Unpacking NGSS Standards

I’ve been teaching the Next Generation Science Standards to my sixth graders for 5 years now. Yes…through Covid and beyond. (that sounds a little like Buzz Lightyear). Along the way, I made a discovery that has helped IMMENSELY! The strategy that I’m sharing below, helps set the stage for me and my learners and I call it “Unpacking” the NGSS Standards.

To begin with, I am an avid user of Digital Interactive Notebooks, and while that’s not for everyone, the ‘unpacking’ strategy began as I created my notebooks. I teach my standards using the 5E model of instruction. If you’re not familiar with that, it simply has you teach using 5Es: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate. Within these 5 distinct stages, specific ideas, concepts, and skills are emphasized to foster student inquiry.

This infographic below does a great job showing strategies that educators can use when following the 5E format.

The idea of unpacking the standard happens BEFORE the ENGAGE step in the 5E’s of instruction. It sets the stage for learning but also ensures that students understand the why behind their learning. So, here’s how I ‘unpack’ standards for my students.

Unpacking a Standard

What I really like about the strategy is that it FIRST reinforces the Science and Engineering Practice that students will utilize as they learn the standard. It also reinforces the verbs that describe the expected performance tasks by the students. Additionally, it introduces background concepts that might need refreshing as they move forward with their exploration. Finally, it sets a purpose for learning. Here’s a few examples of ‘unpacked’ standards:

Unpacking the standard typically takes less than 10 minutes to do, and while I do it using digital notebooks, it can also easily be done with a worksheet, a digital notebook or even on looseleaf paper. No matter what, you’ll be glad you were:

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