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New Research on NGSX Facilitation & Facilitators

by Suzanne Wilson & TJ McKenna

Wilson, S. & McKenna TJ (2021)   Increasing the Circle of Light on                     Professional Development: Study of the Role & Work of NGSX Facilitators


Research featured in Science Education 

Introduction to Special Issue: Epistemic Tools in Science Education

David Stroupe, Jean Moon, Sarah Michaels


Productive Exchanges in NGSX Virtual Study Groups

The work of facilitators in face-to-face study groups as well as facilitation of virtual study groups (VSGs) is a critical component of the NGSX PD model. The role of a facilitator as defined and practiced in NGSX is new.   As part of our research program we are focusing on study groups and facilitators who are not in the same physical location but are brought together virtually through video conferencing software. Currently, our work is organized around the following research questions: What are the characteristics of productive exchanges in a VSG with teachers who are implementing the same science curriculum unit in different schools, districts, and even states? What role, if any, do study group facilitators play in these productive exchanges?


By a productive exchange, we mean an extended exchange among teachers and facilitator(s) that focuses on a facet of one’s teaching or students’ response to a particular aspect of  enacted curriculum unit.


A preliminary analysis shows that productive exchanges have several recurring characteristics.  Often, a teacher begins by describing a specific problem/challenge while teaching the unit. Others in the group not only offer suggestions, they also engage with that teacher’s reasoning and analysis about why the problem may be happening. Also, productive exchanges are often sparked or extended by the use of particular talk moves by facilitators that appear to encourage teachers to deepen their reasoning and engage with each other’s experiences or challenges with the curriculum.


We are examining both the patterning and functions of these exchanges, and the collaborative knowledge building that may result.  We are particularly interested in exchanges that promote agency among both teachers and students – resulting in a teacher suggesting a change to be made in how the curriculum is being enacted, or modification of a knowledge-building tool to help make thinking more visible in tracking the progression of the group’s thinking.  A productive exchange might also involve a decision on the teacher’s part to tweak a strategy or routine or adapt a portion of the curriculum in ways that encourage students to be more agentive and effective in collaborating with peers in figuring out a complex phenomena in the natural and designed world.



NGSX Learning While Teaching for High School Biology

Worcester, Massachusetts

Most agree that good science curriculum materials, in and of themselves, are not sufficient to ensure that the new vision of “3-Dimensional” science teaching and learning takes hold in classrooms throughout the country.  The shifts called for require major changes in instructional practices, classroom culture, and ways of valuing students – recruiting their cultural and linguistic assets and promoting their agency as knowledge builders.  As part of a multi-year collaborative project titled Learning While Teaching (LWT), funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we are exploring the power of combining innovative NGSS-designed curriculum materials with structured and skillfully facilitated virtual study groups composed of teachers who are enacting the MBER curriculum).  This project leverages on-going national work with MBER as well as small scale pilot work in Worcester, MA.  


A team of Worcester biology teachers and ESL teachers, in three different Worcester Public Schools, are working together to prepare an extremely diverse set of students (many emergent bilinguals and adolescent newcomers) to pass the MA high-stakes MCAS biology test (required to graduate from high school).  A cohort of LWT teachers and researchers are engaged in curriculum inquiry/design, teacher research, and critical ethnography – investigating how discussion-based teaching practices and a well-designed, year-long curriculum can support English Learners to become full participants in classroom discussions and collaborative group work, a sense of agency and confidence among students as reasoners and critical decision makers.   Leveraging our successes in Worcester, we are working to develop a set of video cases for both NGSX and for the MBER curriculum network of high school teachers across the country.  Our goal is to make these video cases educative for teachers at scale – demonstrating the capacities of students with varying levels of English proficiency to succeed in biology, and see themselves as learners who are successful doing science, not just memorizing content to pass a test.  

From the NGSX Research Team





Conference Presentations and Posters

Framework and NGSS Resources


National Research Council and NGSS


Resources to Support NGSS Implementation

  • STEM Teaching Tools: Tools to support NGSS as part of STEM teaching. Tools focus on a specific issue and leverage the best knowledge from research and practice.

  • Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching: Helpful tools and examples to support scientific practices and discourse in the classroom from the University of Washington.

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