NGSS Hub - Designing Units and Lessons

Designing Units and Lessons

Select lab experiments, readings, discussions, lectures, and other learning activities based on what students should learn and explicitly link them together in the unit. One example architecture for designing integrated instructional units is the BSCS 5E model, explained in Translating the NGSS for Classroom Instruction.

Integrated Instructional Sequence: BSCS 5E Model

Work Backward

To create lessons for your classroom that build on the Next Generation Science Standards, start from the end and work backward. We suggest beginning the process by selecting a particular performance expectation (or two) from the standards and designing a series of lessons and activities that bridge that expectation with the knowledge and skills students will already have in place at the beginning of instruction. (Ultimately, a unit of instruction would cover at least portions of several different performance expectations, but as you first begin working toward implementation, focus on just one or two.)

First, identify a performance expectation. Then read through it to find the competencies that will demonstrate how well students learned the related concepts and practices, and design assessments that give students an opportunity to demonstrate those competencies. Then you can begin to design activities to teach students the concepts and practices in the three dimensions.

Selecting the Three Dimensions

The performance expectations are designed to describe what students should be able to do when instruction is complete. They’re not meant as learning objectives, and shouldn’t be treated as instructional strategies. Instead, use them as goals to guide the activities and lessons that you select, giving students learning experiences that will give them confidence in demonstrating the expectations once it comes time for assessment.

Look at the disciplinary core ideas that correspond with a given performance expectation. Brainstorm some phenomena (objects or events that scientists study in the world around them) related to the core ideas for students to investigate. The phenomena should be interesting to students, and explaining the phenomena should require an understanding of the targeted core ideas.

Once you have identified some useful phenomena, think about how students will investigate those phenomena. What will they do in each lesson? Incorporate science and engineering practices. Will students formulate scientific questions to investigate? Will they plan and/or carry out an investigation? Analyze data? Construct explanations or develop models? Engage in arguments or communicate information? For each lesson, select the practice(s) that will be the key to the lesson. This may be the same practice(s) listed in the performance expectation or entirely different practice(s).

Now think about the crosscutting concepts. Which of the seven is most central to the phenomena students will investigate? Patterns? Cause and effect? Systems? Just as you did with the practices, choose the crosscutting concept that is most relevant, and don’t worry if it is or is not the same as the one used with the performance expectation.

Writing a Learning Performance

Once you have selected the three dimensions that your lesson will focus on, weave them together into a single statement describing the objective of the lesson. This statement, called a learning performance, has the same structure as a performance expectation. But unlike a performance expectation, a learning performance is focused on just one step in the instructional sequence.

Ask the Right Questions

Each step in the instructional sequences you design should integrate the three dimensions (practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts) into a single learning performance. As you write your learning performances, you may want to focus on these questions:

  • What are some commonly held student ideas (both troublesome and helpful) about this topic? How could instruction build on them?
  • What prior concepts do students need to learn to understand the core ideas? What level of abstraction is expected of them?
  • What representations or media help students make sense of core ideas?
  • What practices could students engage in to explore phenomena and/or representations of this concept?
  • Are there crosscutting concepts that could support learning the core idea?
  • What connections to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) could be emphasized as students engage in the instructional sequence?

Additional Resources on Planning Lessons

  • How do the crosscutting concepts in the foundation box support understanding of the associated disciplinary core idea?
  • Will the crosscutting concepts assist or support in learning the disciplinary core idea or will the process work in reverse? Namely, as the understanding of the disciplinary core ideas develops, will it aid in understanding the broader crosscutting concept?

Performance Expectations

Other Steps in the Process