You can rest assured that the Next Generation Science Standards finalized in 2013 have gathered no moss. 14 states and the District of Columbia have already adopted the standards as their own. This is a big win for everyone. Here are 7 ways you can expect science classes to change this year under the Next Generation Science Standards.
1. Science class will include technology, engineering, and math.
Most schools already teach science and math, and some people wonder why it’s so important to turn every science class into a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) class. What do students have to gain by bringing the disciplines of STEM together as part of science instruction? Everything, and here’s how.
STEM is really a cycle. Science begins with a question and results in new knowledge through experimentation. That new knowledge is then used by engineers to identify and solve problems with technology. Math is a toolkit, helping to capture and communicate observations. Take a look around the room you are in. Begin removing everything that is human-made. Now what is left? Not even the walls of the room! In a nutshell, this is why STEM matters. Scientific knowledge, like physics, often concerns the natural world. Technology and engineering concern the human-made world.
If you can remember a time before the internet and cell phones, you’ll understand that through engineering, the human-made world is evolving at a faster rate than the natural world is. If you're not equipping your students with technology and engineering, you are not teaching them how to understand most of the world they are a part of. In 2010 President Obama recognized that 80 percent of the jobs created in the next decade will require STEM skills (including those that require no college degree). Clearly a lack of STEM knowledge will restrict your students’ college and career opportunities.
2. High-quality curriculum will be easier to find.
High-quality curriculum requires teams of people with the experience and resources to develop, test, deploy, iterate, and support implementation with professional development and materials. This is no easy task for states and an even greater barrier for districts.
Traditionally curriculum companies have chosen to focus on developing products aligned to the standards of the most populated states, leaving schools in smaller states like Rhode Island and the District of Columbia to retrofit what has been produced for other states. Having consistent, national-level standards is a win-win because as more states sign on, companies see less risk in producing products specific to NGSS. The result will be schools with more options that are more strongly aligned to their goals. This means an even better experience for students and teachers.
3. Transferring students will not lose out.
Remember the first time you moved and what it was like to join a new school? Transitioning to a new school is a fact of life for many students whose families seek employment opportunities in other states. There is no better example than the thousands of children of active service members who, according to the military, will change schools an average 6-9 times in their K-12 career, often across state lines.
When a student leaves one community and joins another, a very practical issue emerges: what has this child learned and how do we build on that? When the transition is between schools in the same state, the standards and performance expectations are the same and educators know how to evaluate a student’s academic record. A student who moves across state lines, however, will often spark a research process for school staff members as they try to understand what "third grade science" means in the other state.
As students approach standardized testing and high school graduation, this can prove particularly frustrating for students as they have credits that may not transfer and they are tested against different academic expectations. The adoption of NGSS by more states means that students moving across state lines are more likely to experience the same standards and performance expectations. This translates to a more coherent learning experience, more on-time graduations, and less stress.
4. Effective STEM instruction will be tied to the classroom learning environment.
If you’re like most people, you’d rather do just about anything other than take a test or be evaluated by your boss. After all, most tests and evaluations are a snapshot in time. How you perform is influenced by everything from the weather to what you ate for lunch yesterday.
The great thing about Next Generation Science Standards is that they redefine effective STEM instruction in a way that is very scientific. Instead of a test-oriented or results-oriented approach, the new approach looks to the type of learning environment that an educator creates and asks if it is the type of environment where a student has the opportunity to be a scientist and engineer. This gives teachers a lot of creative power. What has been often overlooked in educator evaluation is the educators’ ability to create, evaluate, and analyze the learning environment to best meet their students’ needs. Now there is a clear need to put students in the driver seat so they experience science as scientists by performing the performance expectations as part of everyday instruction.
5. Scientific thinking will take center stage.
Have you ever tried to have a conversation in a foreign language after memorizing a lot of words? You might become familiar with the language and even pick out words when you hear others speaking it. But how comfortable would you be applying your new language skill in a conversation with someone?
Becoming proficient in another language requires a lot more than a string of memorized words. You also have to be able to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create so you can speak fluently with other speakers. STEM skills are no different, and they require the same high levels of thinking. Bloom’s Taxonomy, shown above, illustrates that remembering and understanding are the lowest orders of thinking. The higher level purpose of learning anything is to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.
Under the Next Generation Science Standards the higher order thinking skills of creating, evaluating, and analyzing take center stage. Why? It’s simple: these higher order skills are the very life blood of the STEM disciplines. NGSS puts higher order thinking center stage so that students will be trained to think scientifically and develop these higher order thinking skills. This equips the next generation of citizens to not only consume technology, but also to understand and master how it is developed and to participate in a global economy that is driven by scientific thinking.
6. STEM Instruction is now three-dimensional.
NGSS recognizes that STEM is not a flat, lifeless discipline but is instead multi-dimensional. To reflect this, the standards have three dimensions that bring life to the STEM performance expectations. The NGSS classroom is a place where students can learn STEM by being scientists and engineers. This means that the facts and history of science must be understood using the very skills and systems unique to developing STEM innovations.
The first dimension of the NGSS is STEM practices. Students are expected to develop models, apply their findings, and communicate with detail and precision a persuasive argument for their findings. Essential to this dimension is students doing each practice. Proficiency is determined by their ability to demonstrate these skills in an unfamiliar context. If you’ve been giving students notes to copy and procedures to follow, you’ll notice a shift in how you deliver instruction when you teach students STEM practices.
The second dimension of NGSS is disciplinary core ideas. These are the four major content domains of NGSS. The first three—physical science, life science, and earth/space science—are familiar to most educators, but they have been combed to reduce less relevant concepts, adding in their place a focus on concepts like genetics and climate change that are on the forefront of innovation. The fourth domain, engineering, technology, and applications of science, will be new to most educators as the standards bring to life how engineers solve problems using their knowledge of science to apply it in the development of new technology.
The third dimension, called crosscutting concepts, will bring the basics of systems thinking into play in your NGSS classroom. Crosscutting concepts help organize the domains of science into systems of similar behavior. This means that students will be learning how to look at specific aspects of earth science, life science, and physical science, analyzing living and nonliving things and relating their system behavior to predictable patterns where matter and energy are conserved. Why would NGSS make crosscutting concepts the third leg? Because we live in an increasingly interdependent world. It is not only the nature of STEM, but also the nature of our communities. Mastery of crosscutting concepts helps your students identify the root problem or question, a highly sought-after skill.
7. Common Core English Language Arts and Math can be taught hands-on through science.
You’ve been looking for Common Core ELA and math resources all over, but do you expect to find them in your NGSS science class? Because NGSS were developed after the Common Core ELA and math standards, these two sets of standards are designed to work together. Common Core ELA has an entire section of standards devoted to K-12 literacy in science and technical subjects. Developing good scientific and technical writing skills that blend non-fiction content creation and analysis with nuances like persuasion and academic argumentation is especially hard if you have nothing real to write about. This is where NGSS is the perfect environment to develop Common Core ELA skills in a real-life context, not to mention all the non-fiction reading, text features, and analysis that is part of developing an experiment or prototype.
Imagine how much more valuable a process writing assignment would be if students developed the procedure for an experiment they would actually carry out, following their own specific guidance as they gather data to form evidence for a conclusion they develop. NGSS is all about students being scientists and engineers in the classroom, and real scientists and engineers rely heavily on technical writing skills to develop and communicate their findings. You can think of NGSS as providing a way to link Common Core ELA to real-life skills and careers.
NGSS also uses Common Core math skills extensively as students measure, quantify, analyze, and communicate within their experimentation and prototyping. Because math is so infused within the STEM disciplines, it should come as no surprise that the STEM practices of NGSS overlap with the Common Core math practices. Examples of Common Core math practices include modeling with mathematics, attending to precision, constructing viable arguments, and reasoning abstractly. But how can you bring Common Core math together with NGSS in your science class?
Experimenting and prototyping should be the result of student-led inquiry. That doesn’t mean students can work without structure. Instead, it means that students have the responsibility to rely on their skills, the practices and processes of STEM. As students are challenged with scientific questions and engineering problems, they rely on their STEM practice skills to navigate processes such as the scientific method and the engineering design process. This requires students to exercise Common Core math skills. Just imagine: instead of assigning a word problem where a student may have no personal connection, you can now use science to present a challenge that students experience personally right in class, developing math skills in a context they can experience and solve hands-on.