Five Tools and Processes for Translating the NGSS


As the school year is approaching its second semester, I’ve started to both reflect on the progress I’ve made as well as look ahead to the standards that need to be addressed by the end of the school year. As a STEM teacher within Greenon Local Schools, my primary focus is on Science and Engineering Practices. Something that has always been a major challenge is how to accurately take inventory of the standards and then develop an outline that ensures the needs of my students have been met by the time they leave my classroom.

Fortunately, the American Museum of Natural History, Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, and the K-12 Alliance at WestEd have created a highly regarded set of resources called the Five Tools and Processes. One resource I found to be particularly useful is their collection of NGSS Card Decks, part of Tool 1. These free PDFs are cleverly designed to be downloaded as a formatted file of color coded Next Generation Science Standards. Once downloaded, you can print them directly onto Avery note card stock, one “element” or bullet per card. The cards were developed to help teachers make their own meaning from a standards page — as the standard doesn’t dictate HOW you teach a unit, just WHAT needs to be covered. By manipulating the cards, teachers can map out learning goals for a unit. They can add in cards from other standards pages as well, to make sure they’re “bundling” or connecting ideas across standards.

NGSS cards

At Teaching Channel, we’re fortunate that a member of the AMNH’s education staff, Dora Kastel, is a very active part of our community. She is EQuIP Rubric trained, has co-authored AMNH curriculum, and helps to lead our NextGen Science Squad. Needless to say, Dora is a gifted educator and we’re lucky to have her as part of our team. When I mentioned I was going to highlight AMNH resources in my blog, Dora graciously volunteered to contribute to this piece.


It’s been great seeing how teachers are using our card decks to help them make sense of the information on a colorful, complex standards page. When you check out Teaching Channel’s NGSS Deep Dive, you’ll see one of the most important questions many teachers ask is, “How do I unpack the NGSS?” The Five Tools were developed to address this question. Each tool has both a professional learning process along with a digital template about instruction or assessment development, to help teachers shift their practice to align with standards in a meaningful way.

Another of my favorite resources from the Five Tools is our teacher scenarios. What’s the difference between the look and feel of an NGSS classroom compared to what we see in classrooms now? In Tool 3, we get a glimpse into the classrooms of “Mr. Coles” and “Ms. Rivera.” Both are good teachers, but only one of them is engaging students in a sequence of coherent, student-centered lessons that incorporate 3-D learning. This resource and scenario-analysis activity can help teachers start creating a vision for their own NGSS classrooms.

Will you be attending the 2017 NSTA National Conference in Los Angeles this coming March? If you’re curious to learn more about the Five Tools and Processes for NGSS and want to try out some of the strategies, we strongly encourage you to attend the Five Tools Professional Learning Institute and/or Five Tools Pathway Sessions throughout the conference (Dora will be co-facilitating the sessions). If this isn’t an option or you have questions now, please feel free to reach out in the comments section below. Dora, Tch’s Next Gen Science Squad, and I will be more than happy to help you out!

Dora Kastel is a leader of professional development programs at the American Museum of Natural History, primarily focusing on supporting science teachers with the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core literacy strategies. She is currently co‐project director of an NSF-funded curriculum and research study titled “Moving Next Generation Science Standards into Practice: A Middle School Ecology Unit and Professional Development Model” in collaboration with SEPUP and the University of Connecticut. She is also a 2016-2017 CADRE fellow. Prior to her work at AMNH, she was a middle school science and math teacher for six years in East Harlem. She earned her B.A. in Geology from the University of Pennsylvania, along with her M.A. in Science Education and Ed.M. in Mathematics Education from Teachers College at Columbia University. She recently returned to Teachers College, and is a first-year Ph.D. student in Science Education. Connect with Dora on Twitter: @Dora_Kastel.

Tom Jenkins teaches both middle school science and STEM in Enon, Ohio. He is a NASA SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, Manager of Special Projects at the Dayton Regional STEM Center, and is the Boeing Science Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Tom on Twitter: @TomJenkinsSTEM.


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