114 When Your Science Curriculum Isn’t Built for 3D Learning

July 18, 2022

Your district adopted a science curriculum. You hoped it would be well aligned with the NGSS. But, after reviewing it, you realized it wasn’t built for 3D learning. You aren’t alone.

This week we answer this question from Kim in California. The name of the publisher she mention has been removed because we believe the problems she is discussing are not unique to this particular publisher.

Kim says “I am a 7th and 8th-grade science teacher. Our district adopted [an integrated curriculum]. As a team, we don’t love the program. The spiral organization doesn’t really make sense and the SEPs and CCCs don’t seem smoothly integrated. Do you have suggestions on how to adapt or utilize [this curriculum] specifically or adopted curricula in general? Thanks!”

We’d love to help!

NGSS-Washing & Science Curriculum

Way back in episode 4, Nicole introduced us to the term NGSS-washing. This term is similar to green-washing. In this case, NGSS-washing is when a company slaps the NGSS label on a product without meeting the intent of the standards. Sometimes, this is done unintentionally because the company lacks an understanding of the standards. In other cases, the company rushed to produce the product.

NGSS-washing is rampant in science curricula We’ve seen this happen with large and small publishers alike. We frequently hear from teachers who are unhappy with what their district purchased.

To learn more about why this happens, check out this episode.

How do you spot a curriculum that isn’t 3D?

It’s not always easy to spot a curriculum that doesn’t meet the intent of the standards. In fact, we did a whole episode on this topic. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to spot.

Erin highly recommends using the TIME Rubric. This is a labor-intensive process that requires scrutinizing the science curricula with a fine tooth comb. It does an excellent job of showing the strengths and weaknesses of the program.

What if you don’t have time for TIME?

There are a few other options if you don’t have time to do the full TIME rubric. To start, check out to see how a particular curriculum performed. EdReports spends a considerable amount of time reviewing curricula with the help of educators. After speaking with a teacher who participated in the review process, Erin feel confident that they do a great job with the vetting process.

She also suggests mapping out a unit using sticky notes. You can see how Erin maps out a storyline here.

Assess Your Science Curriculum

If you’ve already purchased curriculum, you still need to assess the curriculum. It’s time to grab your stickies and figure out what is available in your curriculum.

Map it out.

Choose the unit you’ll be teaching first. Go through lesson by lesson and write down what is available.

Person writing on sticky notes that are attached to white board.   At the bottom there is a turquoise box that says "map out storylines before making revisions".
No matter what the proble is, the best first step is mapping out the storyline.

Erin prefers to use 5 different sticky notes, one for each of the 5 different components she is looking for. Here is what she likes to look for:

The last might not require its own sticky-note.

Most science curriclula aren’t great at all five. However, there is likely at least one component that they did well. List what works and what doesn’t. Then, decide on your next steps.

Decide on your next steps.

In episode 110, we discussed how to start with 3D learning. The advice we gave in this episode also works if you are looking to improve a purchased curriculum.

You have two choices. One, start with the phenomenon and rip apart the storyline. Or, select one of the components that is lacking and focus on one things at a time.

Obviously, if the anchoring phenomenon is great don’t start there. But, if its not, how do you decide. First, look at the amount of time that you have to invest in adapting the curriculum for your students. If you choose to work with the anchor, you’ll see better results. However, this is incredibly time consuming.

Instead, working on one component at a time is less time consuming. However, the payoff won’t be as big.

The MOST simple thing is starting with the Crosscutting Concepts.

If you don’t have a lot of time to invest, it’s easy to add the Crosscutting Concepts to your current storyline. Erin created a set of graphic organizers and resource sheets for each of the Crosscutting Concepts. She uses these to introduce each Crosscutting Concepts. Then, uses the graphic organizers each time she wants students to make a connect to a particular CCC.

You can access those here.

Create a strategy.

You’ve decided what you want to focus on. Not it’s time to look at your timeline. Will you focus on a single aspect for an entire unit? For example, in your first unit you’ll just focus on the Crosscutting Concepts. Then, focus on the SEPs in the second unit. Or, will you focus on the CCCs for the entire school year? A semester?

This decision is totally up to you and what works best for your team. However, don’t overbook yourself. Its important to set REALISTIC goals.

Research best practices.

No matter which area of focus you choose, we have an episode for you. Check out these links below to get information about best practices.

Science and Engineering Practices
Disciplinary Core Ideas
Crosscutting Concepts
Discovery-Based Learning

Assessing Your Own Lessons

If you aren’t using a published curriculum, you can assess your own lessons using Erin’s 3D Lesson Planner.

Paper on table that reads 3D lesson Planner
Get Erin’s FREE 3D Lesson planner by clicking here.

It’s incredibly easy to use. Simply write down what you’re already doing. Then, see what is missing from your lesson plans. Follow the same steps she outlines above in order to improve your lessons.

This planner is FREE. Click here to get your copy.

Other Common Complaints About Science Curriculum

In her question, Kim mentions a spiral curriculum. Often, teachers complaint that the science curriculum is slow or repetitive. Generally, this happens for one of two different reasons. First, the publishers don’t have access to your students. Secondly, teachers explain too much too early.

A good curriculum anticipates questions your students will have and uses them as investigative questions about the phenomenon. To learn more about what that looks like, click here.

Problem #1: They don’t know your students.

Sometimes, when publishers anticipate student question they miss the mark. They include questions your students can answer too easily. Or, they include questions your students don’t have.

This problem is relatively easy to solve. To begin, map out your storyline. Then, cut or replace that portion of the unit.

Double check before you cut.

Occaisionally, you’ll have a student who is able to answer the investigative question quickly. This can leave us with the impression that the question is too easy for ALL of our students. However, this isn’t always the case.

Before you move on, or cut a piece of the storyline, assess your students. A simple exit ticket is great for this. If most students are ready, move on. However, if most can’t answer the question stay where you are.

Differentiate your instruction by providing those who are ready with an extension activity. For ideas, click here.

Problem #2: The teacher goes too far too soon.

Sometimes, teachers don’t see where the storyline is headed. Consequently, the provide their students with information for investigative questions that are coming up in the storyline. When they reach the next question, students already know the answer. This makes the curriculum feel incredibly repetitive.

Light blue background.  Text reads 
"Spoiler, noun.
- a person who gives away the ending too early
-a teacher, movie, or other entity that gives students more information than they need to know
Teachers often unintentionally spoil AHA moments. for their students. Avoid this by mapping out the storyline.

Again, mapping out the storyline is helpful. We want students to use as much discovery as possible to understand material. So, its important that you don’t steal the AHA moments by teaching too much before its needed.