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Designing Your Own Lessons to Meet the NGSS

Dee Dee Whitaker
Product Content Manager

August 2018

Are you thinking about designing or reworking current lessons to implement the NGSS in your classroom?

Achieve and NSTA offer several documents to guide you through the design and evaluation process. You may have heard about the EQuIP rubric, the NGSS Lesson Screener, and PEEC as tools for reviewing lessons and units.

Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) provides the criteria to assess the degree to which units are designed to meet the NGSS. After content is submitted, Achieve provides criterion-referenced feedback to the lesson or unit designer for improvements. Achieve awards the NGSS Design Badge to units that earn the highest rating on the EQuIP rubric.

Primary Evaluation of Essential Criteria (PEEC) is the evaluation tool for assessing year-long programs, but it has the same aim—to determine the degree to which the program meets NGSS instructional design standards.

As a teacher, you are probably most interested in designing or modifying single lessons to better address the NGSS. The NGSS Lesson Screener is your go-to tool. The Lesson Screener was designed to make reviewing existing lessons and writing new lessons quicker and less formal. With this tool, the scope of the lesson should be a few class periods or less.

The screener is not a unit level tool. After a lesson is screened, you will not receive a final score at the end of the evaluation process, just a list of suggestions for improvement. Achieve has provided the screener in both fillable PDF and Word formats in anticipation of teachers converting existing lesson plans to the NGSS format.

What are key instructional design shifts that move lessons toward the NGSS format?

A well-designed NGSS lesson should be:

  • Designed around a phenomenon.

  • Focused on students making sense of a phenomenon or designing a solution to a problem.

  • Make use of the three dimensions of instruction—science and engineering practices (SEPs), crosscutting concepts (CCCs), and disciplinary core ideas (DCIs)

  • Use multiple grade-appropriate elements from the three dimensions of instruction.

  • Provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate and communicate learning through direct, observable evidence where they produce a variety of artifacts.

  • Provide the opportunity for students to generate questions that motivate sense-making or problem-solving.

  • Relevant and authentic, calling on students’ prior experiences at home or in the community.

  • Provides multiple opportunities for students to express, clarify, interpret, or defend their ideas to peers and the teacher.

  • Identify and build on students’ prior learning in all three dimensions.

All lessons—whether teacher-made, downloaded, or part of a purchased lab kit—should go through the rigorous instructional design Lesson Screener rubric to ensure that the design criteria below are met. Ideally, after you evaluate your own lessons, another teacher should evaluate them using the screener and provide suggestions to ensure student learning and expectations across all three dimensions are clear.

What are the criteria included on the Lesson Screener that should be included in every lesson?

This excerpt from the Lesson Screener details what an NGSS lesson should like:

 Criterion A. Explaining Phenomena or Designing Solutions (and record of evidence)

  • The purpose and focus of the lesson are to support students in making sense of phenomena and/or designing solutions to problems.

  • Student sense-making of phenomena or designing of solutions is used as a window into student understanding of all three dimensions of the NGSS.

  • Lessons work together in a coherent storyline to help students make sense of phenomena.

  • Students get direct (preferably firsthand, or through media representations) experience with a phenomenon or problem that is relevant to them and is developmentally appropriate.

  • The development of science ideas is anchored in explaining phenomena or designing solutions to problems.

 Criterion B. Three Dimensions (and record of evidence)

  • The lesson helps students use multiple (e.g., 2–4) practice elements as appropriate in their learning.

  • Specific grade-appropriate elements of SEPs and CCCs (from NGSS Appendices F & G) are acquired, improved, or used by students to help explain phenomena or solve problems during the lesson.

  • Students explicitly use the SEP and CCC elements to make sense of the phenomenon or to solve a problem.

  • Engineering lessons require students to acquire and use elements of DCIs from physical, life, or Earth and space sciences together with elements of DCIs from engineering design (ETS) to solve design problems.

 Criterion C. Integrating the Three Dimensions for Instruction and Assessment (and record of evidence)

  • The lesson is designed to build student proficiency in at least one grade-appropriate element from each of the three dimensions.

  • The three dimensions intentionally work together to help students explain a phenomenon or design solutions to a problem.

  • All three dimensions are necessary for sense-making and problem-solving.

  • Teachers deliberately seek out student artifacts that show direct, observable evidence of learning, building toward all three dimensions of the NGSS at a grade-appropriate level.

  • Teachers use tasks that ask students to explain phenomena or design solutions to problems, and that reveal the level of student proficiency in all three dimensions.

 Criterion D. Relevance and Authenticity (and record of evidence)

  • The lesson motivates student sense-making or problem-solving.

  • The lesson provides support to teachers for making connections to the lives of every student in the class.

  • Student questions, prior experiences, and diverse backgrounds related to the phenomenon or problem are used to drive the lesson and the sense-making or problem-solving.

  • The lesson provides support to teachers or students for connecting students’ own questions to the targeted materials.

  Criterion E. Student Ideas (and record of evidence)

  • Classroom discourse focuses on explicitly expressing and clarifying student reasoning.

  • Students have opportunities to share ideas and feedback with each other directly.

  • Student artifacts include elaborations (which may be written, oral, pictorial, and kinesthetic) of reasoning behind their answers, and show how students’ thinking has changed over time.

  • The lesson provides supports to teachers for eliciting student ideas.

  Criterion F. Building on Students’ Prior Knowledge (and record of evidence)

  • The lesson content builds on students’ prior learning in all three dimensions.

  • The lesson provides explicit support to teachers for identifying students’ prior learning and accommodating different entry points, and describes how the lesson will build on the prior learning.

  • The lesson explicitly works together with students’ foundational knowledge and practice from prior grade levels.

How does Carolina use the Lesson Screener?

We practice what we preach. We design, write, and evaluate our kits using the Lesson Screener. In-house reviewers use the screener to identify areas needing clarity and improvement after the first draft of a lesson is written. Changes are made, and then an outside consultant trained to use the screener reviews the lesson. Again, edits are made. Thus you can be certain students have strong three-dimensional lessons. Well-designed, engaging lessons are as important to us as they are to you.

Good instructional design requires time, energy, and content mastery. The tools provided by Achieve will help you focus your lesson design and assist with lesson evaluation—so you can be confident your students are receiving the most complete three-dimensional instruction possible.


The Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) Rubric

NGSS Lesson Screener

Primary Evaluation of Essential Criteria (PEEC) for NGSS Instructional Materials Design


DeeDee Whitaker

Dee Dee Whitaker

Dee Dee has been a science educator for more than 30 years. She holds a BS and MAT from UNC-Chapel Hill, is certified in science supervision, and National Board certified in adolescent-young adult chemistry education. Her teaching passions are chemistry with authentic student lab experiences and Earth/environmental science. She’s held a Kenan Fellowship and a NC Climate Fellowship. She’s read AP® Environmental Science exams, provided curriculum and assessment development for the NC Department of Public Instruction, and held an appointment with the NC Environmental Education Advisory Council.

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