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Common Core in Action: How Two Science Teachers are Implementing Common Core

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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While math and English language arts teachers have a much more direct call for Common Core implementation, teachers in other content areas are also being called to implement the Common Core State Standards. This may be a challenge for some. In my work with teachers across many states, I find that non-ELA and non-math teachers aren't as familiar with the CCSS, nor with implementation. In the next couple of blogs, I'd like to share the stories of science and art teachers implementing the CCSS -- their processes, reflections and advice. We'll start with science.

Biofuel vs. Fossil Fuels

Katie Abole teaches science at Bronx Leadership Academy in New York. "I had never thought about using literacy so intentionally and even having started my teaching career with LDC [Literacy Design Collaborative] as a model, it took a couple of years and a really great literacy coach before I really understood how to tackle literacy," Katie told us. She shared that it was easier to focus on the content than paying attention to literacy skills, but with the Common Core, she knew that she would have to take some responsibility rather than let the ELA teacher be solely responsible. In fact, she said, "science literacy is different and requires different skills." To start this implementation, Katie was trained by the LDC to create modules for her science class that would work on targeted CCSS standards. LDC modules have the Common Core hardwired into them, and focus on reading text to write about those texts. Katie created a module about biofuels and fossil fuels. Her task and question was:

Which is a better energy source: biofuels or fossil fuels? After reading articles and potential energy diagrams, write a report that compares the reactions of hydrogen biofuel vs. fossil fuels and argues which is a better energy source.

Reading Standards

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Writing Standards

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audience.

Implementing the Standards

Katie scaffolded literacy skills from reading and writing standards in a variety of ways. She used graphic organizers, drafting and outlines, revision, and direct instruction to have her students write an argumentative piece on the question. "Because we looked at an actual journal article for the fossil fuels vs. biofuels module, students felt proud that they were learning college-level skills," said Katie. "I think the authenticity of the task leads to a higher student engagement, and the ability to write something gives students a voice, especially in an argumentative essay."

She balanced literacy instruction with traditional science activities and lessons. "For example, when we would spend one day reading an article, the next might be an activity or lab, which kept students engaged in the overall unit." This helped to ensure that the "stamina" to read and write wasn't a major concern. In addition, the reading and writing was about the science content itself. Although some of the instruction for traditional science content was taken away, Katie's approach allowed for depth in a specific area of science content using literacy skills.

Nuclear Power vs. Fossil Fuels

Christopher King, who teaches at West Bronx Academy in New York, developed a similar LDC unit about nuclear and fossil fuels. He used the same task frame as Katie, but his focus was on ninth and tenth grade science content. In the unit, students would read a variety of texts that provided both the pros and cons for using nuclear and/or fossil fuels. His task and question was:

Should electrical energy be generated from nuclear power or fossil fuels (natural gas or coal)? After reading informational texts on how electrical energy is generated from these fuels, write an essay that compares the chemistry behind the two methods to generate electricity, and state whether one is the better method for production in an urban environment. Be sure to consider alternate viewpoints and support your position with evidence from the texts.

Because he used the same task as Katie, Christopher targeted the same built-in reading and writing standards. Not only did he scaffold it with strategies, he also included a Socratic Seminar to scaffold argumentation and evidence skills. He used sentence stems to help students quote articles and readings effectively as well as work on counterclaims.

Reflections and Advice

Both Katie and Christopher learned a lot from their experience. Neither had previously included much literacy instruction in their content area classes, but they said it allowed them to cover science content as well as intentionally work on literacy skills. Because of the nature of the prompt, students were willing to engage in academic conversations. They wanted to argue because the topics were interesting and relevant to them.

So what should you think about before getting started? Christopher suggests:

I think the easiest way to get started is to start small. I mean, really small. Like have students look at a graph and make a claim about what the graph is telling them. Then analyze the structure of the claim they make. Then, when they have the hang of that, move on to the next step. Taking everything at once is a recipe for disaster.

Katie's recommendation is similar:

The best thing I can say is to think of where you want students to be skills-wise by the end of the year and build in opportunities to have students practice to reach that goal . . . Starting small allows you to develop a path to guide them on and build them up so their confidence as scientists/writers will be sufficient to carry them through the module!

If you are interested in seeing how LDC works, look at the video below.

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Mitch Augenstein's picture

As Common Core (CC) continues to roll out its standards across the United States, many teachers now have a firm grip on what it takes to implement these state standards into their lessons. I believe that CC is doing its best to stray away from encouraging teaching to the test, which is what we see in the examples that you've provided; teachers are forced into a very beneficial avenue -- teaching subjects with an emphasis on reading and writing (one of the most important and fundamental skills). After researching a few techniques and tips, I found this really helpful video on implementing CC into science-based lessons: The teachers have edited the video to show the standards they're covering, the uses that they accustomed their lessons to, and the ways in which the students reacted to the material. It's great!

Within a lesson that I developed and planned for Math, I had incorporated Gardner's Multiple Intelligences with the important CC standards in the mix. Factors can be difficult for students, but I found that by using student's different modes of learning into a lesson, they were better able to understand that given standards that were being taught. By the end of the lesson, I found that although my allotted time was not enough, many of the students could tell me what a factor was and find them for a given number through a provided worksheet. During my last day in the classroom, I asked the students what they remembered most about lessons, and 40% of them mentioned the use of Smartee's in my lesson on factors. Check out my video to see how I went about teaching it:

Ira Bickoff's picture

I use Google Earth chapter tours and activities of classic, primary source sea literature to engage students in marine science class. The material is at:

Feel free to share it.


Ira Bickoff

Brendan Finch's picture
Brendan Finch
High School Science teacher from Los Angeles, California

Common Core could end up being very beneficial for students, as long as they can independently access text in your content area. If you're looking for resources for standards-based science, check out They have differentiated science articles to help with the independent reading aspect of the push towards Common Core. With students who are dramatically behind in their independent reading level, it's impossible to access the Common Core standards in the science classroom without innovative solutions!

Tara Lozen's picture

I like the ideas here. I have been working to implement NGSS in my classroom alongside the state standards. There are a lot of ideas here that will help me to better address literacy in the science classroom. It is great to see how other teachers are working to meet the CCSS at different levels. I will definitely be taking a closer look at CCSS when my students enter our energy resources curriculum later this year. Allowing for self-discovery is the best way for students to learn about different sources of energy. We have also been trying to work across subject areas to align our practices to CCSS, this just gave me a great idea how we can incorporate ELA into science class and vice versa!

lrunkle's picture

What these teachers are doing is great. I find myself creating my own materials for my classroom. My math and LA colleagues have resources at their fingertips and entire programs have been purchased by my school devoted to helping them implement Common Core. Nothing like that has happened for science. Instead I am trolling the internet for help and spending countless personal hours creating new material. Is there a written curriculum somewhere like the DIGITS program for 7/8 math with online lessons and tests? Without similar resources being used by all teachers across a state and the country, the implementation of any new program is going to look different at every school....

Liz Davidson's picture

Thank you so much for the ideas! While I am not in a Common Core district, we are pushing literacy in every subject area and the district is striving for all of us teachers to teach reading. I have always struggled as a chemistry teacher on how to incorporate reading more and this has given me great ideas. Thank you!

May Kennedy's picture

I think this is a great idea for Common Core-ELA to be implemented in subject areas such as Science. Science curriculum already includes the Common Core ELA standards such as Reading: Literature, Reading: Informational Text and Listening and Speaking so it would not be far fetched to follow the Common Core Guidelines. Enjoyed reading this discussion. Here is the link for more information on the Common Core Standards

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