Let's take a quick look at some of the most common stumbling blocks teachers encounter when thinking about teaching Next Generation Science Standards aligned curriculum for the first time.
For teachers unfamiliar with next generation teaching methods, the new approach to STEM education can all seem rather overwhelming. If you're used to 40-minute chunks for teaching science and social studies once a week, it's not surprising for you to wonder where you'll possibly find the time. Well, if that's all you have, you simply can't teach science and engineering effectively. Part of what the new standards call for is inarguably more time. For example, 3rd to 5th graders need 2.5 to 3 hours of week of time-on-learning. Otherwise, your students will fall short of meeting NGSS performance expectations.
Another important item to note about effective science and engineering environments is that they don't drag on forever through stilted "week on, week off" models, alternating months, or other systems that require taking long breaks from science and engineering. That's only going to create a situation in which you automatically lose momentum. Skills require recurring deliberate practice in the form of science and engineering practice skills, which must be used frequently to keep them sharp.
That also means that you need to use the time you have well. Some holdovers from the traditional model of instruction can seriously hamper your efforts to teach STEM if you're not careful—for instance, the idea that directly communicating the standards to students is important. The truth is, the fact that the student knows the literal standard really isn't that important. What is important is that the teacher knows the literal standard and understands its connection to other standards.
Now, you might say something like, "Well, the research shows that writing standards on the board increases performance," but that's a very limited area of research. What's more important is to use time allotted for science and engineering wisely. If, as an administrator, you require teachers to write the standard on the board and read it aloud to the students, you're not really doing anything for the students. What you are doing is forcing that teacher to think about the standard, at least for a moment. That might have a positive effect on the teacher's behavior, but it also uses valuable time. If that takes 10 minutes, and the teacher spends 15 minutes summarizing, you've already lost 25 minutes of your 40 minutes of time-on-learning to an activity that is not part of the core instruction.
There is no way that a teacher will be able to accomplish all of the goals in the standards within that 15-minute window. Even the word "standard" is a misnomer; it is actually a performance expectation. A teacher would never have time to write that all out, and even if they printed it out and stuck it to the wall, the value would be very limited. Everything you do has to have a high degree of value. Therefore, any introduction to the standard should take no more than 5 minutes.
Another source of common confusion is assessment. Here at KnowAtom, we affirm that multiple-choice questions fail to accurately assess student learning, while printable worksheets fail to teach. Given this statement, some people look at the NGSS-aligned resources we create and question what looks like our occasional use of multiple-choice assessments and worksheets.
First, we'll address worksheets. If you look at an early grade level, what you're going to see is a gradual release of responsibility where students have ownership over specific segments of the scientific or engineering design process. Over the course of different lessons and multiple units, younger students use preformatted tools to engage in science and engineering. They are part of an experience that a student is engaging in, planning, developing and carrying out for themselves. Visually, this might look like a worksheet, but it is actually a support to allow students to take on the roles of scientists and engineers.
An excerpt from the concept assessment section of our 6th grade STEM curriculum.
Now we'll address the occasional use of multiple-choice assessment. This is a great tool as well. You may notice that we use some multiple-choice vocabulary check questions in the assessment section of our curriculum. The important thing to note is that this is just an assessment, and assessments are not the form for learning.
People confuse the two all the time, but it's important to understand that they are quite separate. Assessment is simply a tool to understand elements of what a student has learned and to allow us to gather evidence of it upon which we can build further instruction. They enable students to signal that they understand a particular vocabulary word or concept. Real assessments cover how students have learned to engage in planning, developing and carrying out scientific investigations and design processes.
Understanding this will help you effectively contextualize what effective habits look like in the classroom.