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How to Select and Design Materials that Align to the Next Generation Science Standards

By Guest Blogger

Posted on 2014-04-25

Joe Krajcik

How can we decide if materials align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)? How can we revise existing materials to better match the shifts in teaching and learning called for by A Framework for K-12 Science Education – Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council) and the NGSS? The Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) Rubric, developed jointly by NSTA and Achieve, is designed as a tool to give you support in this effort. It will also serve as a guide for you, should you wish to revise your materials to more closely align with the NGSS.

Many developers and publishers of science materials claim that their materials align with the NGSS and feature the NGSS performance expectations. And while some publishers will make legitimate attempts at modifying their materials to do an appropriate alignment, you will need to have the appropriate tool to judge which materials better represent the intent of the NGSS and which materials just really don’t match up. From the positive side, there are many groups and individuals who are designing and building materials to align with the NGSS, but even with the best of intentions many of these materials don’t match up. Why? Because it is just really hard to design materials that have disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), scientific and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts (CCCS) blended and working together for learners to make sense of phenomena and design solutions. It is even harder yet to use DCIs, practices, and CCCs blended together over time to help students attain the level of understanding needed to meet the proficiency in a targeted set of performance expectations (also commonly known as a bundle of performance expectations).

The EQuIP rubric provides us with a set of criteria to help us judge whether materials align with the NGSS. The EQuIP Rubric is still evolving. The criteria have been identified, and we are working to associate values with the criteria to indicate the extent to which they are met. Over time we will continue to enrich the EQuIP rubric with levels and examples.

Getting Started

To use the EQuIP rubric, you first need a solid understanding of the disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts, each of which is described in detail in the Framework. Understanding each of these dimensions is essential, but real transformation comes with understanding how these dimensions blend and work together; this is the critical and perhaps most important shift in the NGSS. The EQuIP rubric refers to this blending of DCIs, practices and CCCS as three-dimensional learning.

As you assess the three-dimensional aspect of a resource, you’ll notice that the EQuIP rubric is divided into three columns. The first column focuses on alignment with the NGSS. The first criteria in the alignment category points to the blending of the three dimensions mentioned earlier:

Elements of the science and engineering practice(s), disciplinary core idea(s), and crosscutting concept(s), blend and work together to support students in three-dimensional learning to make sense of phenomena or to design solutions.

If the lesson or unit you are judging don’t meet this criteria, there is no need to go on with an evaluation to discern if the materials align with NGSS or not. As such, you really need to understand the concept of three-dimensional learning. It represents an entirely new way of thinking about and enacting science teaching. It’s not as simple as using the practices and crosscutting concepts to help students understand the disciplinary core ideas. Rather, the three work together to help students make sense of phenomena or design solutions. Making sense of phenomena and designing solutions drives the teaching and learning process.

I like to apply the analogy of preparing a really great meal to three-dimensional learning. I originally got this idea from Ted Willard from NSTA. I love to cook, so I’ve tried to expand on this analogy. Think of knowing how to do various techniques in the kitchen like kneading bread, cutting tomatoes, beating an egg, frying or roasting, and so forth as the practices. You could know how to do all of these things and still not be able to prepare a really good meal. Now think of picking out really good ingredients for the meal. You want to pick out a high-quality piece of fish or poultry or excellent pasta for the meal. These are your core ideas. A disciplinary core idea is essential to explaining a number of phenomena. Your main ingredient is essential to the meal. But just as the DCI works with practices to make sense of phenomena and design solutions, you need to know how to cook that main ingredient. But something is still missing. The meal tastes bland. What is missing? To make a really good meal, we need to use spices and herbs to enhance the flavor of the main ingredients. Similarly, to really make sense of phenomena and to design solutions all three dimensions are necessary. To make a really wonderful meal, good main ingredients are necessary, but you need to know how to use various techniques to prepare them, and you must have the species and herbs to enhance the flavors. All three work and blend together to make a great meal. Similarly, to foster three-dimensional learning where all learners can make sense of phenomena and design solutions, all three dimensions need to work and blend together.

graphic depicting the analogy between 3D learning and cooking

I hope this analogy helps you see how all three dimensions work together because it is the essential aspect of the EQuIP rubric. If this first major criterion isn’t met, there just isn’t any reason to proceed further. If the cooking analogy doesn’t make much sense to you, I would love to hear your analogy for three-dimensional learning. If you want to read more about three-dimensional learning, read or reread the Framework, the NGSS, and the Developing Assessments for the Next Generations of Science Standards (NRC, 2014) and focus on the idea of three-dimensional learning. One caveat that I will mention regarding three-dimensional learning is that crosscutting concepts might be more implicit than explicit in current materials that have really tried to align with NGSS. Why? Because it is difficult to include this dimension, and we still don’t have many really good examples of materials that blend all three dimensions together.

Instructional Supports

Of course, with respect to NGSS, what is also critical is that lessons are designed for three-dimensional learning and fit together coherently to help students build proficiency of a target set of performance expectations (more commonly known as a bundle of performance expectations). This is the second major criterion in column one. Developing a coherent storyline in which lessons fit together to support students in building proficiency of a targeted set of performance expectations is indeed a challenge. Remember that one lesson will never reach the level of proficiency necessary in a performance expectation. Building a coherent storyline in which you build toward meeting proficiency of a bundle of PEs that will support students in making sense of phenomena and design solutions is a critical aspect of aligning with NGSS. In so doing you will blend various practices with elements of core ideas and various crosscutting concepts.

If you think a resource is thus far aligned with the NGSS, you can use the other criteria in column 1 and the other two columns to further inspect the materials. Notice how the second column, Instructional Supports, focuses on instructional supports for all students. The writers of the NGSS designed the standards for all students in our country. Reaching all learners was an important focal point in developing the NGSS. All learners need to develop the conceptual tools to use knowledge to solve problems, innovate, make decisions, and learn and apply new information. All students need to develop proficiencies expressed in the performance expectations. To achieve this, we need to make sure that instructional materials and learning environments contain the instructional supports that will allow all children to grasp three-dimensional learning and build proficiency of the performance expectations.

All of the criteria listed in the EQuIP rubric are important, but I would like to elaborate on the criterion in column 2. Highlighting these criteria does not diminish the importance of the others. When the team of writers developed the rubric, we wrestled with each of the listed criteria. The ones that stand out for me are the following:

  • Engages students in authentic and meaningful scenarios that reflect the practice of science and engineering as experienced in the real world and that provide students with a purpose.

This criterion encourages students to see purpose in learning and using science. The meaningful scenarios often involve students in experiencing a phenomenon they need to explain or defining a problem that needs to be solved.

  • Develops deeper understanding of the practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts by identifying and building on students’ prior knowledge.

Linking new ideas to prior knowledge is critical in building understanding that students can use, and building a coherent storyline will not only develop understanding but will also foster engagement. Materials need to provide suggestions on how to support linking to and building on students’ prior ideas, experiences, and world views.

  • Provides opportunities for students to express, clarify, justify, interpret, and represent their ideas and respond to peer and teacher feedback orally and/or in written form as appropriate to support student’s three-dimensional learning.

Literature on student learning presents strong evidence that when individuals express their ideas, they build their understanding (National Research Council 2007). Think back to the first year of your teaching and how much you learned as you struggled to clearly explain your ideas to students. By expressing your ideas, you were making links in your understanding. Materials need to provide suggestions on how to support learners in communicating their ideas.

  • Provides guidance for teachers to support differentiated instruction in the classroom so that every student’s needs are addressed.

Knowing how to support the learning of a wide range of learners is essential if we hope to prepare students who can use and apply science ideas. Students come to our classrooms with different backgrounds and cultural experiences. Making science meaningful for this wide range of learners is a difficult charge. Instructional materials need to contain educative supports that provide a variety of approaches about how to work with learners from various backgrounds.

Monitoring Student Progress

I want to mention one criterion in the third column: Monitoring Student Progress. As you read column 3, notice the focus on assessing three-dimensional learning. The first and third bullets make specific reference to three-dimensional learning. In particular, the third bullet focuses on how formative assessments of three-dimensional learning should be embedded throughout instruction. This is a critically important shift in teaching. As teachers, we will be expected to assess three-dimensional learning as a routine part of classroom practice. These formative assessments will provide us with feedback about whether students are developing proficiency in the performance expectations we are building toward.

As the EQuIP rubric evolves, further elaboration and examples of the criteria will be added. But the criteria listed provide the best starting point we have to decide if curricular materials align or do not align with the intention of the NGSS. All publishers will say their materials align with NGSS. Don’t believe them, but rather use the EQuIP Rubric and your understanding of three-dimensional learning, disciplinary core ideas, scientific and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts to make your own informed decisions. Don’t be fooled by resources that have been superficially tagged as addressing performance expectations and being aligned with the NGSS. Rather ask yourself, “Do the lessons engage students using crosscutting concepts, core ideas, and scientific and engineering practices to make sense of phenomena or design solutions, building toward proficiency in a targeted set of performance expectations?” Make sure you can explicitly show others these clear examples of three-dimensional learning. If the materials do this one thing, then even if they are deficient in other areas, there is still the potential to modify or supplement those deficient areas of the materials to make them better aligned with NGSS.

Three-dimensional learning should look and feel different to you. I don’t want to say your current teaching does not resemble three-dimensional learning, but I know from walking into numerous classrooms that I seldom see it. I also know from various national surveys that U.S. students perform poorly in science. My understanding of three-dimensional learning has grown tremendously since I first started working on the Framework and then on the NGSS. The NGSS and three-dimensional learning should not only seem different, but in many respects it should seem revolutionary. The NGSS was informed by new research on how students learn best, so it was written to be different from how we taught in the past and it should shake up what is happening in science classrooms; otherwise there would be no reason to create something new, and the NGSS would not seem so challenging to implement.

This is my first professional blog. I would love to hear from you about this blog, your ideas, questions, and feedback. I would also love to hear from you about the EQuIP Rubric. The work on the EQuIP rubric has just started and there is much more work to be done, but the EQuIP Rubric does provide us with a tool to use to evaluate and design materials. To use it, we need to make sure we understand three-dimensional learning.


National Research Council. 2007. Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K–8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Research Council. 2007. Ready, Set, SCIENCE!: Putting Research to Work in K–8 Science Classrooms. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


Today’s guest blogger is Joe Krajcik, Professor of Science Education and Director for the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University. Joe was a physical science writing team leader for the NGSS; he is one of several educators who helped develop the EQuIP Rubric for Science. View and download the rubric and other resources from the NGSS@NSTA Hub, or view it on the official NGSS site.

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