44- When is the best time to Start Your NGSS Storyline?

May 18, 2022

In this episode, we answer a listener Joana’s question: “When is the best time to start your NGSS Storyline?” Joana wanted to know if it is okay to start your storyline in the middle of the unit. Erin and Nicole offer two different approaches depending on your specific needs.

Before listening to this episode, we highly recommend you check out this episode to learn more about storylines.

What is an NGSS Storyline?

A storyline is a well-thought-out lesson sequence. It includes an anchoring phenomenon that students make sense of throughout the lesson sequence. The sequence of lessons guides students in their understanding of the phenomenon. Students use the practices to explore and explain what they understand about the phenomenon.

To learn more about NGSS Storylines, check out our first episode about storylines.

When should you start an NGSS Storyline?

Really, that depends on you. It depends on your personal bandwidth and goals for your classroom. Below, we lay out two potential ways that you can start your storyline.

Option 1: Start Your Storyline at the Beginning of the Unit

Initially, Erin’s reaction to this question was that a storyline needs to start at the beginning of the unit. If you are in the middle of a unit, start building your storyline for the next unit.

Or, consider building a storyline during your breaks. This allows you to concentrate on building a storyline when you are away from the stress of teaching. Most likely, this will lead to the best, well-thought-out storyline.

Why This is Good Advice

Often, teachers build their storylines while they are teaching them. This is similar to building a life raft when you need it. It is incredibly stressful and often doesn’t go according to plan. Sometimes, this leads to days where you just don’t know what to do with the students.

Storylines take a long time to develop. Expecting that you will be able to build a solid storyline in the middle of your unit probably isn’t feasible.

Option #2: Create a Simple Storyline

Alternatively, it’s okay to create simple storylines. It’s not possible to create a full storyline in the middle of the unit. But, you can use a storyline approach to cover a few of your objectives at a time.

So, you look at your objectives for the unit and look for 2-3 that work together. Then, instead of teaching them in isolated lessons over one or two weeks, teach them together.

Identify a phenomenon that ties all of these objectives together. And, start to think about how students will use a discovery-based approach to make sense of the phenomenon.

So, rather than having a storyline that lasts around 5 weeks, you will have a simple storyline that will last 1-2 weeks.

Why This is Good Advice

The reality is that most teachers don’t have a lot of free time to spend on planning. This solution works with the realities of teaching today and allows you to start to build something that you can reuse as part of a bigger storyline later.

Also, this approach allows you to practice building a storyline in a very low-stakes way.

While this isn’t as good as creating a cohesive storyline for your unit, this is better than a traditional classroom approach. Generally, facts are taught in isolation. However, this method allows your students to see some connection between different content pieces.