As a leader in Common Core implementation in New York City  New Visions for Public Schools (New Visions) is committed to helping teachers navigate a landscape of changing standards, and to support teachers in developing their students’ literacy skills within the context of robust discipline-specific curriculum. 

The New Visions Living Environment Curriculum is a new living environment (biology) course, based on work done in New Visions’ charter schools, aimed at creating a model for coherent integration of science content and practices along with discipline-specific literacy skills. Drawing on existing materials and collaborating closely with teachers and content experts, we have designed standards aligned common scope and sequence linked to resources that are organized in a way that can be accessible to teachers.  Units include a diagnostic assessment to determine students' starting points; intentional sequence of assignments/labs; embedded formative assessments that gauge progress; time to revisit material students have not mastered; and end-of-unit assessments to determine growth. Our goal is twofold--to improve students’ knowledge of scientific concepts and increase literacy, and to invest in teacher learning as a means to maximize student achievement. 

We are in the process of refining our materials in both New Visions charter and district high schools, and providing teachers with instructional and data coaching. In addition, the New Visions Living Environment Curriculum provides teachers, who often plan their lessons in isolation, with the opportunity to share what works in their classes and to learn from others’ expertise through Google’s web-based collaborative tools, effectively building a social network of New York City teachers around science materials and practices. 

Spiraled Curriculum

The New Visions Living Environment curriculum strategically spirals core concepts (such as evolution) and themes (such as energy transfer) to facilitate multiple opportunities for students to interact with the overarching themes of biology and to promote success on the Regents exam. Teachers are guided through this process by a designation of high, medium, and low content on the curriculum map, and provided detailed implementation strategies in unit plans. Additionally, spiraling provides language learners and students with diverse learning needs the opportunity to engage in a science concept in multiple contexts, building content knowledge through a targeted and discipline-appropriate sequence.

The BSCS 5E Instructional Model and Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER)

We have integrated the BSCS 5E Instructional Model into the New Visions Living Environment curriculum to facilitate inquiry-based learning, providing teachers a pathway to fully involve students in the learning process. 

In the BSCS 5E instructional model, teachers guide students through a series of learning phases: engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation. In the engagement phase, teachers probe students’ prior understanding of the concept, and encourage questioning to engage learning. This information is used to plan a targeted response to student need through the facilitation of a series of experiences designed to build, extend, and evaluate knowledge -- all leading to deep learning through conceptual change. The exploration phase acts as the anchor for learning, focusing on authentic experiences that allow students to engage in science as a practice. During the explain, elaborate, and evaluation phases, students interact with a variety of texts and data sets that may challenge their pre-existing models and ideas to construct and internalize a more thorough understanding of the content. 

In addition, the curriculum includes the use of discipline specific literacy strategies such as the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) framework for writing scientific explanations. The CER framework supports students in developing their abilities to articulate their understanding of the content, aligning with expectations found in the Common Core Literacy Standards. 

Finally, based on work with Dr. Rhonda Bondie, we have also incorporated Group Learning Routines into each 5E plan; these routines support teachers in providing multiple entry points and reliable classroom structures, so that all students can have access to the learning in these plans.

Unit Plans and 5E Instructional Model Plans

We used the approach outlined by Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design (UbD) to create unit plans for each unit in the scope and sequence. Using their “backwards planning approach,” we started with the standards -- both New York State content standards in Living Environment and Common Core Learning Standards -- as desired outcomes. We then designed authentic, engaging performance tasks, again using Wiggins & McTighe’s framework, and a Regents-aligned assessment as the culmination of each unit. Finally, we created plans using the BSCS 5E Instructional Model to describe the day-to-day learning that teachers could facilitate in order to meet the standards and prepare students for the assessments. 


There are two sets of assessments in the scope and sequence, described in the Assessment Summary: required course-level assessments and optional unit-level assessments. Teachers are expected to implement all course-level assessments, in order for us to look together at student growth in literacy, content knowledge, and Regents readiness. Teachers may select from the growing bank of unit-level assessment options, and are encouraged to contribute when they develop or modify assessments that might be useful to the group as a whole.

Works Cited Porcello, D. & Hsi, S. (19 July 2013). Science education: Crowdsourcing and curating online educational resources. Science, 341(6143), 241-2. Bryk, T. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(7), 22-30.

Guiding Values and Principles for Curriculum Design

Strategic Inquiry

Curriculum Components

Google Systems