5 Steps to Align Your Current Curriculum with NGSS

5 Steps to Align Your Current Curriculum with NGSS

Welcome back! We're thrilled to dive into the third installment of our NGSS series, where we journey into the practical realm of integrating 3D learning into your existing curriculum. For those who have been following along, you already understand the importance of 3D learning within NGSS. Now, it's time to roll up our sleeves and explore how to align your current curriculum with the transformative philosophy of NGSS.

5 Steps to Help you Update and Align Your Current Curriculum!

  1. Identify SEPs (Science & Engineering Practices) of existing labs or activities
  2. Identify CCCs (Cross-Cutting Concepts) in existing labs or activities.
  3. Map DCIs (Disciplinary Core Ideas) to existing labs or activities
  4. Notice gaps in SEPs, CCCs, or DCIs as identified areas of need in curriculum
  5. Enhance activities that are not 3D

Each step covered will not just offer an explanation of what it is, but more importantly, how to use your existing curriculum to organize and align with NGSS and what you will need to get started! If you need a no-fluff overview on the basics of NGSS, take a look at Everything You Need to Know About the NGSS for a refresher.

Step 1: Identify the SEP’s of existing labs or activities

What you need: 1 to 3 existing lessons

Time to complete: ~5 to 10 minutes per lesson

Rather than feeling overwhelmed that you will need to align all of your lessons or activities at once, I suggest starting with a few of your go-to existing activities or labs because likely, these are the ones that you can recall like the back of your hand. 

As you read through the chosen activities, start to focus on the SEP’s that are involved in each. I want you to ask yourself these questions: 

  1. Are my students analyzing data at any point in the activity? 
  2. Is there a way to integrate constructing models to help answer a question? 
  3. Where is there an opportunity for students to create opposing viewpoints in order to create conversation? 

Each question is a building block where students are using both science and engineering practices. By identifying areas where there is an opportunity for students to write questions based on an observation and design a solution-based model, this will allow the lesson to become aligned perfectly with the first dimension of NGSS! Now, you should have an activity where inquiry pulls in the science practice and the model design pulls in the engineering practices!

Step 2: Identify CCCs (Cross-Cutting Concepts) in existing labs or activities

What you need: Same 2 to 3 existing lessons, CCC reading

Time to complete: ~10 minutes per lesson


In step 2, we will dig deeper to see where in your activity there are cross-cutting concepts being used. To see if these concepts are there, ask yourself these questions:    

  • Where are there opportunities for students to ask questions? 
  • How are they able to apply their prior knowledge to make a claim? 
  • When are observations being made to look for patterns, cause and effect? 
  • Are there ties to different scientific domains? 

  • Most importantly, this step will allow your students to essentially guide their own curiosity rather than this falling on you to pinpoint the observations or identify the patterns for them. By including cross-cutting concepts, students will gain practice in understanding that an introduction to a new concept, for example a phenomena, can still be explored even with minimal knowledge on the topic! Exploration is a good thing! By asking questions, making use of observations and making connections, these can offer a significant amount of information needed to dive deeper into the lesson.

    Step 3: Map DCIs (Disciplinary Core Ideas) to existing labs or activities

    What you need: 2 to 3 existing lessons, DCI reading

    Time to complete: ~10 minutes per lesson

    Moving on to DCI’s! The NGSS places a huge emphasis on understanding the bigger picture rather than just memorization of steps or facts. The beauty of science and technology is that it is constantly evolving! So, by tying in core concepts and making this the focus, students will have a knowledge base they need to be able to build on and find connections independently across disciplines. These DCI’s will eventually grow in complexity as students progress through grade levels and in turn can enhance their knowledge in areas of science! Ok, this is all useful information, but how can you start applying DCI’s to your existing content? First, make sure you have a good understanding of the DCI’s for your science discipline. Next, ask yourself: 

  • Where in the lesson are DCI’s established for students to be able to build on? 

  • Are there any missing or incomplete standards? If there are, take the time now to review the NGSS standards and align them in the lesson where it best fits. 

    Step 4: Notice gaps in SEPs, CCCs, or DCIs as identified areas of need in curriculum

    What you need: 2 to 3 existing lessons

    Time to complete: ~5 minutes per lesson

    It’s time to do a last overview! Check to see if there are any gaps in the activities and if any SEP’s, CCC’s or DCI’s were missed. You can explore creative ways to add in the missing concepts by using your existing activities, which now you know how to align, or head over to Keystone Science; there are over 100 ready to use, student-led activities perfect to fill these gaps!

    Step 5: Enhance the lesson with 3D learning

    What you need: 2 to 3 existing lessons

    Time to complete: ~10 minutes per lesson

    For the final touch, let’s make sure that not only is your activity following NGSS best practices, but that it also allows room for inquiry-based learning! Don’t worry, this is more of the way you approach teaching rather than curriculum design.. Students become involved by DOING science through hands-on exploration.

    Here are some effective ways you can set up inquiry-based learning:

    • Question Redesign: Revamp your questions to spark curiosity and exploration The key is to write CER (claim-evidence-reasoning) based questions. By creating open-ended questions, it will demand more exploration from the student. Stay tuned for CER in a future post!
    • Student-Centered Exploration: Shift from scripted procedures to guided exploration. Allow students to make decisions, hypotheses, and discoveries on their own and offer cues to guide them, if they need it. Essentially, they are writing their own lab procedures here. 

    Incorporating Hands-On Experiments and Investigations:

    • Revise Experiment Instructions: Shift from step-by-step instructions to guiding questions. Allow students to design their own experiments. You can do this by starting the year with a traditional lab so they become familiar with the format and gradually take structured procedures away so students are able to create their own experimental design and steps. 
    • Data Interpretation: Encourage students to analyze any collected data, draw conclusions, and construct explanations based on evidence. This would be the perfect place to add in CER questions! Remember, students should support all conclusions (Claims) with the Evidence (data) collected in labs, then clearly connect the two (Reasoning).

    Promoting Student-Led Research Projects:

    • Topic Choice: Give students the autonomy to select research topics aligned with NGSS standards.
    • Guided Inquiry: Provide scaffolding through guiding questions that will steer their research and exploration.
    • Evidence-Based Arguments: Challenge students to present their findings through CER structured arguments, mirroring real-world scientific practices.

    A go-to activity of mine for student-led research projects that my students are always engaged in are bioethics topics! The Bioethics Debate allows them to choose a side from an extensive list of bioethical topics and work with a partner to research and present both sides of the ethical problem. Let them make use of those never-ending debate skills 😜.

    Next Steps

    As we conclude our exploration into adapting your curriculum for 3D learning, remember that this process isn't just about aligning with NGSS standards—it's about reshaping the very fabric of how we teach. By thoughtfully integrating Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas, you're crafting an education that empowers students to be curious, analytical, and scientifically literate.

    Before you go, ensure you're up-to-date by checking out our previous blog posts on NGSS and 3D learning. Don't forget to check out the inquiry-based learning series as well. If you want to get teaching tidbits, engaging resources, and bonus resources join my email list or follow me on Instagram!

    Stay tuned for the fourth post in our series: "Incorporating Crosscutting Concepts in Daily Lessons." Discover how to infuse these fundamental concepts into your daily teaching routines, bridging subjects and enriching student understanding. Together, let's continue our mission to shape the future of science education!

    Back to blog

    Leave a comment