RMSC Director’s Notes

Michigan Math and Science Centers Network supports science curricular options

As a teacher, there are hundreds of things to worry about each day, week and month, and thousands of directions to take your attention.  The 2010 adoption of Common Core-aligned standards in Mathematics at the state level in Michigan was followed shortly by the 2015 adoption of the NGSS-aligned standards in Science at the state level.  Many districts have found math curriculum to support this movement, and significant options exist for districts searching for resources

Two years after this adoption, districts are now looking to implement science curriculum that is well aligned with the Michigan Science Standards (MSS), and it’s no easy task.  With the upcoming statewide science test, how do districts balance ease of use of a curriculum with usefulness? How do districts ensure that a curriculum is up to par when it comes to looking out for the best interests of the students?

Kris Pachla

RMSC Director, Kris Pachla

Some districts are creating their own science curriculum based on partnerships with, for instance, the Van Andel Education Institute.  Others are looking to purchase or adopt off-the shelf materials to hand to their teachers.  Still others are looking to adapt materials for use in their districts. The Michigan Math and Science Centers Network (MMSCN) is at the center of a number of well-aligned curricular options for Michigan districts to consider.  Cereal City Science, Phenomenal Science, Mi-STAR, Project Lead the Way, and Engineering is Elementary are all current curricular projects developed or supported by the MMSCN throughout the state.  What curriculum you choose is based on your local needs, monetary and time resources, and support throughout the region.  Below are very brief overviews about each of these curricular models.

Cereal City Science

Developed by the Battle Creek Area Math + Science Center, this series is inquiry-based, aligned with the MSS, and engaging in all four strands of science proficiency (physical science, life science, earth science, and inquiry and technology).  According to BCAMSC, “The curriculum provides teachers with classroom instruction that includes opportunities for interaction in the classroom, where students carry out investigations, talk and write about their observations and emerging understandings, and discuss ways to test them.” Cereal City Science is included in the STEMWorks program as gold-standard curriculum. 

Curriculum is available from Kindergarten through 7th grade, and includes curricular guides and materials.  Each grade level has 3-4 units to purchase, and professional development and support are available through BCAMCS.  For a list of participating districts, look at the map available here.

Phenomenal Science

Developed by the Central Michigan Science, Mathematics, Technology Center (SMTC), in partnership with Michigan Virtual and collaboration with Oakland Schools and the Great Lakes Bay ISDs, this curriculum is NGSS aligned to be 3-dimensional science instruction for K-5.  All curriculum materials are available for free through Michigan Virtual.  Each grade level includes 3-4 unit guides, which connect teachers to outlines for phenomenon based science instruction.  Each unit includes learning targets, anchoring phenomenon, focus questions, and assessment tasks.  In addition, many of the units have ELA connections with reading materials in science domains. Materials are not included for this free curriculum, but trainings and support is available throughout the state.


The Michigan Science Teaching and Assessment Reform (Mi-STAR) project was developed at Michigan Technological University and is curriculum focused on grades 6-8.  According to the website, Mi-STAR is NGSS-aligned, focuses on real-world learning, has expert design, and engages in teacher-driven professional development.  The Mi-STAR curriculum has received national and state acclaim, and is included in the STEMWorks program as gold-standard curriculum.  There are 7-8 units planned in each grade level, and development is ongoing to continue to deliver additional units. Materials lists are provided so individual teachers and districts can create kits for use internally.

Project Lead the Way and Engineering is Elementary

Both of these projects are developed by external groups, and supported in the state as part of the STEMWorks grant program. 

Project Lead the Way (PTLW) is a K-12 curriculum supported by the Capital Area Science and Math Center (CASM) and pilot and fully implemented programs all across the state.   PTLW has curriculum K-5, 6-8, and at the high school level in Computer Science, Engineering, and Biomedical Sciences.  PTLW is the only curriculum on this page that supports above middle school grade levels. Though PTLW is the most expensive of the curricula here, there are statewide supports and grant programs designed to offset the cost of this program.  An annual participation fee applies.

Engineering is Elementary is a K-5 curriculum supported by Wayne RESA and various Michigan Math and Science Centers throughout the state, including the GVSU Regional Math and Science Center.  Twenty different kits are available for purchase, and through this grant program free for participating teachers to rent, that focus on the engineering components associated with the Michigan Science Standards.  Teachers guide students on a pathway to build and design a solution to a problem, all the while engaging in reading and literacy strategies through the included books.  The kits cost a few hundred dollars, but teacher guides are less than $100 and materials lists are available on the Engineering is Elementary website.

Deciding what’s best

In order to decide what’s best, you might consider some of the following question:

  • What does your district have budgeted for curriculum?
  • How proficient are your teachers with the MSS and NGSS?
  • How much work do you want to do to assemble kits and materials?
  • How many professional development days can your district sustain in order to train teachers?

So far, there’s not been a one-size-fits-all program for everyone. Instead, districts and teachers should consider their options and decide what level of engagement to have with the curriculum building materials. Ideally, teachers would spend time during the summer reviewing, deciding, and adapting curriculum for local needs, including locally relatable anchoring phenomena, and adjusting for the availability of materials.  However, teachers and districts may not have the resources to provide this structure, and so some combination of the above curriculum would serve many populations well.  There are also a variety of other curricular materials from some bigger content providers (Glencoe, McGraw Hill, etc.) as well as Michigan specific content providers such as from Van Andel Institute.  Reaching out to your ISD curriculum directors, as well as local Math and Science Center supports can assist in choosing your curriculum.  Find your local center at mimathandscience.org.

Page last modified October 16, 2017