5 Tips for Bringing California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts into Your NGSS Instruction

By Christy Porter
Senior Environmental Education Specialist, CalRecycle

For the past five years I have been trying to demystify the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) so that I could better understand the instructional shifts occurring within science education and determine how environmental literacy connects with these new science standards. In addition to attending the NGSS Roll-Outs, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in the Statewide Science Community of Practice, where the state’s movers-and-shakers (mainly the science specialists at County Offices of Education and key districts) meet to discuss best practices for NGSS implementation.

Through these experiences, I have learned a great deal about the NGSS and how environment-based instruction can make science both engaging and relevant. Moreover, California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) are now included in the new Science Framework adopted by the State Board of Education. The EP&Cs consist of five key principles and fifteen supporting concepts that are the foundation for environmental literacy. The Environmental Principles highlight the deep relationship between humans and the natural world and encourage students to think about how they depend on, benefit from, and influence Earth’s natural systems.

Here are five ways that educators can begin linking the EP&Cs into their NGSS instruction:

1. Choose an environmental phenomenon


What could be more engaging than the natural world around us? The 5E lesson template is very popular for NGSS and, fortunately, environmental phenomena are a natural fit for the first “E” – Engage. Examples of environmental phenomena can be simple or complex: a food web in a local oak woodland, climate trends and changes in the community over time, the sprouting and growth of bean seeds in the school garden. Local environmental phenomena are the best because students can relate personally to the world around them. After all, science is all about explaining the natural world.

2. Consider How People Relate with the Environment

Human WorldJust because you’re incorporating the environment into lessons, doesn’t mean you’re incorporating the EP&Cs. The EP&Cs focus on the relationship between human and natural systems – not just the environment. Your students could study the food web in an oak woodland without discussing humans. To weave in the EP&Cs they would need to discuss how humans depend upon and/or influence the oak woodland (e.g., using the wood for lumber or firewood or building a housing development that displaces some of the organisms). Likewise, students could study the growth of plants in the school garden and focus solely on botany. Consider weaving in the EP&Cs by encouraging your students to talk about how we depend upon our garden, and commercial crops, for the food that we eat.

3. “Bake” the EP&Cs into Your Lessons

Principle 1

The EP&Cs don’t need to be an intimidating “one more  thing to add” to a teacher’s checklist. Instead, teachers can make almost any science (or history/social science) lesson more engaging by incorporating a human/natural systems connection, which makes the content relevant and helps students answer the question “why should I care?” The examples about connecting the EP&Cs with an oak woodland food web or a school garden (Tip #2 above) show how seamlessly the EP&Cs can be woven into lessons.

4. Check out Specific EP&C/NGSS Resources

Appendix2Need additional guidance on how and where to connect the EP&Cs with NGSS? The California Science Framework weaves the environment throughout the framework, and provides educators with several examples of how to incorporate the Environmental Principles into NGSS lessons. Search on “EP&C” to see specific snapshots and vignettes. Appendix 2 of the framework identifies specific EP&Cs connections and is organized by Performance Expectation. For ideas on environmental learning outcomes, by grade level, check out this Sample Scope and Sequence for California’s EP&Cs, developed by the State Education and the Environment Roundtable.

5. Use EEI Curriculum Resources 

The EEI Curriculum is a great resource for transitioning to NGSS and was developed to demonstrate how the EP&Cs can be incorporated into standards-based instruction. However, it wasn’t written for NGSS and has more of a direct-instruction approach. I see two ways to use the EEI Curriculum to support NGSS.

EEI SpreadThe first way is to re-work an existing EEI unit to make it more inquiry-based and student driven. Even NGSS-savvy teachers tell me that they still love the EEI Curriculum and that they are “tweaking” it to give it an NGSS flavor. This modification usually involves adding an engaging phenomenon to the beginning of the unit. They also move the informational “California Connection” text to later in the lesson sequence, which gives students more opportunities to explore a concept before it’s explained to them.

Another way to support NGSS is to “harvest” select EEI resources to create new 5E lessons. The EEI Curriculum is rich in images, informative text, information cards, and maps, which are perfect for incorporation into NGSS lessons. Check out EEI’s new NGSS correlation spreadsheet, where you can search by Performance Expectation for supporting EEI Curriculum units.

Weaving the environment into NGSS lessons can help make learning both engaging and relevant. Comment below and let us know how you bring the EP&Cs into your classroom instruction!

About the Author

Christy headshotChristy Porter is a Senior Environmental Education Specialist in CalRecycle’s Office of Education and the Environment where she helps oversee implementation of the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI).  Christy joined the Office of Education and the Environment in 2003 and has participated in all facets of the development of the EEI Curriculum and the teacher training program.  Her current focus is on bringing the Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) into California classrooms – beyond the EEI Curriculum. She is OEE’s point person for the Next Generation Science Standards and for weaving the environment into three-dimensional lessons. Prior to joining the EEI team, Christy managed the State’s Used Oil Recycling Program and a low-interest loan program for recycled-products manufacturers before taking a hiatus in the private sector where she owned and operated a medicinal herb shop.  She has a B.S. in Physiology (emphasis in environmental health) from U.C. Davis and is a certified California Naturalist. In her free time you can find her exploring the flora and fauna of the American River Parkway.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s