How can I find the NGSS lesson plans I need to use?

By Jennifer Childress Self | July 10, 2024

Although the school year just ended, it feels like the summer is already flying by. Some teachers are already hard at work planning for the next semester. Many of these teachers are turning to the internet, using sites like Teachers Pay Teachers to find lesson plans to supplement or replace their current materials. However, most of those lesson plans are not vetted for quality, even if they say they are aligned to the NGSS. It can be a daunting and even impossible task to merge individual, disconnected lesson plans into a truly coherent and quality course of instruction.

Lessons Learned From Hiking

Curriculum planning can be somewhat like making travel plans. Many years ago, in the days before smartphones, I planned a multi-day hike for a group of friends. First, I chose and read all about the villages we planned to stop in. I then created our schedule for how far we’d hike each day and where we would stop each evening. Day 1 of our hike was a breeze, with mostly a flat, even trail. We arrived at our planned destination on schedule and enjoyed the town. On Day 2, though, we discovered that the trail was much steeper and rockier than we expected, delaying our arrival in the next village by several hours (and completely exhausting us).

Two hikers looking at a terrain map

The trail condition was a surprise; we hadn’t been able to find much information ahead of time about what the journey between the two towns would be like. We also learned later that there was a gorgeous waterfall not far from the trail that we completely missed because we didn’t know about it.

The next year, we went on another multi-day hike, but this time used recommendations from an expert guide to learn what to expect in the different parts of the trail, and what interesting sites were nearby. Our experience was much smoother and less stressful than the year before.

Finding Coherent High-Quality Instructional Materials

Like with travel planning, instructional planning also benefits from the guidance of experts who know the whole pathway of learning — the connections between key activities, anticipated challenges, and best points to stop and check for understanding along the way. Coherent programs designed as a series of high-quality lessons and units can provide this kind of guidance in a way that individual lessons or activities strung together cannot. It’s important to know and teach more than just the contents of each day’s lesson plan; knowing and facilitating the journey from one to another is critical for student learning.

Using high-quality, coherent instructional programs helps ensure that instruction doesn’t get off course and that students don’t miss an exciting discovery along the way. Teachers will always need to modify instructional materials to meet the needs of their students, but the end result is more likely to work for students if teachers are making modifications to a program that provides a high-quality foundation.

So what does high-quality look like?

NextGenScience (formerly Achieve) has worked with teachers, states, and leaders in science education across the country to help answer this question, developing many tools and examples, such as the NGSS Lesson Screener. As a result of this work, educators can now access peer-reviewed resources: instructional materials that were rated highly by teams of highly-trained peer evaluators. Examples are available for every grade level, with more added all the time.

When reviewing instructional materials, one of the things the teams of evaluators look for is evidence that the learning will feel coherent from the students’ perspective. For example:

EQuIP Criterion I.D More like less like chart

EQUIP Criterion I.D “Less Like / More Like” Chart

When instructional programs help both teachers and students clearly understand the route from one lesson to the next, students can feel more invested in their learning and can learn more deeply.

The number of high-quality materials available for science education is still somewhat small but growing. The reviews of individual lessons and units (coordinated by NextGenScience) and full programs (coordinated by EdReports) provide an important starting place for educators looking for instructional materials.

What about you? Where do you start your quest for instructional materials?

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