5 Ways to Nail the NGSS with Soil and Fossil Lessons

It’s easy to get excited about science in upper elementary classrooms. Another day, another creative science idea, right? You spend a while fleshing out your ideas and picturing the enthusiasm on your kiddos’ faces, and then realize… How are you going to make your idea align with NGSS?

While the NGSS certainly provide a beneficial support structure for the upper elementary science curriculum, they can feel a bit restrictive at times, making you second-guess your latest science classroom ideas. No one wants their creativity throttled!

Upper elementary teachers play a crucial role in nurturing students’ curiosity and love for science, and that’s something to encourage! That’s why, in this blog post, we’re going to explore several engaging methods that align NGSS with soil and fossil lessons and are sure to captivate your students’ imaginations. All the hard work of catering to NGSS standards is already done for you, so just sit back and enjoy!

NGSS and the Three Dimensions of Learning

Before we get started on the soil and fossil lessons, let’s take a quick look at what exactly the NGSS stands for and clear up some common misconceptions.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were created in order to supply students with a deeper knowledge of how science concepts work. Similar to Common Core, the aim is to push classrooms beyond rote memorization and into exploration and real-world application.

In order to achieve this goal, the NGSS are built on three dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. I won’t dive into this structure here—I’d be talking all day!—but if you’d like more information, check the link above to explore in more depth.

By understanding these dimensions that make NGSS thrive in our classrooms, we can seamlessly integrate them into our science curriculum. Some of these integrations are more obvious, such as using STEM projects to teach about simple machines, while others require a bit more creativity to really nail down those NGSS.

Okay, that’s enough of that. Now that we’ve got all the boring technical stuff out of the way, let’s dive into the exciting soil and fossil lessons that we can create while harnessing the NGSS!

Soil Investigations: NGSS in Action

Ready to get your hands dirty? Incorporating NGSS practices into soil investigations is both rewarding and enlightening, regardless of how much dirt ends up under your nails!

Obviously, you’ll want to allow your students some hands-on time to get up close and personal with Planet Earth. Bring your classroom outside! … Or bring the soil inside, but that’s a dangerous game with elementary kiddos. 😉 For example, you can collect a variety of soil types in tubs such as those used in my mini landfills blog post.

In order to align with NGSS, encourage your students to ask questions about soil composition. Are all soil types created equal? What kinds of soil are best for different kinds of ecosystems? Would you find different kinds of soil if you dug deeper into the Earth? These questions don’t necessarily require right or wrong answers; you just want to get your kiddos thinking about the real-world applications of these concepts!

In addition, be sure to guide your students in planning and carrying out soil investigations, from selecting appropriate sites to carefully collecting samples. As much as it benefits your kids to allow them a measure of independence, you’ll still want to be present to keep things on-track. Then, analyze the variety of soil data together in order to draw conclusions about soil health and its effects on plant growth. Share your findings as a class, or, as I’ve said a million times, think-pair-share it!

To take things a step further in the spirit of NGSS, consider above-and-beyond activities such as soil texture analysis and soil pH testing, which encourage students to engage in scientific practices while exploring the world beneath their feet. Take the opportunity of soil lessons to plant the seed of ecological awareness in your students!

Fossil Lessons: Unearthing NGSS Concepts

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m much more of a science buff than anything else, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still appreciate history! I just prefer to integrate it with science to keep my attention. Of course, when it comes to fossil lessons, the history is already baked in—the Earth history, that is! Toss in the NGSS and your kiddos are in for an enriching science block.

Teaching about fossils and Earth’s history provides a fascinating opportunity to align with NGSS. You can bring NGSS into your fossil excavation lessons by emphasizing the importance of fossils in our understanding of Earth’s past and evolution. Encourage your students to hypothesize how we use fossils to study modern-day animals. What other questions can they ask?

Then, introduce your students to NGSS-aligned activities, such as creating fossil replicas or conducting a classroom “dig.” Connect these activities to the Earth and Space Science Core Ideas of the NGSS, ensuring that students grasp concepts related to fossils and geological time. Then, for a review, have students show their learning with fossil lessons science writing prompts!

Throughout the activities that you choose for your fossil lessons, make sure to remind your students about the real-life connections, such as the role of fossils in humanity’s use of nonrenewable resources. NGSS is all about connecting with the Earth beneath our feet!

Crosscutting Concepts: Making Connections

Once you feel that your students have a thorough grasp on both soil and fossil lessons, it’s time to kick things up a notch. Next on our agenda is the NGSS dimension of Crosscutting Concepts, which serve as a bridge between different science disciplines, further enriching students’ understanding. We can use what students have learned about both soil and fossils to make these connections.

To begin, have your classroom explore patterns by examining both soil profiles and fossil layers. Through their soil and fossil lessons, they should have noticed that both soil and fossils develop in layers—why is this? What does this imply?

Further, have students investigate cause and effect (a key part of Crosscutting Concepts) by discussing how soil quality impacts plant growth. How does plant growth affect fossil formation? Does this mean we can expect to find more fossils in higher-quality soil? Will we find any fossils in low-quality soil?

Next, we can explore systems and system models by considering the complex interactions within ecosystems and Earth’s geological history. Based on fossils, we know that the denizens of the Earth used to be much larger. What does this mean about historical ecosystems? Would plant life have been larger to accommodate the huge animals we find as our fossils? If so, doesn’t that mean that prehistorical soil must have been incredibly fertile?

By integrating Crosscutting Concepts, you’ll help students make deeper connections across scientific domains. That’s key to NGSS! Furthermore, your kiddos are sure to benefit from the critical thinking skills and real-life connections; they’ll start looking for science all around them!

Outdoor Learning Adventures: Field Trips and Beyond

Earth science is best experienced in its natural location—outside—and soil and fossil lessons are no exception. Outdoor learning experiences can be transformative for students and provide countless NGSS opportunities. When taking the leap to a field trip or outdoor adventure, make sure to fully embrace the benefits!

Learning in natural settings fosters curiosity and hands-on exploration. Students that may have a difficult time visualizing concepts will be supported through the various exhibits or other tangible examples, such as soil samples or real-life fossils. Sometimes the best strides in learning take place outside the classroom!

Field trips or other outdoor adventures don’t always have to be to a big, fancy area, either. You can simply head outside your building to take soil samples or even investigate a local park or beach in search of rocks with fossil imprints. So long as you’re keeping consistent with NGSS, your students will reap the benfits.

Ultimately, field experiences reinforce classroom learning and deepen students’ scientific understanding. Asking and answering questions comes more naturally in these environments, and kiddos are drawn to explore further thanks to their natural curiosity.

NGSS Resources and Lesson Plans

There’s no way around it: once your students are securely back in the classroom, you’ll need some kind of resource or lesson plan to reinforce their learning or check for understanding. Thankfully, there are a wealth of resources specifically designed to align with NGSS! For example, check out any (or all!) of these valuable resources:

  • NGSS Website: The official NGSS website that offers detailed information, standards, and resources.
  • NSTA: The National Science Teachers Association that provides NGSS-aligned lesson plans, articles, and webinars.
  • Smithsonian Education: The Smithsonian offers NGSS-focused teaching resources, including interactive activities and videos.
  • The Owl Teacher Store: My store, where you can find plenty of NGSS-aligned soil and fossil resources to help you supplement your lessons!

With these resources at your side, you’ll be well-equipped to craft NGSS-friendly soil and fossil lessons that are sure to spark students’ scientific curiosities, no matter how science-resistant they may be. When you’re meeting these standards, you can rest easy knowing that your kiddos are receiving the best experience possible, and are being set up for all the success of a lifelong learner.

Integrating NGSS into your upper elementary soil and fossil lessons truly transforms your classroom into a thrilling hub of scientific discovery, where queries and hypotheses flourish. By engaging students in hands-on investigations, field experiences, and cross-disciplinary thinking, you’ll not only meet NGSS standards, but also inspire a permanent passion for science. NGS-yes!

The main mission of educators is to prepare students for a future filled with scientific challenges and opportunities. By embracing the Next Generation Science Standards and infusing them into the curriculum, such as with the soil and fossil lessons, you’re empowering young scientists to explore, discover, and shape the world around them. Is there a better feeling than knowing you’re fostering the next generation of innovators and problem-solvers?

Don’t just stop at Earth science, either—make sure you sign up for my email list in order to receive all the latest NGSS-aligned resources to ensure your kiddos are having the best possible science experiences.

Happy teaching!


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