Designing NGSS Curriculum Map
Classroom, Science

Designing An NGSS Aligned Curriculum Map

As crazy as it sounds, one of my favorite things to do when summer break arrives is to reflect on the year. Although I have been using NGSS standards to drive my classroom for years, Colorado only officially adopted the standards this past year. With this adoption, our school district revamped all their standards because they were previously based more on the Colorado standards which is where our high stakes testing for science was based on. During this phase of transition I was the lead science teacher who helped facilitate our revised standards, but within the parameters the district laid out for us. One of those parameters was that each year 6th-8th we needed to have integrated standards, meaning some life, physical and earth in every year. Previously our standards placed Earth and Space in 6th, Life in 7th and Physical in 8th. So with these parameters we got to work. 

Working with a group of middle school teachers at all levels we carefully selected standards for each level in a way that they would build on each other year to year. However, many of the physical science standards remained in 8th due to the level of mathematics needed to acquire them. So this last year, these standards were implemented. To my surprise, many teachers took the standards and just taught them as separate content, but also continued to teach how they had previously been teaching facts, ideas and content and just attached the NGSS standard to it. In addition, many teachers would just pick a standard and spend 1-3 weeks on it and then move onto the next standard. 

This led me to realize that many teachers needed support into how NGSS is different from the traditional standards. In addition, when we were working together to select the standards for each grade level, we had looked at how to bundle standards together to create the three dimensional units for NGSS. This had been lost with the roll out. So whether you are doing integrated science in grades 6th-8th or separating them by Earth, Life and Physical there are some key steps you can take to make your life easier and that begins without teaching the standards as separate entities. Rather, look for the standards that can be bundled together cohesively. Having said that you might also have a few stand alones. 

Middle School Science Curriculum Map

STEP 1: Lay out the Standards for Your Grade Level


I love technology, but I found having paper copies of the NGSS standards help me because I can see them, sort them and break them down easier. But if you can simply have them digitally and glance through them together–do what works for you. I have the standards sorted in two ways:

  1. Binder: I have taken all the standards and have 3 sections: Physical, Life and Earth & Space
  2. Binder: I have each grade level 6th, 7th, and 8th with the copies of which standards are by grade level.

Each standard also has a document called Evidence Statements. If you have not examined these I highly recommend that you do because it gives you observable features of what students’ performance looks like for that standard. 

Once you have the standards you need for your grade level you begin to examine them more deeply and find connections.

STEP 2: Combine Topics That Are Easily Taught Together

Now it is time to get messy. Once you have all the standards for the year in front of you you can see things that connect easily with each other. If you’re not sure and feel lost on where to start, you can always scan a textbook to see what was included within a unit of study. In general I try to have somewhere between 6-8 units for the year. But oftentimes I have somewhere between 15 plus standards and 20-25 major learning targets to cover each year to build into these units. 

My process for combining standards consists of writing out the major standards as phrases for the grade level and then I start creating a web of lines to connect them. Additionally, when we were mapping out all three years we started with all of them and looked at learning progressions to see what concepts build on another so we could place it in a previous year and then review the next year with the concept that builds upon another. 

What I found from doing this messy process is my creativity begins to flow and I have more ideas than previously when just looking at them individually. 

STEP 3: Creating Your Scope and Sequence Curriculum Map

If you are only teaching one specific Discipline (Life, Physical or Earth & Space) then you begin by either taking a look at the big picture and working to the small picture or flip flop it. But if you are doing integrated, like I am then you have to factor in what it taught in the previous year and where your students will continue in the next year. Additionally you might consider the time of year for certain disciplines and then teach similar ideas together. 

This is something I actually review every year to see if my sequence made sense the way I envisioned it. So depending on where you are at with your school and district if you have done step 1 and 2 above, I have included my Curriculum Map which is “integrated.” But you will also get a blank template so you can rearrange yours anyway you would like based on your school and/or district needs. Just click on the link at the bottom of this post to get your Curriculum Map and access to other resources OR visit my blog’s homepage at and scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Get Science Curriculum Map Now.”

STEP 4: Building Your Storyline and Phenomena

Save Create Debate

This is probably my favorite part because this is where you bring NGSS alive. Once I have my major units figured out I look at the Evidence Statements which closely grasp the Practices and Crosscutting Concepts, so I can have exactly what performance from my students should look like. 

Now I get to build the phenomena and storyline. This is where your unit comes alive because you provide students with a real world phenomena to explore and build upon throughout the unit and maintain the inquiry task that NGSS was founded on, the “real science.” 

For example, when I was creating my Natural Selection unit, I opened it up with a controversial topic of whether we should recreate an extinct species or save an endangered species. This allowed us time to look at the pros and cons of the topics, learn why various species went extinct and build upon this throughout the unit of natural selection. Throughout the unit we came back and revisited this idea. Then when it came time to look at local endangered species they were able to evaluate if this was similar or different to the patterns we studied with natural selection and make an informed decision. Students told me this was absolutely one of their favorite units because they felt like they were connected to the content and could make a difference. Additionally, they felt the debate itself has merit and that they really got a 3D perspective. 

Last, while you’re going through this process you might find you have to go back to step 3 and rearrange things and can easily do that.

STEP 5: Breaking your Unit in Learning Sequences

Some of my units can take 6-8 weeks. That means that you have to really think through the performance expectations using the evidence outcomes from the standards you are bundling together. Usually you will see big ideas come out. In general I try to break my units in what I call “Learning Sequences,” which really are the big concepts or subunits within your unit. Whatever you call them, they often follow a learning progression of some sort. 

For example, when I taught my Human Impact Unit it included: natural resources, human impact, uneven distribution of Earth’s resources and global warming. So we began with various phenomena through imagery and began to ask questions as to why this was happening. Building on these questions we looked at global warming data, conducted experiments to understand what causes the earth to warm at the molecular level, and then branched out to our human footprint, which led to natural resources and uneven distribution of earth’s resources and ultimately back to our phenomena of human impact where students got to choose a problem to dig deeper into and use the Engineering Practices to design solutions by looking at cause and effect cross-cutting concepts.

STEP 6: Pacing Your Curriculum Map

I think every teacher struggles with this and I modify this every year. I try to guesstimate how long I expect each lesson will take and then build a one to two week buffer as I have found even if everything I thought is about perfect, something will come up with unexpected schedule changes. Once you have taught your unit then you have a better idea and can rework if needed. 

STEP 7: Be Flexible and Relax

By just making your Curriculum Map, you feel a huge weight off your shoulders and know what you are going to teach. If you are new to NGSS then give yourself some grace and start small, steal some of my ideas here or within my Map. 

Join other Middle School and High School teachers to get my Middle School Science Curriculum Map. Simply click here and join for FREE! Along with the Curriculum Map you will get updates, tips and free resources sent directly to your inbox! (Note: Sometimes this will go to your SPAM box, so double check there if you don’t see it right away and mark it not Spam for future resources). 

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