STEM & the Standards: Librarians and the NGSS

Librarians are getting involved in NGSS implementation at schools with maker space projects or other activities that incorporate NGSS principles.

Moretown (VT) Elementary School students with a scale model of their playground design.
Photo by the Valley Reporter

When the playground at Moretown (VT) Elementary School was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, students in grades four, five, and six designed a replacement playground using the architectural drawing software SketchUp Pro as part of a science, technology, and engineering class. They then built a scale model of their design, presented it to the town’s Select Board, and saw their ideas transform into reality when the new playground was built.

The class, nicknamed “STE@M” (for Science, Technology, and Engineering at Moretown), was cotaught by teacher librarian Meg B. Allison, the school principal, and the guidance counselor. The purpose: to ensure that elementary school students were meeting the engineering component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), released in 2013 and currently being adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia. While the general education teachers at Moretown Elementary were covering the other components of the NGSS, they weren’t accustomed to teaching the engineering standards, according to Allison.

Librarians like Allison, however, are changing that by getting involved in NGSS implementation at schools with maker space projects or other activities that incorporate NGSS principles. Based on the Framework for K–12 Science Education from the National Research Council (NRC), the NGSS are the product of a coordinated effort by the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the NRC, and Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit focusing on college readiness, in collaboration with 26 lead state partners. The main thrust is to shift science education away from rote memorization of facts and teacher-led activities toward inquiry-based, student-driven learning projects connected to real-world science and engineering.

Allison’s students at Moretown Elementary all had netbooks provided through an e-Vermont Community Broadband Project grant, and the Vermont Agency of Education provided free licenses to SketchUp Pro, an industry-standard architectural software program. Students worked in teams to design different components of the playground using SketchUp Pro before assembling their tabletop scale model. After the town approved their proposal, the students worked with the landscape designers and architects during the construction process. That involved an archaeological excavation of the building site by the University of Vermont, which uncovered a few historical artifacts.

By the time the process was complete, some of the participating students had graduated, but they came back to see the playground they helped design. According to Allison, “The whole project started in those NGSS engineering standards, and the students were being assessed on those standards in the STE@M class.”

students at U-32 Middle and High School in Montpelier, VT. Technology such as green screens allows them to communicate information in dynamic ways, one of the NGSS requirements.
Photo courtesy of Meg B. Allison

Key NGSS elements & library applications

The last major standards effort was the 1996 National Science Education Standards (, which, with the Atlas for Scientific Literacy (, influenced state standards from the 1990s. The forward-focused NGSS emphasize “three-dimensional learning” based on three main pillars: science and engineering practices, meaning the types of behaviors scientists and engineers adopt to solve real-world problems; crosscutting concepts, which are the big ideas spanning scientific disciplines, such as cause and effect and patterns; and disciplinary core ideas, meaning the scientific information and content that students must understand and know how to apply.

Four disciplinary core ideas include physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and applications of science. While science classrooms are the traditional domain of the first three, library maker spaces are also natural, and accessible, venues for the fourth.

“Every student can access services through the library, so you don’t have to be in a special engineering class to encounter the NGSS,” notes Allison. “You can come to the library and use the maker space or sign up for a program and be exposed to those ideas. Anyone has access to them.”

Martine Larocque Gulick, director of library media services at Essex (VT) High School, agrees that it’s important for school librarians to understand the basics of the NGSS. “I feel great about having the awareness of the standards and being able to use them and implement them in the maker space,” she says. “It creates this natural connection between the library and some of these standards, and it supports the whole idea of having a maker space and certainly using student-centered, student-driven, inquiry-based learning and research.”

Larocque Gulick and her technical assistant, Adam Repash, are setting up a badge system for their library maker space where students can earn elective micro-credits for the work they do. “This isn’t just haphazard learning,” Larocque Gulick says. “They’re putting in time, and in the end they’re becoming proficient on whatever skill that they’re working on.”

It’s key that students be recognized for that hard work, she believes. “For example, we have some students who have become proficient in using the 3-D printer and creating Tinkercad designs for the 3-D printer to the point where they’re teaching others.”

The school uses Google Classroom, a platform where the NGSS are clearly spelled out for the students. When students are working on a project in the maker space, they can look up the NGSS in Google Classroom and identify the specific standards they are focusing on. Students will also have personal portfolios in Google Classroom, where they can keep track of time spent on their project and write a reflection clearly articulating which standards they met.

This approach works well with the current emphasis on proficiency-based grading in education, Larocque Gulick says. “The maker space is this microcosm of students reaching proficiencies. They take an idea and see it through to fruition from the very beginning stages all the way to the end, and they ultimately become proficient, whether it’s using the laser cutter or the 3-D printer or creating designs for the vinyl cutter.”

Using Tinkercad, an Essex (VT) High School student adjusts scale
and spacing on the build plate to fit the needs of his 3-D model.
Photo courtesy of Martine Larocque Gulick/Essex High School

Hang out with a maker

Laura Fleming, library media specialist at New Milford (NJ) High School and author of two books on maker spaces, runs a program called “Hang Out with a Maker.” Fleming hosts experts from various fields who speak with students, either face-to-face or online. These professionals help students make the connection between the work they are doing in the school maker space and the real-world work of the professionals, she says.

Connecting student activities to wider community contexts is part of the NGSS, Fleming notes, and the speakers help students make those associations. For example, New Milford High School has garden areas right outside the library, where students can grow plants. “We have a couple of farms in our community, and we invited in some of the workers from those farms to share their stories and to help ignite that entrepreneurial spirit in our students, along with learning some real-world skills,” Fleming says.

Another time, she hosted representatives from a local 3-D printing and design company. “Inviting in these experts helped bring my students deeper into this world, gave them the skills and knowledge that they needed to go further than where I could bring them myself. I learned a lot, too.”

Each of the NGSS is cross-referenced with Common Core math and English language arts standards, facilitating cross-curricular connections. According to Matt Krehbiel, director of science for Achieve, one science and engineering practice that’s particularly well suited to libraries is engaging in arguments from evidence. “Obviously in that practice we’re using evidence, often from experiments and data, but also supporting that with information from research,” he says.

The NGSS practice of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information “fits right in with the school library wheelhouse,” Krehbiel says. “We want to support students to better be able to find that information, evaluate the value of that information based on the source, and the type of information that’s there, and then be able to synthesize that and combine it with their experiment and their research and communicate that information out to their peers, to their teachers, to the community.”

Graphic courtesy of NGSS

Get started with NGSS

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) published an in-depth document to help librarians implement the NGSS. Correlations between the 2015 AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the NGSS connect each individual AASL standard to the corresponding NGSS (

For an introduction to the NGSS, Krehbiel recommends the Parent Guides as a starting point ( The NGSS website offers four Parent Guides for Grades K–2, 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12.

For a deeper dive, Krehbiel suggests checking out some of the appendices to the standards, particularly Appendix I: Engineering Design in the NGSS (; Appendix D: All Standards, All Students/Case Studies, which is about ensuring that the NGSS are accessible to all students (; and Appendix F: Science and Engineering Practices, which focuses on how scientists and engineers do their work (

The NGSS Lesson Screener ( is a useful tool to help educators evaluate lessons and consider how NGSS lessons differ from traditional science ones.

Other resources for librarians include, a site that connects educators to real-world experts willing to speak to students, and, offering open educational resources that teachers and librarians can download and customize.

Fleming also uses social media to connect with experts. “[Often], when people hear it’s for kids and what you’re doing with these spaces, they are more than willing to be generous with their time and to support your efforts.”

Leila Meyer is a freelance education and tech writer based in British Columbia.

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Wendi Vogel

The links are no longer working. Correlations between the 2015 AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the NGSS and Thank you.

Posted : Mar 12, 2018 07:40

Suzanne Tecza

I wish my library was big enough to implement all of this wonderful endeavors.

Posted : Feb 24, 2018 07:34



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