that are relevant and meaningful to your students. Please look at the link of the 5 innovations at the end of this post that gives even more details on how to make sure that all students in your classroom are learning all the standards. 

Those five Innovations are what you should focus on when you're first implementing the NGSS. If you purposefully include those while you're transforming your science lesson plans, you will be doing NGSS. 

If you would like some more help on transforming your lesson plans into NGSS please join our 5 day challenge this summer that begins July 21st. This challenge will be focusing on creating a 3D performance task assessment with a 3D aligned rubric and although it isn't designing a complete lesson plan, we will be creating a three-dimensional objective and in doing so you will be learning how to incorporate the five innovations into creating the task assessment. That skill can be transferred into completing a lesson plan. Each day of the challenge will consist of a short video and some steps to complete, along with live Q&A, and a forum for help with individual questions. Please see http://www.ngsnavigators.com/summer5daychallenge to sign up. 

Obstacle 2: Lack of NGSS instructional materials and NGSS-aligned curriculum

It  is frustrating that you might have to create your own units and your own curriculum and also daunting and overwhelming. Not to mention feeling unsupported as usual with having to make these changes. 

Solution: Don’t start from scratch but  look at the performance expectations that your district is holding you responsible for during the school year. Look at ways to bundle them. And use the evidence statements for guidance,

Bundling them means:

Can I build a unit around several of these performance expectations, using an anchor phenomenon to drive the series of lessons? Will my students be able to meet these performance expectations by making sense of that phenomenon or designing a solution to a problem related to the phenomenon?

If they will be able to meet the performance expectations then put those performance expectations together in your unit plan and that's what bundling means.

That's what you want your students to be able to do at the end of your instructional unit.

Then you design a sequence of lessons that will help you and your students get to that point by using the science and engineering practices, through the lens of cross-cutting concepts, and using the knowledge of the disciplinary core ideas to make sense of the phenomenon or to design a solution to the problem related to the phenomenon.

I strongly suggest that when you are designing your units around the performance expectations that you are bundling, based on the anchor phenomenon that you have chosen to drive your unit--that you design your lessons to truly fit the resources you have, the students you have, and the season of life you are in. 

For example, if you are a parent with young children you probably can't stay after school many hours to set up complex investigations.

So as you're designing your unit think about using a phenomenon that students can make sense of or design a solution to solve the problem related to that phenomenon that is less complex with materials and resources.

Science investigations don’t have to be complicated for students to learn deep conceptual science facts, skills, practices, and literacy.

Check out this tweet of one scientist that I follow on Twitter.


She's in the middle of a cave doing  pretty complex science but the materials that she is using is very basic--that anyone probably has in their classroom.

This makes the point that good science does not have to mean that everything has to be complex to make sense of complex things.

We’ve created a professional development membership program called NGSS by Design--and that is the point of our program--is that will guide you through a step-by-step process of designing a complete NGSS unit plan that is intentionally designed by you to meet the needs of your students, using the resources that you realistically have to work with, that also aligns with the season of life that you currently are in.

Challenge the idea that you have to sacrifice your personal priorities like your health, your family, your friends, your pocket book--to be a good teacher. These personal priorities are just as valuable as your students' and you can honor them all. And that starts with being intentional with how we design our instructional units. 

If you would like more information about this program, please go to our website and join the waitlist: http://www.ngsnavigators.com/ngssbydesign

3rd Obstacle

The Imposter Syndrome: when an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud"

Stay tuned to a  whole Quick Tip Tuesday episode on the Imposter syndrome and NGSS, but briefly, this feeling is holding teachers back from just diving in and immersing themselves in all that is NGSS and risking making a huge mess of it to truly learn. 

I believe this is especially true for teachers of elementary school students who may not have a science background--at least, because this was me.

I did not have a science background. I went to school to be a social studies and language arts teacher. I wrote in my Ramona Quimby diary in 4th grade that my worst subject is science because it is boring. 

(Also, on a side note, that my New Year's resolution and my fourth grade Ramona Quimby diary was to stop picking my nose and I'm proud to say and I'm really close to getting that accomplished.)

Anyways back to imposter syndrome, so when I became a science teacher it was rather by accident--that's a whole other story for another day. I was lucky enough to get an email to enroll in a special cohort at DePaul University for getting my Masters in Science Education at a very discounted price, and of course I jumped at it. 

But I had terrible imposter syndrome. I was afraid that I was going to look stupid because I didn't know a lot about science except for very, very basic stuff that was mostly misconceptions. EEK. And that fear held me back from learning. It kept me from asking questions and taking risks. I pretended to understand hoping to fool everyone. 

Until I had an astrophysics professor teach very similar to what NGSS is now. Although we didn't call it in NGSS then. All our learning was phenomenon driven. Now everyone was in the same boat even if they had background in science--and even the one woman who was a high school chemistry teacher and knew everything about science and who rolled her eyes at all the questions we newbies asked in class.

But now we were all at the same level and it was freeing.

He was so gentle and patient with the questions, but didn't tell us the answers and helped us to investigate, to make connections to what we're learning and we learned in the past to new knowledge--into trying to make sense of this phenomenon he would present each class.

It was a challenge for sure but it was the first time that I felt comfortable asking questions because everybody was in the same boat.  

I also had to become comfortable with being uncomfortable because not knowing is an incredibly uncomfortable feeling.

Learning new things puts anyone in an uncomfortable situation of being called out as a fraud or as ”stupid”, and I think the pressure is especially on teachers who are expected to know everything. The fear that if someone found out you really didn’t know an answer, that they would think, 'how is she even a teacher?'

My favorite quotes came from the professor and he said smart people are people who know that the more you know, the more you know that you don't know, and that's what makes you smart.

He said that one of his mentors--that he thought was the smartest person in the world--is the one who told him that quote.

It's okay not to know everything. 

You're not a fraud.

There's no such thing as science people--just like there's no such thing as math people. 

There are science skills and practices, wonderment, investigating, discovery, and most important--taking the risk of being wrong!

To be able to handle that sometimes excruciating feeling of being uncertain and expressing it is a valuable skill to learn and teach!  

Impostor syndrome is a very common feeling and a very common topic on science Twitter. I follow a lot of scientists on Twitter and the Impostor syndrome comes up quite often, and quite often it's coming from people who are under-represented in science.

Which makes sense--when there is a lack of representation, you do feel like you're a fraud for being there--that you will be found out, that you really don't belong.

I think it's important that we acknowledge this feeling in us, accept it, and know that our students are most likely feeling the same way. Talk to your students about the Impostor syndrome and what it means and what it doesn't mean. Share when you are feeling uncomfortable with uncertainty and what you do when you get that feeling.

The lingo of NGSS--with all the acronyms and with all the buzz words--can be intimidating at first; especially when talking and listening to someone who has been processing NGSS for a few years now. 

And you may be hesitant to ask, “What the heck is a driving question board?”  

But ask the questions. Take it one step at a time.  Find colleagues either in your building or pocket friends like people you follow on Twitter. 

Please DM me if you follow me on Twitter with any questions or send them to [email protected].

Join our Facebook group and ask away.

There's lots of ways to do NGSS right. There's a few ways to do it wrong, but there's a lot more ways to do it right.

I encourage you to play to your strengths. Reach out to those who at this point might know a little bit more than you. Find a mentor. 

And remember--You’re phenomenal!


  • NGSS 5 Innovations
  • NGSS resources: phenomenon, progressions, and more
  • An Educator's Guide to NGSS provides an open-source platform of resources for science educators in their quest to implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Framework for K-12 Science Education. Start by reading resources, practicing implementing NGSS little by little, and reflecting on classroom application, while earning points toward the four Educator's Guide badges. Earn all four badges and you'll become a Science Sage, ready to tackle NGSS in your classroom.

Subscribe to our Newsletter for updates and blog posts right in your inbox.


50% Complete

Are you in?

Our Spring 5 day challenge kicks off March 24th. More details coming soon...In the meantime, join our Facebook community and let us know your NGSS professional development needs.

(We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe.)