Transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards: 5 Guidelines for Effectiveness

Transitioning from state standards to the Next Generation Science Standards can be overwhelming at first.  This blogpost details 5 tips and guidelines for effectiveness with using NGSS, including teaching with phenomena, and specific tips for high school biology and physical science teachers.

I remember when I got a job at my current school and I was told that the school followed the Next Generation Science Standards*.  I had done a decent bit of training on the standards during my graduate studies at night my first few years teaching, but I felt like I had JUST got my footing mastering the state standards and I was now going to have to start all over.  Not only that, but just looking at the Next Gen website gave me heart palpitations (if you haven't, check it out here.  Just FYI, it isn't exactlyyy the most user friendly.)

I ending up spending over 10 hours dissecting the website, reading every inch of it.  I then watched videos and read site after site of information I could find on NGSS.  I went through the entire book "A Framework for K-12 Science Education".  I even went back to my graduate school professor for advice and direction.  I think I read through the standards breakdown 5x before deciding I needed to rearrange it in a way that made more sense to me, and thus I wrote my own format.  You can read more about that in my blogpost here. I figured after doing all of this research (and then testing out what I learned in my own classroom over the last few years) I was finally in a place to share what I've learned to help others in their transition to using NGSS.  So here are my 5 tips/guidelines for NGSS newbies:

1.  Understand how they are different from traditional state standards.  Oftentimes states create standards that are essentially objectives for what we want students to know.  State standards use various buzzwords from Bloom's taxonomy to describe the depth to which students must learn the content.  The NGSS outline what students should know, but also what skills we want students as budding scientists and engineers to be able to do and how we want them to critically think.  If the NGSS are 3-dimensional, my state standards are more 1-dimensional.  This was actually super encouraging for me to learn because I realized I wasn't changing the content that I was necessarily using with my students, I just needed to tweak HOW I explored the content with the students in a way that they could experience it to develop necessary skills and thought processes.

2.  Integrate phenomena into instruction.  One of the main components of NGSS is teaching with phenomena, which is essentially a way to increase the relevancy and context of all of the content for students.  I had so much to say about this, that I ended up having to write a whole separate post on the subject.  Make sure to check it out because I am NOT doing phenomena justice in this post alone.

3.  Start with the materials you have and change your implementation.  I have zero science budget.  Everything comes out of my pocket.  Because of this, I got super overwhelmed not only thinking of how much TIME I would have to spend re-doing my entire curriculum (that I wrote myself), but also how much MONEY it would take to buy all of the materials to have hands-on experiential instruction 24/7.  But again, the more I studied the more I realized I could really use a ton of what I already had created for my classroom.  Instead of changing all of my content, I needed to change how I taught.  For instance, instead of just jumping into lecture notes right after my daily bell ringer, I began starting class with a conversation.  I asked students questions and let them verbally process their answers.  I incorporated inquiry-based teaching methods by having students experience the content by doing labs FIRST - then lecturing as a follow up to fill in any gaps.  I made my classroom more student-focused rather than teacher-centered.  I changed the order of my lab tables from rows to "pods" to increase collaboration and student interaction.  Student autonomy became one of my main classroom pedagogical goals.  I had students ask each other when they needed help, then conduct research, then FINALLY ask me when they had questions, as opposed to immediately coming to me to serve as their living and breathing Google robot.  All of these things shifted my classroom culture to promote a KNOW/DO/THINK teaching style rather than my traditional just "KNOW" teaching style.

4.  You don't have to change everything that you do, and especially not all at once.  The majority of my students have never had a teacher focus so much on skill and thought process as opposed to just content knowledge.  My students weren't ready day one to design their own investigations and conduct research to provide evidence for their claims.  These were all things I had to nurture within my students over the course of my year with them.  Even in a year, I couldn't achieve all that NGSS required of me with my students.  But it was a start and a transition in their thinking that the next teacher can pick up with and build upon.  The majority of my teaching career has been with 8th and 9th graders (until this past year picking up AP Biology for the first time.) Aligning my curriculum to NGSS and changing my teaching style to do so is incredibly important, but so is teaching my students the BASICS for survival in high school and hopefully college for many of them.  We still have to spend lots of time on classroom management, note-taking skills, basic organization strategies, etc.  It is unrealistic to expect them to be ready for all that NGSS entails at this age, given the foundation they are coming into my class with.  I am hopeful that over time the students that have had NGSS since kindergarten will be ready for the middle and high school expectations of NGSS, and I truly believe they will.  But I am currently working with students who, if I am LUCKY, have only experienced an NGSS teaching style for the last year or two.  Your students need time to adjust just like you do.  Start with a few small things and grow from there.  Each year I strive for my classroom to be more NGSS aligned, and I know that eventually, little by little, we will all get there. 

5.  Keep in mind the big picture as you create and edit assessments.  I am so thrilled that NGSS put so much focus on what students should be able to DO and how they should THINK rather than simply on the content they should KNOW.  I LOVE incorporating more unique assessments in my curriculum now with NGSS, but I am also not deleting my traditional multiple choice and open response tests any time soon.  I am fully aware that students will still be expected to take (and pass) these forms of assessment in college, and I want my students to be prepared for that as well.  It isn't wrong for you to want that for your students too!  I also have to keep in mind the big picture and time constraints we have in our classroom.  I can't cover all of the things for all of my students in a year's time.  However, I can do my best, in the time that I have, to push my students in their knowledge AND skill AND critical thinking abilities in order to prepare them for successful careers in science, engineering, and beyond. 

I hope this blogpost has given you some encouragement if you are entering a transition to NGSS as a school with a little fear and trepidation.  I am by no means an expert, but I have been studying and incorporating teaching with NGSS for the last six years, so I hope that my experience is at least somewhat helpful to someone else out there. 

NGSS teachers - any other tips you would provide to encourage teachers switching to NGSS without overwhelming them too much from the start?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

*Note: NGSS is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this blogpost, and do not endorse it.

Transitioning from state standards to the Next Generation Science Standards can be overwhelming at first.  This blogpost details 5 tips and guidelines for effectiveness with using NGSS, including teaching with phenomena, and specific tips for high school biology and physical science teachers.


  1. This post along with the breakdowns of each subject are SO much help! I am a grad student getting my education degree/cert and I, along with my fellow classmates, have been extremely lost trying to understand this. Our instructors are not as much help as we wished because they too are starting from scratch. I have forwarded all of your info to them because I finally get it and I know they will too! Thank you for your help!

    1. I am so glad you found it helpful!! I was exactly where you are a few years ago, and I still feel like so much of NGSS is not clearly defined, so I wrote this in the hope of helping others!


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