Ecosystems: An NGSS-Designed Unit

Disruptions in Ecosystems topic header

Every teacher seeks opportunities to engage students, but how often do you have the opportunity to truly immerse your students in the discipline you love? And how can you be certain that the resources you choose are high quality and grounded in best practices?

Experts at Achieve, NSTA, EdReports, BSCS, and Learning Forward have been engaging in a process of helping the science education community come to a consensus on what counts as “high quality.” And both federal and private STEM funders are supporting the work of researchers and developers to create open access curriculum materials.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, educators from the American Museum of Natural History, The Lawrence Hall of Science, and University of Connecticut are wrapping up a four-year project that sought to create both an exemplar unit (along with student assessments) and a professional learning program to support the enactment of the NGSS-designed curriculum.

The project was a huge success, and after a few years of field testing in New York City, the middle school ecosystems unit is becoming well known across the country — rated “High Quality, If Improved” by Achieve’s EQuIP Peer Review Panel.

One missing piece in all of the work was video of the enactment of the Disruptions in Ecosystems unit in a classroom. Video-based professional learning tied to NGSS-designed instructional materials can support teachers with developing a more concrete understanding of what it feels like to be in an NGSS classroom. It answers the frequently asked question, “What is this supposed to look like?”

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Words Matter: Quality Instruction for English Language Learners

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Last spring, as I renewed my National Board Certification, I was struck by how much has changed in the landscape of public education since I was first certified ten years ago. In 2007, I passed the testing center components of the NBPTS process just fine, but I remember being concerned initially about the component related to teaching English Language Learners. As a regular classroom teacher, I taught EL students in my high school English classrooms, but I had no specific training for doing so. I reached out to colleagues for support and dove into any available resources in an era before Teaching Channel and other numerous resources now at our disposal.

The standards for National Board certification for ELA/AYA emphasize equity and fairness, and we understand that equitable and fair situations are those which ensure ALL students receive the support they need to be successful in the classroom. This includes instructional settings that promote rigorous learning for everyone. For me, this was one of the very reasons I pursued the NBCT process in the first place.

I want consistent equitable learning experiences for all students, as do most teachers I know. For those of us without specialized training for teaching ELLs, we rely on colleagues for co-teaching situations or for support in other settings. Jamie Ponce’s article about co-teaching led me to a slew of other Tchers’ Voice posts about how to meet the needs of EL Learners.

I read Lisa Kwong’s and Jacqueline Fix’s recent blog posts about how the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) approaches instruction for ELLs with intentionality district-wide, through the Five Essential Practices for teaching ELLs. I also watched a few videos in the accompanying playlists demonstrating elementary and secondary ELL strategies.

Curiosity prompted me to revisit an instructional unit created by colleagues for a project I’ve been involved with for the past several years to explore if/how the work we created meets the guidelines suggested by SFUSD.

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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.

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Teaching Is Personal: Video PD & Feedback

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Teaching is personal. In fact, according to my principal, teaching is a work of heart. It’s heart work, not just hard work. And not only is it heart work, the only thing more personal than teaching is going to the bathroom.

As part of a district initiative, I started video recording my teaching practice to improve higher-order thinking and student-led conversations. At first blush, I was mortified at the thought of a camera catching every moment of my class. Not because I was fearful of what anyone would find, but because I was fearful of what I might not find. I thought as an experienced teacher, I knew what was happening in my classroom. Why would I need to video record my teaching and watch it when I was there live?

What I didn’t realize was the power of recording my instruction, watching, and seeking constructive feedback from my peers.

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NGSS Have Been Adopted. Now what?


Scientists seek out other respected scientists for their opinions and collaborate with other fields regularly. Biologists work with chemists to research ocean acidification and the impact on coral reef habitats. Statisticians must work with ecologists to calculate populations and distributions of animals within the ecosystem. The work we do is integrated and no longer isolated by discipline. Researchers walk across the hall to share ideas, brainstorm, and call upon others to generate panels of experts. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) speak volumes to this kind of collaboration. It may seem like a buzzword, but it’s a reality in the world of science. Our students must also develop the skills of working across the disciplinary core ideas and apply their understanding of the crosscutting concepts with the science and engineering practices.

If you’re a science teacher in one of the NGSS adoption states, once you’ve had some time to absorb that you’re indeed going to transition your science lessons to the new and improved NGSS aligned lessons, you might hit somewhat of a roadblock. Think of it as writer’s block. The overwhelming feeling that you already teach really good science lessons, you just need to see what fits with the new standards and what needs to go. And now, we must think of lesson planning in three dimensions to properly support the intention of teaching collaborative skills.
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NGSS Storylining: Using Entry Event Videos As Anchoring Phenomena


One of the hidden treasures of NGSS is the incorporation of coherence and phenomena-driven lessons. These strategies are not found in the standards themselves, but in the EQuIP rubric in the NGSS resource library.

A coherent lesson is a lesson that fits into a broader storyline. Coherent lessons flow together like a story, where each lesson connects to the previous one and the story progresses as students work through the unit. This storylining provides students a reason to progress through the unit and gives meaning to each of the lessons within.

The EQuIP rubric not only provides a process for evaluating a lesson’s alignment to the standards and three dimensional learning, but also allows a reviewer to look for how these components work together to make sense of phenomena. The reviewer then looks for evidence that the lessons have coherence.

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Sharing Lessons to Shift Practice

How to Strengthen Lessons - CCSSAs a teacher, I loved designing my own lessons. There’s something exhilarating about using your own creativity, content knowledge and understanding of your students to create a learning experience. But we all know that writing lessons and units on your own takes a lot of time and energy, especially when you want to check that your lessons align to standards or that they help you shift your practice. Once I created them, I wanted to be able to share them with the world in order to save other teachers time, as well as to get their feedback and ideas for revisions. Today, there are so many ways teachers can share lessons on the web, and with many states sharing common standards, it’s even easier to share standards-aligned lessons. One place to find lesson planning rubrics and quality instructional materials is

Teaching Channel and partnered on a three-part series featuring EQuIP’s (Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products) tools for Common Core lesson planning.

  • We showed you how to use EQuIP’s Student Work Protocol to analyze student work as an indicator of the strength of your instructional materials.
  • We introduced you to the EQuIP’s Math and ELA rubrics for evaluating lesson plans for Common Core alignment. While you can use these tools alone or as part of a team in order to plan and evaluate your materials, you can also submit your materials to EQuIP’s Peer Review Panel.
  • In this last part of the series, we get to see lessons resulting from this process of educators creating and submitting materials for peer review. Four Maryland teachers selected these exemplar lessons from Achieve’s website, downloaded the instructional materials, read the panel’s feedback, and tailored the lessons to the needs of their own classrooms.

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Strengthening Lessons with a Student Work Protocol

How to Strengthen Lessons

As the chill in the air gets chillier, and your stacks of student work pile up like fallen leaves, why not pause, take a breath, and take a moment to look at that student work in a new way. Sure, you need to look at the work to assess student progress, provide feedback, and celebrate student successes, but you can also use it to assess, refine, and celebrate your own work. The EQuiP Student Work Protocol is one way to do just that.

In part one of our series with, we introduced you to their work with EQuIP (Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products), an initiative designed to identify high-quality materials aligned to the Common Core. We took a close look at EQuIP’s rubrics and process for evaluating lessons for Common Core alignment, and saw the power of teachers viewing and discussing a lesson together.

In this second part, we introduce you to a complementary process in which teachers analyze student work as an indicator of the strength of instructional materials, and their fit into the larger lesson or unit. This protocol works really well for large collaboration groups, but you could certainly use it independently or with just one colleague.

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The A-B-Cs of Giving Feedback to a Colleague

Providing feedback. It’s so much more than sharing some helpful information with another person regarding his or her work. It’s a gift — a chance to help someone improve themselves or their work, and ultimately our students will benefit.

If you think about it, feedback is as much about you as the person you’re providing it to. Your feedback is a reflection of you. The quality of it, and the time you spend giving it, shows how much (or how little) you value the feedback process. The fact that someone is asking you for your feedback speaks volumes. After all, someone has made himself or herself vulnerable to you. They have invested time in their work and trust you and your professional opinion. I hope thinking about feedback this way puts you in the right frame of mind when evaluating someone’s work, or, more accurately, their labor of learning.

While there are many things to consider before providing feedback, narrowing the focus to a few simple A-B-Cs can be quite helpful.

A. Feedback should be accessible and action-oriented.

Any ideas you provide should be easy to understand and conveyed as suggestions or questions. Reactions need to be shared in a friendly, helpful way. Try to avoid expressing a feeling of “change this, or else what you’ve done won’t be any good.” Also, if it’s fitting, suggest a possible action that the person you’re providing feedback to can take that may lead to project or performance improvement. A great way to start an accessible, actionable feedback statement is in the form of a question that begins with the words “What if…?” or, “How could…?”

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Video Playlist: Strengthening Lessons for the Common Core

How to Strengthen Lessons

As you are setting up your classroom, planning your units, or perhaps already teaching (yikes!), you’re probably digging through last year’s lesson plans. As you look through those plans, you may be thinking, “Wow, this was a fantastic lesson!” Or, perhaps you’re thinking, “Hmmm… this lesson could use a little work.”

To top it off, you may also be thinking of checking your lessons for Common Core alignment. With all of this planning in mind, Teaching Channel has partnered with on a three-part series featuring tools for Common Core lesson planning. The series highlights Achieve’s work with EQuIP (Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products), an initiative designed to identify high-quality materials aligned to the Common Core.

In these first three videos, we introduce you to a tool already used by over 15,000 teachers across the country to help them plan and evaluate lessons aligned to the Common Core: the EQuIP Rubric.

1. Strengthening Lessons for the Common Core: In this overview, you’ll learn about the EQuIP process for evaluating and giving feedback on CCSS-aligned lessons. You’ll see that while one goal of EQuIP is to identify exemplary lessons for teachers around the country to use, another goal is to have teachers use EQuIP’s tools to build their own capacity to develop and find high-quality instructional materials.

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