Grading: Differentiating Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

How do I write comments/cartoons for 35+ students yet record grades on time? My coach and I triaged work (usually CERs) into 3 stacks based on approaching, meeting, and exceeding the NGSS performance expectation.

Here’s a guiding document translating the biology NGSS performance expectations into those 3 categories. I hope to refine it based on feedback.

Disclaimer: Like all shortcuts, these are very roughly useful but inaccurate models that get me where I want to go, which is more time dedicated to individual comments, less time wasted on deciding/entering numbers.

You will probably disagree with me about these categories; feel free to comment w/ feedback.

Teen-friendly songs affirming mental health

These songs come from a show, Steven Universe, that my high school students have expressed to be wholesome and helpful in exploring their identities. I found their message to be very cathartic and incredibly healthy in affirming anyone's journey of self-exploration and recovery from trauma.

I have organized them by theme below. If you give them a listen, I hope you enjoy!

  • Overcoming avoidance & shame by facing the truth with help – True Kinda Love (youtube) (lyrics)

  • Growing up - Independent Together (youtube - spoilers) (lyrics)

  • Permission to be yourself - Be Wherever You Are (youtube) (lyrics)

  • Affirming self-dignity but inviting understanding - Change Your Mind (youtube) (lyrics)

  • Intrusive thoughts, spiraling, & mindfulness - Here Comes A Thought (youtube) (lyrics)

  • Starting over after abuse - Found (youtube - spoilers) (lyrics)

  • Two enemies reconciling over a shared grief - Both of You (youtube) (lyrics)

(P.S. I am of the opinion that this 2-min clip is essential viewing for any nonbinary or lgbt kid right now.)

Lesson (2x): Forensic Entomology

What these files add:

  • abridged (optional) background readings w/ checks for understanding

  • editable Slides w/ enhanced, labeled, enlarged images of important evidence

  • re-orders agenda for more student discussion & asking questions

  • cards for scaffolding asking questions about evidence

  • videos for discussion

  • reflection exit ticket

Task: Using climatological data, forensic insect evidence collected from deceased human, experimental entomology data, and research on blow fly life cycles, estimate the time of death for a homicide victim.

General question: If entomologists study insects, how does their research help us estimate time of death?

Major concepts: Science as inquiry & modeling, evidence & inference, all organisms must be able to obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce, and maintain stable internal conditions, energy as heat.

Real historical events: This uses a real homicide case from 1986 and incorporates scans of the forensic examiner’s notebook, the news articles, letters among investigators, experiments performed by the entomologist, and photographs of the insects collected.


I. Blow Fly Life Cycle & Accumulated Degree Hours

1. Introduction

a) Do Now - murder trial

b) Turn & Talk: Sample of ____? collected from body as evidence (good opportunity for realia)

c) Request from State of Connecticut

2. The Life Cycle of a Blow Fly

a) Document: Forensic Examiner’s Report

b) Worksheet: Blow Fly Life Cycle

3. How Weather Affects Blow Fly Life Cycle

a) Document: Preliminary Climatological Report

b) Worksheet: Accumulated Degree Hours & weather data

II. Experimental Design for Time of Death

4. Designing an Entomology Experiment to Solve a Problem

a) Card Sort & Reveal: Asking the Right Questions

optional: Rear flies on raw liver!

b) Document: Entomology Case Experiments

c) Discussion & Worksheet: Entomology Case

5. Videos About Forensic Examination

a) Career: A Day in the Life of a Forensic Pathologist

b) Career: Forensic Examiner without the Mess…Camila the Cryptanalyst

6. Exit Ticket: Reflection on Media Coverage

Setup Decisions: “Asking the Right Questions Activity”

Decision 1:

Option a) Print double-sided.

Option b) Print single-sided and staple on top of each other.

Decision 2:

Option a) Ss flip over all the cards and make a conclusion together.

Option b) Ss flip over a few cards at a time and revise their explanation.

Option c) Ss flip over only X number of cards, chosen by group agreement, and make conclusions based on the answers. Compare class answers.


  • NIH, Visible Proofs: exhibition of the history of forensic anthropology (answer keys on website & on file by request)

  • William Krinsky, Yale University School of Medicine

  • Henry Lee, Connecticut State Police Forensic Laboratory

Lesson (2x): Energy Flow Through Food Webs

Prior knowledge: types of energy & matter, symbiotic relationships, levels of organization (individual -> ecosystem)


  • review practice for terms & concepts

  • role cards & setup instructions

  • kinesthetic activities (card sort, role playing simulation)

  • graphing tasks (prior class data included)

  • discussion using videos to inspire & extend



1. Do Now

a) flow chart of morning routine (intro) (skip to #2.)

b) photosynthesis from space & food in body (skip to #5.)

I. Matter, Energy, Symbiotic Relationships

2. Terminology Check

a) Symbiotic Relationship Examples

b) Card Sort: Symbiosis

3. Energy

a) Card Sorts: Types of Energy

b) Venn Diagram: Energy vs. Matter

+ optional HW: Reporting Climate Change

4. Discuss & Elaborate on how to obtain energy

a) Video: Coral - Predator? Producer? Both?

b) Video: Farallones Islands & complex relationships

II. Food Web, Trophic Levels, Energy Transfer

5. Activity: Ocean Food Web

a) Game, Graph, Analyze, Discuss

b) Define trophic level roles (HW)

6. Videos for Discussion

a) Why are detritovores important for the food web? (Explain)

b) Kelp Ecosystem (Extend)

c) Coral Reef Symbiosis (Extend)

d) Ecosystems & Ecological Communities (Explain)

e) How does climate change affect biodiversity (Extend)

f) Food Chains vs. Food Webs (Explain)

6. What’s missing in the trophic pyramid?

7. Exit Ticket

a) energy sources & transfer

b) How is the Internet like a food web?

Unit (~7 weeks): Musculo-skeletal Unit: Prosthetics

Courses: Physiology, Anatomy, Engineering

I made & taught this physiology unit on musculoskeletal structure & function, via a sequence of inquiry tasks and engineering design challenges, supplemented by vocabulary, readings, videos, gallery walks, and interviews.

Hope the images, videos, & lab worksheets are useful/save time for folks using them! Lessons 3 & 5 need feedback and have poor slides. Some of it has messy highlighting, but I thought I'd share it now given now is a popular time for this subject to be taught. I will keep updating this post with version changes below.

Open All in Google Drive

Open By Lesson

(jump to individual agendas & materials)

Includes Do Nows, Exit Ticket, lab writeups, reading w/ checks for understanding, rubrics, and final project workbook.

(Please supplement with your own reference docs for anatomical terms.)

1. Overview [Dissect: Chicken Wing]


  1. Do Now - proprioception tasks

  2. Unit Overview

    1. Unit-Long Project: 3D Skull Puzzle by Joshua Harker (video tutorial) (simpler alternative)

  3. Dissection: Chicken Wing (backup link in handouts document)

  4. Notes

    1. Basic Terminology

    2. Disorders

  5. Exit Ticket - Parts of the Skull

2-3. Micro - What happens when muscles get tired? [2 labs]


2. Agenda

  1. Do Now: Energy & Physical Activity

  2. Modeling: In/Output of Body

  3. Lab: What happens when you take oxygen (O2) out of cellular respiration?

  4. Reading: Cellular Respiration

    Alternate Lab if students have prior knowledge of cellular respiration: Skeletal Muscle Fatigue

3. Agenda

  1. Do Now: I/O Cellular Respiration

  2. Lab: What happens when you take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of cellular respiration?

  3. Watch & Discuss: Marathon Runner

  4. CER Letter to Marathon Runner

  5. Exit Ticket: Lactic Acid

Optional extensions:

4-5. Can you really build stronger bones by drinking milk? [3 labs]

4. Agenda

  1. Do Now - How much calcium do you eat? (Engage)

    1. Science Media Moment: Do you know how much calcium is in your diet?

  2. Video: Introduction to Bone Biology (Explore)

    1. Turn & Talk: What is bone made of?

  3. Lab: What is bone made of? (Explore)

  4. Reading: Bone Growth (Explain)

  5. Lab: What makes tough bones? (Explore)

  6. Video: Osteoclasts & Osteoblasts (Explain)

  7. Evidence Match: Bone Lab Explanations (Evaluate)

  8. Exit Ticket 

5. Agenda

  1. Do Now - Predict Repair & Breakage

  2. Pre-lab Videos (Engage)

    1. Bone Modeling & Remodeling

    2. Bone Broth

    3. Collagen Pills

  3. Lab: What makes tough bones? (Explore)

  4. Reading: Osteoporosis (Explain)

  5. Card Sort: Phases of Healing (Explore)

  6. Lab: Long Bone Strength (Elaborate)

  7. Video & Talk: Truss construction vs. Spongy bone (Elaborate)

  8. Exit Ticket - Challenges in Bioengineering Materials (Evaluate)

6-9. Macro - Fractures & Interventions [2 labs, 1 engineering challenge, 2 assessments]

6-7. Agenda

  1. Do Now -  Interview a Peer About A Broken Bone or Dislocation (Engage)

  2. Video: A Painful Point Break (Explore)

  3. Lab: Fracture (Explore)

  4. Slideshow: Types of Bone Fractures, Healing, & Interventions (Explain)

  5. 2 Exit Tickets - Natural Bone Repair & Fracture Characteristics


  1. Practice: Assessment case study – DIAGNOSIS? (Elaborate & Evaluate)

  2. Assessment: Case Study – DIAGNOSIS? (Elaborate & Evaluate)

8-9. Agenda

  1. Do Now - Angular & Linear Motion Activities (Engage)

  2. Gallery Walk - Hard or Fast Biter? (Explore)

  3. Jeopardy! Card Match - Review Lever Terminology (Engage)

  4. Engineering Challenge: Build-A-Bicep (Elaborate)

    1. Design Approval & Prototyping

    2. Optional activity: Moveable Joints Charades

    3. Mini-Lab: Musculoskeletal Biomechanics & Levers (Explore)

    4. Reading:  What Levers Does Your Body Use?

    5. Class Calculation: Mechanics of Muscle Motion

    6. Testing, Revising, and Marketing Video for Invention

  5. Exit Ticket - Speed v. Force Advantage (Evaluate)

10-18. Final Project: Prosthetics Engineering

10-18. Agenda

  1. Do Now - Activities, Places, Risks for K-12 children

  2. Introduction to Design Engineering - Afghanistan, Land Mines, Mine Kafon

    1. What do these devices resemble? What do they look like? Has anyone had experience with these?

    2. What do we know about the children and culture in Afghanistan?

    3. Videos: Mine Kafon & Mine Kafon 2.0 (Invention, Iteration, & Entrepreneurship)

  3. Mini-Practice: Design Engineering Your Morning Routine

    1. Step: Interview Partner - Connect to the Client (Develop Empathy)

    2. Step: Confirmatory Listening - “I hear you saying…” (Define the Problem)

    3. Step: Prototype - Use recyclables to build a model of something that improves your peer’s morning

    4. Step: Present & Explain

  4. Prosthetics Handbook

    1. Team Jobs & Agreements

    2. Research - Fact Pages

    3. Lecture: History of Prostheses

    4. Review: Design Engineering Process

      1. Mini-Engineering Challenge: Notecard Tower

      2. Mini-Bioengineering Challenge: Prosthetic Hand

    5. Disability Awareness

    6. Ideas & Prototype Designs

    7. Materials List

    8. 2 Ideate prototype designs with Pros & Cons

    9. Iterate: Present to another group for feedback, propose second draft design

    10. Create marketing plan and poster

    11. Rehearse presentations

  5. Design Showcase for Inventions

    1. What makes a good showcase?

    2. Feedback and Reflection Forms


First Week: Science Identity Lab Coats

Activity Sequence

Note: mix into preexisting agenda; not intended to be its own lesson

Click for folding directions

  • Class 1: Discuss questions, brainstorm keywords, pre-write sentence frames

  • Class 2: Draft 3-5 sentences to each question, proofread a peer’s for feedback.

  • Class 3: Fold lab coat & decorate! Use art supplies, magazine cutouts, & typography/graffiti to illustrate the theme or copy the answer. Each question is labeled with the part of the lab coat.

  • Class 4 (or 5): Present lab coats. (Options: Explain/summarize/1detail (1) own coat, (2) a peer’s lab coat)

Assessment: Depending on what you want to target, you could assess any of these, from the worksheets to the spoken explanations. Also a great opportunity early in the year to see who gets to use scissors without supervision.

Other features: (1) Habituates students to explaining their metacognitive thinking about science in society, (2) encourages different forms of expression & understanding, (3) introduces idea of modeling as a proxy for understanding. Fun way for the class to get to know each other! (I had the students write their names on the collar or lapel.)

Student Work Examples

Do Now (4x): Science of Adolescent Sleep (Silent Sustained Reading)

Students asking for a quiet week? Start class with a 5-minute reading task that follows up with a few reading comprehension and discussion questions. My students reported it was helpful for their understanding of sleep and neuroscience. We used this for my physiology class to link homeostasis (or endocrinology) with neuroscience.

Goal: Investigate how sleep deficit affects the structure and function of the human body

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Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 7.42.50 PM.png

Lesson (3x): Cellular Respiration set


  • Do Nows (3 questions each) for each lesson

  • Gallery walk of average family’s weekly meal around the world

  • 1 full lab investigation w/ procedure, data charts, & questions

  • 1 extension lab investigation

  • Organizes cellular respiration by input & output

Time: 3 lessons (~70 min each)
Goals: NGSS HS LS 1-7
Essential question: What happens when humans get tired?


Lesson 1: Sugar

Lesson Question: How do humans get energy from food?

Lesson 2: CO2 output

Lesson Question: Does your body produce more/less CO2 when you exercise?

Lesson 3: O2 input

Lesson question: How does O2 affect your cell's energy?


  • Do Nows, 2 lab investigations with analysis questions, note-taking

  • Next iteration will add a rubric and more scaffolded examples of a nutritional plan


  • Created whilst at the Exploratorium’s Summer 2018 Teacher Institute, using their generous support and resources

  • Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel

  • coaches at the Exploratorium Summer Teacher Institute (Daisy, Devin, & Katie)

Lesson: Opportunity Cost

Time: 60 minutes


  • Identify the opportunity cost of a decision.

  • Apply the concepts of scarcity, trade-offs, and opportunity cost to a decision by a hypothetical high school student (Franklin) who had to choose how to use his after-school time among three alternatives.

  • Explain the rationale for the recommended decision.

Additional prep required: Task card from Activity 3 in (PDF)


  • Video: explanation, timer

  • Do now

  • Group instructions

  • recommendations to an imaginary high schooler)


  1. Do Now

  2. Video: What is Opportunity Cost?

  3. Opportunity Cost…in Minecraft? (or village settlement if students are unfamiliar with survival sandbox games)

  4. Franklin’s Decision


Written explanations of recommendation based on persuasive writing.

Recommended Extension: Applying A Decision-Making Model: You & Your Future (PDF)


  • Focus: Economics of Personal Decision Making – Activity 3: Franklin’s Decision (PDF) (National Council for Economic Education)


Lab: Exploratorium's Ocean Acidification In A Cup

Time: 60 min

Goal: Model an ocean-atmosphere interaction and explain how carbon dioxide gas diffuses into water, causing the water to become more acidic.


  • Lab worksheet (instructions, questions, etc.)

  • Slides for Exploratorium’s Ocean Acidification In A Cup

  • Videos with timers, safety review, and lab procedure demo, applications to coral bleaching, etc.

Note to self: (To Do) add inquiry-driven portion for students to devise questions together (requires more chemistry than mere carbon cycling stations activity)


Lesson (2x): Claim-Evidence-Reasoning

Time: 55 minutes + 70 minutes


  • Identify the claim, evidence, and reasoning in a scientific explanation.

  • Identify relevant evidence to support a scientific explanation, using real NASA photos from Mars.

Additional Prep Required: download external materials from here

Agenda (Pt 1, 55min)

  1. Do Now

  2. Video: Dad is an alien!

  3. Slides: Explaining Science - CER

  4. CER: Penny

  5. Solo: Analyze

  6. Pairs: Peer Review


Formative (CER: Analyze; Mars check-ins); Summative: Mars Spoken Explanation

Agenda (Pt 2, 70min)

  1. Do Now

  2. Video: Are cats liquid or solid?

  3. Slides: Claim - Evidence - Reasoning

  4. Activity: Identifying Relevant Evidence…on Mars!

  5. Pairs: Peer Review


Learning Design Group, Reteaching Loop: Understanding the Role of Relevant Evidence in Supporting a Claim

copyleft notice:

You are free to copy and adapt all the teaching resources on this page. I appreciate feedback on what to keep/toss/expand/scaffold.

4 Favorite Non-Verbal Community Builders



1. 20+ identical, lightweight disposable cups (
e.g. SOLO, Dixie brands)

2. Rubber Band

3. String (2ft long/pc)

Tie 4 to 5 strings to 1 rubber band. Do this for each group.

  1. Instructor stacks cups into a random setup (e.g. pyramid, etc.)

  2. Each group member takes a string. Without talking, the group must use the rubber band to arrange their own stash of cups into the instructor’s setup.

  3. Increase complexity and repeat.

    Too easy? Have only one group member see the target stack. Set a timer.

    Reflect: How did talking affect your other abilities? Were you still able to accomplish the task? What helped you build the tower?

Full resource document with lesson background and cutouts here.

An excerpt from the document, which contains many variations for different age groups, etc:


1. This exercise must be played in complete silence. No talking.

2. You may not point or signal to other players with your hands in any way.

3. Each player must put together their own circle. No one else may show a player how to do it or do it for them.

4. This is an exercise in giving. You may not take a piece from another player, but you may give your pieces, one at a time, to any other members of your group, and other group members may give pieces to you. You may not place a piece in another person's puzzle; players must complete only their own puzzles. Instead, hand the piece to the other player, or place it beside the other pieces in front of them.


Now you may take the pieces out of your envelope and place them in front of you, colored side up. This is a group task, and you will have 10 minutes to make your circles.

Remember, the task is not finished until each of you at your table has a completed circle in front of you. When all of you have finished, raise your hands.

Reflect: What was most challenging? What was easiest? What did you like the most about this activity? What did you like the least about this activity? What messages do you think this activity might be trying to say about working in groups?

GoogleDoc of Do Now, Instructions, & Exit Tickets, and photos of game pieces coming soon.

Writing Checks: Building Narratives From Evidence

Full resource page with lesson background here

GoogleDoc of lesson for my classroom coming soon.

GoogleDoc adaptation of it for my classroom setup coming soon

copyleft notice: You are free to copy and adapt all the teaching resources on this page.
I appreciate feedback on what to keep/toss/expand/scaffold.

Lesson: Intro to Cognitive Bias

Time 50-60 minutes

Goal Identify and explain different types of cognitive bias


  1. Do Now

  2. Video: Why do human brains love fake news?

  3. Recognizing types of bias

    1. Notes (graphic organizer included)

    2. Review Quiz

  4. Poster: Examples & Prevention

  5. Exit Ticket


  1. Formative

    1. Do Now

    2. Graphic organizer

    3. Exit Ticket

  2. Summative

  3. Poster (group)


coming soon