As new science curricula appear in the market claiming to be designed for the Next Generation Science Standards, more and more teachers are starting to ask what their purpose is in a next generation classroom.
So what should the role of the teacher look like? And why are so few curriculum companies talking about this?
There has been growing awareness that a traditional model of science instruction, where teachers were the holders of knowledge and students the passive recipients of that knowledge, isn’t sufficient for teaching students the STEM skills, including the science and engineering practices, they need to thrive in today’s world.
Click here to read more about the next generation model of instruction versus a more traditional model.
Teachers and administrators are now recognizing that STEM instruction needs to be more student-centered. This is an important shift. Students need to have opportunities to learn how to use the three dimensions to make sense of phenomena. Through this, students learn thinking skills—how to move from a question or problem to an evidence-based understanding of complex phenomena.
But how do teachers teach in a student-driven science classroom?
As teachers who are currently in the process of evaluating different “next generation-designed” science curriculum are starting to notice, many curriculum options out there are so focused on appearing to be student-centered that they’ve essentially erased the teacher from the curriculum altogether, through automation in online curriculum, scripting, and so on.
This seems like a natural consequence of some curriculum companies providing products without deeply understanding the purpose behind NGSS.
Consider the purpose behind the shift toward a more student-driven classroom. It’s so that students can grow in their understanding in context, to develop and advance their critical thinking skills.
However, students can’t grow in their understanding on their own. They need a skilled coach, someone who is intentionally creating an environment where students are challenged beyond their existing skills so that there is a gap between where students are and the skills that they need to accomplish something in a certain task or challenge.
That gap is the opportunity for student growth. It’s also why the role of the teacher should not be minimized or lost. Teachers mind this gap and increase challenge, remove scaffolds, and ensure students are continuously mastering new skills.
Formative assessment is a key part of student-teacher communication in an NGSS classroom. When teachers continually engage their students in formative assessment, they gain in-the-moment insights into where their students are at in terms of their skills and content understanding,
With this knowledge, teachers can then modify their pedagogy and learning environment so that students continue to be challenged to deepen their understanding of the content and develop their science and engineering practice skills.
Through formative assessment students gain immediate feedback they can incorporate into their learning. In essence students are learning to meet the expectations of the standards through frequent and informal assessments that help students refine their idea of what it means to learn well.
This isn’t easy, by any means.
A next generation model of instruction is a shift for most classrooms which is why any curriculum needs to include professional development that focuses on supporting teachers in developing new next generation pedagogy.
In other words, the role of professional development is really to set teachers up for pedagogical risk-taking and release of responsibility for their students, removing themselves from the traditional role of explainer and giving teachers the permission to support students as they engage in a productive struggle.
When teachers are supported in this way, through next generation-designed curriculum and effective professional development, their role in the classroom becomes clear: to coach students as they work through the three dimensions of the NGSS, to continually formatively assess students to determine where they are at in that moment, and to create a learning environment where students productively struggle to advance in their understanding and skills development in the context of real-world phenomena.
And this, ultimately, supports the purpose of the NGSS and the shift to a more student-centered classroom, one in which the teacher plays a more vital and skillful role.