NGSS Curricula Is For All Teachers: Use Our Roadmaps!

In our last blog post, we described curricula aligned with the Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that was geared towards elementary school students. In this blog post we describe NGSS-aligned curricula for middle school — and middle school teachers, in particular.  How can middle school teachers learn how to lead their students in NGSS-style learning? There’s a Roadmap for that — as you will soon see. Start your engines, please!

Figuring out NGSS: Imagine yourself in Washington DC for the first time, walking the streets of this busy city, trying to "figure out" your way around. Lots of crossing streets, countless buildings — definitely overwhelming! But as you are trying to make sense of this city, you realize that the streets’ names form a pattern: those streets running North-South are labeled with letters, while those running East-West are labeled with numbers! A thought pops up — you’ve uncovered the pattern, you’ve uncovered the "map!" Suddenly, getting around seems much easier.

Now, imagine a first encounter with NGSS – Next Generation Science Standards. This nationwide revolution in science education, which sets forth an ambitious vision for science teaching, includes so many new terms and instructional shifts: three dimensional learning (3D Learning), disciplinary core ideas (DCI), cross cutting concepts (CCC), scientific practices, performance expectation, students figuring out phenomena, focus on coherence — definitely overwhelming! But, what if there is a pattern to teaching NGSS? What if you had a "map" you could follow?

Well, the good news is this: Yes, there is a map! And not just one map, but several Roadmaps, developed by CREATE for STEM Institute, Michigan State University, in collaboration with the Intergalactic Mobile Learning Center, University of Michigan. The collaborative efforts of these two groups have resulted in NGSS-aligned curricular units that incorporate project-based learning (PBL); these units are implemented as Roadmaps in the Collabrify Roadmap Platform. And, as we will describe, there is an underlying pattern in all the NGSS-aligned units. That pattern, as manifested in Roadmaps, can support teachers in making the shift to NGSS-aligned instruction. Even better, these curricular materials — these Roadmaps — are free and will be posted, under the Creative Commons License "CC-BY-NC-SA," at the state of Michigan’s OER microsite in June, 2019. (Email ES if you want access immediately; smilely face goes here.)

Time for an example! The Roadmap presented in Figure 1 "maps" out an entire, 8-week, middle school, NGSS-aligned curricular unit: "Health in Our Hands: What controls my health? (HiOH)." Using project-based learning (PBL), HiOH focuses on the disciplinary core idea of gene-environment interactions and the effect on health of those interactions, using diabetes as the anchoring, gene-based disease. Figure 1 is a "Roadmap" — it is composed of nodes of different colors and arrows. And, just like a "road map," you can look at it and see where you are, where you have been and where you are going! (The HiOH project is funded by the National Institute of Health Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA).)

NGSS Curricula Is For All Teachers: Use Our Roadmaps! 

Upon closer inspection of the HiOH Roadmap in Figure 1, you can uncover some of the central features of NGSS-aligned curriculum:

  • A focus on figuring out phenomena:  In HiOH, students are trying to figure out why Monique, a middle-school girl, has Type 2 diabetes, and, through Monique, come to understand what factors might put them at risk for this disease.
  • A core driving question (pink cloud at the top) which is the core issue driving the students’ investigation. The core issue identifies what the students are trying to "figure out." For example, the driving question for HiOH is: What controls my health?
  • A set of sub-driving questions (purple oval nodes) that examine Monique’s diabetes from different perspectives, e.g., the mechanism, the genetic risk factors, etc. Each sub-driving question corresponds to a "lesson" — a unit of instruction that usually takes about one week to complete.

In HiOH, in order to understand what controls their health, students examine the mechanism of diabetes, its genetic and environmental components, and how these two components interact and affect health. The goal is for the students to realize that, similar to Monique, their genetic composition and environment affects their own health. As well, during the investigation, the students examine the personal and collective actions that they can take to reduce the risks for diabetes. 

As indicated by the arrows in Figure 1, hanging off each sub-driving question, there are two "Roadmaps" — two paths. The Roadmaps branching to the left of the sub-driving questions, are Roadmaps to guide the classroom teacher as he/she leads his/her class in an NGSS-aligned investigation. In this blog, we are focusing on these teacher-oriented Roadmaps. In a later blog, we will describe the Roadmaps that branch off to the right of the sub-driving question, Roadmaps that guide the students in their NGSS-aligned investigation. (In an earlier blog, we focused on Roadmaps for an NGSS-aligned, curricular unit geared for students in elementary school.)

As we described previously, a Roadmap is just a webpage in a browser (e.g., Chrome, Safari, Silk, Firefox). Teachers in the HiOH project currently access the HiOH Roadmap at In Figure 1, the nodes in the HiOH Roadmap that branch off to the left are different shapes and different colors. When a teacher taps on one of those nodes, an activity is launched resulting in the opening of a new tab in the browser.  In tapping on nodes, then, teachers gain access to the pedagogical tools needed to teach the HiOH unit in class. Let’s have a quick look at the nodes and their corresponding pedagogical tools:

  • Purple ovals: These nodes denote sub-driving questions. For example, the first lesson in the HiOH unit begins with the sub-driving question — "Why does Monique have diabetes?" — that students need to figure out.
  • Blue diamonds: Tapping one of these nodes will lead the teacher to a lesson plan document, which includes several components: (1) An overview of the lesson and the learning goals. (2) Explicit explanation about coherency — how the lesson relates to the previous and the next lesson. (3) The NGSS standards that the lesson focuses on. And (4), a description of the activities to be carried out in the class. For example, a node in the Roadmap directs the teacher to review the driving questions that students post to a "Driving Question Board," a pedagogical tool to help motivate students to ask questions about the driving phenomenon — why does Monique have diabetes? (The DQ Board is typically a large sheet of paper posted prominently in the classroom, onto which students post questions that they have developed during the investigation.)
  • Orange ovals: These nodes include presentations that a teacher can embed in his/her instruction to support students’ engagement in the various core practices of science. For example, in the first lesson, there is a focus on modeling, as well as a focus on planning and carrying out investigations. Important: In NGSS-aligned curricula, students engage in practices within a context, meaning that scientific practices, disciplinary core ideas and cross-cutting concepts are tied together to support students in making sense of phenomena. For example, in HiOH students develop a model of Monique’s diabetes as they understand the different aspects of her disease.
  • Brown rectangles: These nodes include multiple scaffolds employed by the teacher to provide additional support for students as they engage in the various core — and complex — scientific practices. For example, there are specific prompts a teacher can use during instruction to support the students as they engage in practices such as modelling and in reflective discussions with each other.
  • Red diamonds: The last node in each left-branching Roadmap includes a project "newsletter" intended to go to family members. The goal here is to help engage the families of the students in their students’ learning.

In Figure 1, lesson 2 (How can we describe Monique's diabetes?) and lesson 3 (How does Monique's family affect her diabetes?) are also opened to the left. Do you see the "secret" pattern? Each lesson

  • starts with a meaningful driving question,
  • teaches towards learning goals,
  • focuses on coherency (i.e., the various ideas being learned need to build on and extend each other, over time)
  • engages students in 3D-learning and in figuring out the sub-driving question,
  • provides scaffolds for the students,
  • and, engages family members in their student’s learning.

For a more detailed description of HiOH and the use of Roadmaps to guide teachers in carrying out NGSS-aligned instruction, please listen to our April 9, 2019 webinar.

Roadmaps can definitely make life easier — but not easy. Sorry! We all know that making changes in the classroom is never easy! But, we believe that by using high-quality, NGSS-aligned, PBL curricula, and using the Roadmaps which illuminate the underlying NGSS instructional pattern/framework, every teacher can learn how to shift their instructional practices and implement the NGSS vision in his/her classroom. Need some proof? Here is what one of "our" teachers, who had just finished using the HiOH materials, and was moving on to teach "friction" using her own materials, told us:

  • "It’s easy — I’ll start from a driving question, and a driving question board, and then think of the sub-driving questions, and then I will organize the different activities … But I need to first find a good phenomenon about friction to show them …"

Yes, NGSS is for all — students and teachers!