Weird Science? – NGSS Adventures of a School Librarian

Weird Science? – NGSS Adventures of a School Librarian

February 9, 2016 Feature 3


emilyEmily Northcutt is the school library media specialist at LeGrande Elementary School in Hart County.

This year I’ve had the privilege of working with the Next Generation Instructional Design project organized by The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky. I’ve found through the work we have done so far in my NGID group, that my experience as a school librarian over the last 15 years has allowed me to contribute in valuable ways to our project. I am the only school librarian in a group of 49 educators from across the state who are part of the NGID network, but I would love to see that number grow! Our work is based on the Common Assignment Study, which is a collaborative project between The Fund and The Colorado Education Initiative with support from the Kentucky Department of Education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other partnering groups. On The Fund’s website, the vision for NGID is described as follows:

“NGID units include performance-based assessments for students to demonstrate learning in more authentic ways while utilizing an Understanding by Design (UbD) unit with Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) modules or Mathematics Formative Assessment Lessons (FALs) embedded. This project focuses on the needs of individual learners and considers interdisciplinary approaches. When teachers are creating units using NGID standards, they must embed technology to enhance learning experiences, aim for inquiry and hands-on opportunities for students and emphasize the importance of literacy and numeracy within all subject areas. And finally, when teachers are reviewing units created through NGID, they must show evidence of critical thinking from students.”

As part of our NGID work, we have broken up into groups to create common assignments that we are teaching in our individual schools. I’m part of the middle school Science group and we are digging into what makes up great instruction when using the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). My group recently completed teaching our first collaboratively planned unit about Natural Hazards with 8th graders in three Kentucky middle schools with differing student needs. I’m very much looking forward to analyzing our student products at our next workshop in March. We all did basically the same things, but how will different teachers’ approaches and different students’ performance impact our results? I’m really curious to find out.


By now you might be asking, “But how does all this NGID business apply to being a school librarian?” I remember thinking to myself when I read the call for applications last Spring that this was a perfect opportunity to do what school librarians do best – collaborate with teachers to impact student learning! Inquiry, technology, interdisciplinary approaches, literacy, critical thinking? Sign me up! The American Association of School Librarians’ Empowering Learners details five roles that we should strive to play effectively in our communities – Leader, Instructional Partner, Information Specialist, Teacher, and Program Administrator. We work with teachers, students and principals every day in these capacities and our best advocacy tool for communicating our importance in schools is showing what we can do, rather than just talking about what we could do. I thought NGID would be a great opportunity to DO.

I chose to be a Leader by joining the NGID middle school science group. It was a personal challenge to learn more about how I can help the teachers and students at my school to implement the Next Generation Science Standards rather than stay in my comfort zone and join an English/Language Arts group. Did you know that AASL has created a list of correlations between the NGSS and our own Standards for the 21st Century Learner? I didn’t and I was pretty excited to find it! I hope that as the NGSS continues to be implemented in Kentucky schools that many of our science teachers will view their school librarians as integral collaborative partners. We can accomplish so much for our students by working together! My new partners from across the state (@BMSscienceteach, @TCMSsciteach, and @Eads_Science) along with the 6th-8th grade science teacher in my own school (the incredible Annette Jones), have all been teaching me about the resources and approaches that they need to understand and use in order to implement 3-Dimensional learning in their classrooms. By working with them and looking at instruction from their perspective, I feel like my understanding of their needs and the new approaches required by the NGSS are growing all the time. I have always learned best by “doing” and this challenge has been exactly the sort of push I needed to get to know NGSS better. It really is a whole new ballgame in our science classrooms and it’s a shift for everyone!


TAKK guide for infographics

An important part of being a Program Administrator in a school library is building a print and electronic collection that serves the needs of the adults and students in your school. Getting to know the NGSS standards and how they impact learning will allow me to make informed decisions about what kinds of resources that my library needs to provide. I have been thinking a lot this year about what kinds of materials need to be updated (particularly in the 500’s and 600’s of my print collection) and what other formats might need to be pursued. I have some ebooks, but I think I need to diversify that collection and promote its use more effectively. My district also embraced Google Apps for Education this school year and I have been working to find ways to use GAFE in ways that promote library use and make my teachers/students lives easier. Are Chromebooks next? I’m doing the research and mapping out budgets, but I think they might be a great addition to the technology that my school library program currently offers my school.

As an Instructional Partner, I think I’ve been advocating for the role school librarians can play in planning, teaching and assessing student learning with the teachers in my group by showing that we have lots of tips and tricks up our sleeves to help design and implement engaging instruction in all disciplines. Sometimes there are little things that we know, we just assume that classroom teachers also do all the time. Have you ever used Google’s reverse image search? I use it pretty frequently, but when I brought it up as a way to solve a citation problem we were having, my team had not heard of it. Many of us as school librarians are also the technology coordinators or essentially serve as technology resource teachers. Matching the right tool with the task you’ve created can heavily impact how successful it will be! Another awesome middle school science teacher I know (and former school librarian) pointed me toward a Disaster Detector game from Smithsonian Science Education that went along perfectly with this project. Students had a great experience putting the content to work by playing it as an enrichment activity. When my NGID group decided that having students create an infographic would be a great way for them to communicate the information that they gathered during a short-term research project, I knew that was a great opportunity for me to use my experience to enhance the unit. I took the lead on this part of our unit and gathered the “bones” of what became our assignment. The version of the assignment that I used with my students can be found here and the single-point rubric we used to assess student work can be found through the link. Even though I helped design this unit with three middle school science teachers that I didn’t know before July, I could only effectively put it into practice by partnering with my colleague of 10 years, Annette Jones. We love taking risks together in the classroom and pushing our students to try new things and build new knowledge. I think that that since our everyday roles are different than theirs, some teachers might not think about how school librarians can help do things like create assessments to measure student progress toward standards mastery unless we are doing that collaboratively. First and foremost, we are Teachers, too. We just tend to frequently wear other hats.


I’ve definitely had an opportunity to exercise my Information Specialist muscles with our first NGID project, as well! I’m pretty excited to be the “Data Master” in our group since our unit required that students sift through lots of information in order to complete the tasks that we created for them (thanks for the cool nickname, Patrick)! I’ve been able to provide ideas on where to find the information that we need in order to make our instruction the best that it can be and help shape the activities that students will be using to construct new knowledge.  I mined numerous reliable data sources such as the FEMA Data Visualization collection and state agencies to find the kinds of information on Natural Hazards that they had determined we needed to accomplish our goals. The Kentucky Virtual Library was one of the key tools that I shared with my team (Permalinks in Explora are your friends!) and I also created a tackk guide to help steer students through creating their infographics by pointing to resources and including links to tutorials on tools that we suggested that they use. As we worked, students and my collaborating science teacher also found new sources of quality information that I added to the project guide as we worked. It was the first time that I’d used tackk for this, but I’ll definitely use it again!

Do you think that most teachers know that school librarians play all of those roles? I’m hoping that my NGID work will help show a wider audience that school librarians can be valuable partners in ways that some teachers may not have ever considered! I’m not Super Librarian (I could give you names of other people who deserve that title, though!) None of us in education should be an island and have to try to do it all alone. Reach out to the teachers in your building, even if you only connect with one at first. Be involved with the Kentucky Association of School Librarians at the district and state levels. Participate in #kylchat and #kyedchat conversations on Twitter! Check out #NGIDKY on Twitter to get a glimpse of what’s going on in other content and grade level groups. Advocate for school libraries through action!

And if you’re snowed in like me, maybe you should write a blog post that you’ve been putting off until you “had time”.   😉


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  1. Joan Wood

    February 10, 2016

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post. I am currently collaborating with my fourth grade to create NGSS Science Fridays in the library. We are using PICTURE PERFECT SCIENCE, but I had no idea about the AASL list of correlations between the NGSS and our own Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Thanks so much for that link! I am so excited!

    • Emily Northcutt

      March 11, 2016

      I'm very interested in this Picture Perfect Science! That sounds really cool!

  2. James

    February 11, 2016

    Awesome post. Thanks for sharing this!

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