79 -NGSS Curriculum: Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

April 19, 2021

Adopting a curriculum is a major hurdle to overcome in the shift to NGSS. However, after the adoption, you might start to notice that the curriculum isn’t connecting with your students. We have found that it’s nearly impossible to create and NGSS Curriculum that is one size fits all. Read below to find out why and what you can do about it.

Feeling Disappointed After Reviewing NGSS Curriculum

Both Nicole and Erin have noticed a trend in Facebook Community Groups and other teacher platforms. Overall, it seems like many teacher are disappointed with the curriculum that is available to adopt. For example, teachers describe content that doesn’t meet the intent of the standards. Or, they discuss phenomena that their students don’t find engaging.

Another trend they have noticed is that some teachers will love a curriculum, but other teachers strongly dislike it. Some instructional materials connect with certain groups of kids. But the same material doesn’t necessarily connect with another group.

Three Problems with Using a Pre-Written Curriculum

There are several problems that occur when using a pre-written curriculum. Most notably, the curriculum hasn’t been created with your specific group of students in mind. Therefore, the relevance may be lacking.

1. Phenomena that Doesn’t Spark Curiosity

One of the main problems that Nicole and Erin have observed is with phenomena. It is nearly impossible to find phenomena that is engaging and relevant to students across the country.

It is incredibly important that anchoring phenomena be relevant to your students and create an emotional response. Anchoring phenomena must spark curiosity. And, it must be engaging enough to maintain student interest throughout the lesson sequence.

Potential Solution: Swap out the Phenomenon

You don’t always need to scrap an entire unit if it isn’t connecting with your students. Often, you can swap the phenomenon for one that is more closely related to your student lives. Sometimes, an investigative level phenomenon is more engaging than that anchor. So, this can be a simple swap.

However, it isn’t always that easy. Sometimes, removing the anchor causes the entire unit to collapse.

Do an Audit

If the phenomenon isn’t engaging your students, see if there are part of the storyline that you can salvage. Often, activities and investigations can be used with another phenomenon. So, before you ditch an entire unit, do an audit to determine which material is still useable.

2. A Pre-Written Curriculum Isn’t Driven by Student Questions

It’s important that student questions are used to build storylines. The inquiry process is driven by student questions. And, the NGSS was written to include components of student inquiry.

When you use student questions to drive your storyline, the content is much more engaging to the students. To find out more about using student questions to drive your storyline, check out this episode.

Quote: I really think our storylines need to be developed from our students' questions. 
-Nicole VanTassel 

Potential Solution: Map Out Their Storyline with Stickies for a Simple Swap

Erin suggests mapping out the storyline that is provided with sticky notes. This allows her to move the pieces of the storyline around and adapt them to her student’s questions. Also, its easy to add and remove activities to align with the questions your students have. This method allows you to be responsive to your student’s questions and interests.

Text: Adapting Curriculum for Your Students 
When using a pre-written curriculum, map out their storyline on sticky notes.
image: stack of sticky notes, various colors

3. Assessments that Aren’t Three-Dimensional

Often, the curriculum that is available doesn’t have assessments that assess all three dimensions. More often than not, the assessments over emphasize student knowledge rather than the Science and Engineering Practices.

Potential Solution: Creating Your Own 3D Assessments

Unfortunately, NGSS aligned assessments are difficult to find. Still, it is possible to create you own. Check out this STEM Teaching Tool to get more information about building NGSS Style Assessments.

More Resources to Help You Use an NGSS Curriculum

Check out these resources to help you make better use of your NGSS Curriculum: