Meeting Performance Expectations in an NGSS Science Classroom

What Are the NGSS Performance Expectations?

Performance expectations are those statements at the top of the page in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that describe what students should know and be able to do. The job for the teacher is to unpack those statements into the practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts, and figure out the experiences that students need to have to meet those performance expectations by the end of a class.

Now, the really tough part is to figure out a way to make it interesting so the kids will engage in those experiences from the outset. Let’s take a look at one example of how you could address a specific performance expectation in a NGSS classroom. 

Performance Expectations in Action

Let’s see how this may play out in an actual class. The performance expectation reads, “Students who demonstrate understanding can … ask questions about data to determine the factors that affect the strength of electric and magnetic forces.”

You could have students build their own electric motor; they put it together themselves! It's not very difficult. It involves a base, some permanent magnets, a couple of paper clips, and a coil of wire. 

When they first see their own motor start, that is exciting! I should add that this is not easy—that it actually takes quite a while to get it working, to get the coil balanced just right and so forth, to make sure that they have good electrical contact. You don't want things to be too easy because if they are, then the kids don't feel a sense of accomplishment. In my view, this particular activity is just at the right level of difficulty.

They’ll connect the battery and give it a shove, and hopefully it will work. They likely will engage in dialogue similar to this, as they work and get it going: “It wants to go! It wants to go!” “There it goes.” “I've got it going. I'm very proud of myself because I spent time getting this going today.” Isn’t that exactly the reaction that you want your kids to have when they do activities?

It takes some fiddling to get it working just right. The most important thing is balancing that little coil, but your students don't really know how it works yet. They know that magnets don't attract copper, so they don't quite understand why that's attracting. That’s when you’ll have some discussion about it. 

By middle school, they have discovered that magnets have two poles and one pole attracts and the other pole kind of pushes the other one. But, if I set up an electromagnet, I can make a more powerful magnetic field that can pick up paper clips. The question here for you to challenge your students with is: What are the factors that caused the magnetic field to be stronger?

The students start to experiment with it, and they keep a table. They decide in different groups what they're going to investigate. What they learned from this is in data.

Returning to the Performance Expectation

Now, you’re ready to find out what questions your students have about it. The most interesting question, of course, is “what does the data mean?” At that point, we’d return back to the motor. I’d have students think about what those parts are—they should share that there’s a permanent magnet, and there's an electromagnet because we have a current running through this coil. Of course, that doesn't quite answer the question of why it's spinning.

“What would cause it to spin?” your students may ask. They might know that both permanent magnets and electromagnets are magnets, and they affect each other; one pushes or pulls, depending on whether the poles are alike or different. They may notice that it's bouncing around here a little bit, so it must be changing its polarity. And of course, that's exactly what's happening!

By this time, your students have a pretty good idea of how it works. But the important thing is that they've asked questions about data and have gathered evidence about this particular design. We started out with this really motivating activity, which is designing this motor—getting it working. Then, we unpacked it, taking it apart piece by piece to help the kids understand the parts of it, so they can put their thinking back together to both evaluate the device, in this case, and to ask questions of data. 

To conclude with one thought about performance expectations, it's very important to stick with just the PEs and not add a lot of other information and ideas. It can take time to develop each of the performance expectations thoroughly.


Jeff Rylander, another HMH Science Dimensions author, hosted a webinar, "What Does Integrating Science in the NGSS Look Like?" on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. View the recording to learn more about how to integrate engineering and more science domains into your science instruction.

*Next Generation Science Standards and logo are registered trademarks of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards was involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

*This blog is based on a Professional Development video found within HMH Science Dimensions.