The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are changing the K-12 science classroom. Memorizing facts and recalling demonstrations aren't enough under these new standards.
Classrooms now need to focus on engaging students in the practices of science and engineering, teaching students to analyze, evaluate, problem-solve, and create – facilitating the development of higher order thinking skills through STEM experiences.
Curriculum development for NGSS starts with understanding the difference between standards and curriculum.
In the case of NGSS, where there are grade-specific standards at the elementary level, these standards are not owned by each grade level’s teachers.
- Standards are like health department regulations: a minimum bar of learning a student must be able to demonstrate when assessed.
- The role of curriculum is to articulate an experience that connects all aspects of STEM in a cohesive scaffolded experience where standards are being introduced, mastered, and reinforced both throughout the year and from year-to-year.
Everyone's curriculum is responsible for all the standards – for mastering what is in their grade level, but also for introducing the next level and reinforcing prior grade-level standards.
Mastering NGSS requires thinking about the context for inquiry as an opportunity to introduce and reinforce standards from other grade levels.
By doing this, you can create a robust curriculum that is cohesive from September to June but also from grade to grade, which is incredibly important in many schools, especially in those districts where students may be transient. Consider a student who has entered a district at grade five and comes from an entirely different state. If the curriculum isn’t designed to blend across grade levels, to introduce, master, and reinforce from level to level, gaps in learning will occur systemically as students transition into the district.
A new breed of STEM curriculum designed for NGSS and driven by the National Research Council's new definition of effective STEM instruction, helps scaffold performance expectations and implement context-driven instruction for today’s learners.
But how do you assess next generation learning?
We can think about next generation assessments as a student performance evaluation; assessments of inquiry skills, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts in context. For example, where a student has learned about states of matter and has that background, can they develop a model using their skills to explain why a chocolate bar may have changed shape in the sun and relate precisely what has changed about it (and why)? Good examples of these types of tests are the OECD's science PISA assessment and the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) for science.
Just remember a next generation classroom is not about a teacher-centered model that presents students with facts to remember, understand, and apply. The new model is about engaging students in the practices of science, developing skills that are real and actionable, and challenging students to use those skills to solve problems and answer questions – a learning model geared toward creating, evaluating, and analyzing in the context of STEM.