Deconstructing the NGSS Part 2: Bundling PEs


In my last post, I briefly described how to deconstruct a high school life science NGSS standard in order to make clear learning targets (objectives) for students.  Deconstructing a standard is a necessary process to unravel all of the stuff students have to know, understand, and should be able to do out of a standard, since those standards are often stuffed to the gills with skills and content.  They are also written for adults, not students, so we need to kidify them to the point that students can actually see what they are supposed to master.  Let’s look at another example from the NGSS, this time from the 4th grade Earth & Space Science standards:

4-ESS2-2. Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features. [Clarification Statement: Maps can include topographic maps of Earth’s land and ocean floor, as well as maps of the locations of mountains, continental boundaries, volcanoes, and earthquakes.]

What I can do when I have mastered the standard:

  • I can use a physical, topographic, or other given map to describe what patterns I see in the features of Earth’s surface.
  • After describing patterns that I see in the features of Earth’s surface, I can explain why those patterns are there using what I know about tectonic plates.

What I need to know, understand, and be able to do before I can master the standard:

  • I can identify the following parts of the Earth from a diagram: crust, mantle, core.
  • I can create an analogy for each part of the Earth that I identify on a diagram that shows I understand what it is.
  • I can describe a tectonic plate using my own words.
  • I can draw how tectonic plates can move against each other.
  • I can summarize how tectonic plates are arranged after looking at a map of Earth’s tectonic plates.
  • I can read physical and topographic maps by summarizing what they are showing.

Just a reminder: notice that the PE was first deconstructed and then the associated DCI was examined in order to figure out what they would need to know to master the standard. Common sense was also used – it just makes sense that students can’t analyze a map if they don’t know how to read it first…hence the last objective.

So now you’ve deconstructed a standard…now what?  I know I said in my last post we would be talking about writing assessments from your kidified objectives, but I realized that we first need to talk about something else – bundling PEs to make units, and that’s the next step after deconstruction of PEs.  Deconstruction must come first so you can more readily see connections between concepts and skills, picking the right PEs to bundle together into a unit because the concepts and skills make a natural fit.

Just because you’ve deconstructed one performance expectation does not a unit make.  PEs were never designed to be assessed one at a time; they were meant to be bundled together into coherent units.  From my work with them in the classroom, I found that bundling 2-3 deconstructed PEs together made for a manageable unit, depending on the complexity of the content.  Also, be warned – just because two PES are together on the same page in the same box doesn’t mean it always makes sense to bundle them together.  For example, the PE below is in the same “Earth Systems” box as the PE we deconstructed above:

4-ESS2-1. Make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation.

While this PE definitely belongs in the category of Earth’s systems and how they interact, I’m not sure it make sense to teach it alongside plate tectonics concepts.  I would rather pair the PE above with the engineering PE below:

4-ESS3-2. Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.* [Clarification Statement: Examples of solutions could include designing an earthquake resistant building and improving monitoring of volcanic activity.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.]

This PE could be deconstructed to have students look more closely at what earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions are, how they are tied to plate tectonics, and the impact they have on humans when they occur.  Then students would be ready to generate and compare multiple solutions to the problems these natural Earth processes cause humans.

By the way, remember the PE 4-ESS2-1?  I would pair that PE regarding weathering and erosion with the PE below:

4-ESS1-1. Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time.

The connection between ESS1-1 and 4-ESS2-1 is all about changing landscapes, so those (to me, anyway), would make a much better fit for a unit.

Deconstructing the PEs to really see what students will have to know, understand, and be able to do better reveals what PEs are truly connected, so you can make better bundles for units.  While I don’t think there’s a “right” way or even one way to bundle PEs, I do believe that there are better ways than others – and unpacking standards first to reveal connections just makes sense.

Now that we know how to bundle PEs, now the next step after making our units is to create the assessment for that unit using our deconstructed standards.  Stay tuned for assessment creation goodness.


Deconstructing the NGSS Part 1: From Standards to Objectives


Academic standards.  Whether we like it or not, we are all held accountable for students learning – and mastering – them.  However, one of the biggest issues with standards is that they are pretty much meaningless to most students the way they are written.  After all, they were written by adults for adults.

In order for mastery to be clear to students, they must be unpacked, or to use the term I prefer, deconstructed.  Personally, I am fond of deconstructing standards into “I can” statements so that mastery is positioned from the student’s point of view.  After all, they’re are the ones that have to do the learning to reach mastery, nit us adults that make these standards.  Let’s look at an example from one of the high school life science NGSS standards:

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What is listed above is a performance expectation.  If you’re not familiar with the NGSS standards, the statements called performance expectations (PEs) are the actual standards students are supposed to master (by doing something…hence the expectation that students will perform in some way to demonstrate understanding).  In order for students to learn and show mastery of the performance expectations, there are three dimensions to learning in the NGSS that should be included in the instruction:  the science & engineering practices (SEPs), cross-cutting concepts (CCCs), and disciplinary core ideas (DCIs).  For the purposes of straight-up deconstruction, I always encourage teachers to look at the PEs and the DCIs, taking into account SEPs and CCCs when planning instruction and assessment.

If we were to deconstruct the performance expectation I slapped up there, here’s what NOT to do:

I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms.

I cannot emphasize this enough: PLEASE DON’T DO THIS. (That’s why it’s in red-danger!  Stay away!)  You can’t just slap an “I can” in front of a standard and call it good.  It’s a shortcut that shortchanges students because they often can’t wade through the educator-ese in which the standards are written.  Take a close look at that standard; if you aren’t already familiar with the science terms and concepts in it, you really aren’t sure what the heck it wants you to do.  So why would you do that to your students?  Bottom line – students can’t hit a target they can’t see.  We have to really deconstruct this performance expectation to make mastery visible.  The process of deconstruction has 2 steps:

  1. Stating in student-friendly terms what the standard says students should be able to do when they have mastered the standard
  2. Stating in student friendly terms what students will need to know, understand, and be able to do BEFORE they can master the standard (background knowledge and skills) if students haven’t been taught it before or they have but they don’t remember it from a previous course or grade level.

Basically, you’re taking the bigger connected pieces of the standard and breaking them apart for students.

So this performance expectation…

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…becomes a little something like this:

What I can do when I have mastered the standard:

  • I can create an original model to demonstrate how mitosis and differentiation make and maintain multicellular organisms.

What I need to know, understand, and be able to do before I can master the standard:

  • I can explain what happens to chromosomes during mitosis, using analogies to demonstrate my understanding of the process.
  • I can describe what happens during the process of differentiation.
  • I can make a connection between the purpose of mitosis, the process of differentiation, and how multicellular organisms are made.
  • I can make a connection between the purpose of mitosis, the process of differentiation, and how multicellular organisms keep themselves in good working order.

Five objectives were just born from a one-sentence standard.  Five ideas that make it much clearer to students what they have to learn and do in order to master that standard.

Notice I said “clearer,” and not “clear.”  Just because the standard has been deconstructed doesn’t mean the targets will be so crystal clear for students that they will achieve mastery just by reading them alone.  There is still some ambiguity here that needs to be addressed.  For example, what do you mean by “model” in the first I can statement?  A model can take on various forms.  What kind of analogies are going to be acceptable?  What does making a connection between those concepts look like when students master it?

Those types of questions are addressed in the next step, which is creating the assessment from these objectives.  It’s the next thing you have to do before teaching a unit so that you know clearly what the targets look like so you can communicate that to students as well as plan for appropriate instruction to help students reach mastery.  How to create assessments clearly aligned to objectives deconstructed from standards will be the subject of my next post.






A few of my favorite things

Yesterday I had the pleasure of heading out to Dixon School District #170 to be a part of their Summer Symposium, a series of summer workshops that they offer teachers who willingly give up their time to come and learn about topics that interest them.  I was asked to speak about two topics: Analyzing Data in a PLC and Standards-Based Learning & Grading, which are two of my favorite things in education land.  You can find the presentations and links to the handouts below.  Enjoy!