Developing Instructional Units Aligned to the NGSS and EP&Cs to Teach About Water Conservation

By Maggie Flores|January 30, 2019

Paramount Unified School District (PUSD) is progressing toward the full implementation of California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS) and the Environmental Principles & Concepts (EP&Cs) throughout grades K–12. This progress is the result of a strategic district-level plan for implementation that includes:

  • multiple professional learning opportunities for all teachers and school leaders;
  • the development of coherent CA NGSS-aligned courses in middle and high school; and
  • allocation of science instructional time for all students in elementary school.

To accommodate the immediate need for transitional CA NGSS-aligned instructional materials, PUSD entered a two-year partnership with the nonprofit environmental organization TreePeople. This partnership, funded by Ten Strands and the California Environmental Literacy Initiative, connects PUSD with external partners to develop instructional materials highlighting the relationship between humans and the environment.  

In meetings facilitated by TreePeople, Dr. Gerald Lieberman and Grace Lieberman, from the State Education and Environment Roundtable (SEER), shared their EP&Cs expertise and described connections to CA NGSS. Friends of the LA River (FoLAR), a nonprofit community outreach program, shared the history of the Los Angeles River, described the biodiversity supported by the river, and gave examples of how people have impacted that natural system. With a deeper understanding of the EP&Cs and Paramount’s connection to the LA River, PUSD curriculum specialists collaborated with all those present to develop two water-themed instructional units which empower students with the scientific knowledge and skills needed to lead local water conservation efforts through outdoor learning experiences.

The instructional units for grades 1–5 were developed as part of PUSD’s summer school curriculum. Each unit was bundled in grade spans in order to close learning gaps, with a focus on making science content accessible to all students. Additionally, the units were sequenced using the 5E instructional cycle, utilizing relevant phenomena and issues framed around fresh water. Prior to instruction, all summer school science teachers attended professional development to learn about the EP&Cs, their connections to CA NGSS, and pedagogies for inquiry-based learning.

Embedded learning tasks provide students with opportunities to engage directly with their local environment, explore age-appropriate scientific ideas and principles regarding water, and explain the causal relationships between people and water quality and availability. FoLAR provided interactive learning activities to students in grades 1–5 by employing the LA River Rover. This “classroom on wheels” educates students about the LA River watershed and its history, providing students with the valuable experience of seeing how the river has changed as a result of human impact. Each unit closes with a culminating project aimed to increase water conservation across PUSD elementary schools and local communities.

PUSD goals in partnering with TreePeople and SEER were to increase K–5 teachers’ comfort with science as a discipline, and to design curriculum and instructional materials aligned to CA NGSS and the EP&Cs. Through active reflection, PUSD summer school teachers provided positive feedback on the instructional units: they described student learning experiences as authentic, meaningful, and fun! Students enjoyed three-dimensional learning outside of the classroom and investigating the world just like “real scientists.”

Since the collaborative effort with TreePeople and SEER, PUSD curriculum specialists developed six more CA NGSS-aligned instructional units that incorporate the EP&Cs. These units have already been used by K–5 teachers, who are eagerly awaiting additional units due out in Spring 2019. With their fidelity to CA NGSS and the EP&Cs, K–5 teachers at PUSD are empowering students with environmental literacy to become aware citizens who will make decisions that impact biodiversity and the environment in positive ways.

Maggie Flores
This article was written by Maggie Flores

Maggie Flores is a K–12 science curriculum specialist in Paramount Unified School District. As a high school integrated science and earth science teacher, she served as department chair, earth science lead, classroom management coach, instructional lead for English learners, and green club advisor. In her current role, Maggie is redesigning PUSD science courses for grades 6–12 in collaboration with district science teachers. She is also collaborating with other PUSD curriculum specialists to develop K–5 instructional materials. Committed to providing all K–12 students high quality science experiences, Maggie has developed professional learning workshops focused on NGSS-aligned instruction, and presented to teachers across all grade levels, including the 2018 California Science Teachers Association Conference.