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Embracing Vermont's New Science Standards

Posted by Maryellen deLacy on Jun 5, 2016

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In an opinion piece written for the Burlington Free Press, science department chair and environmental science and chemistry teacher Jennifer Stainton argued that educators in the state of Vermont have embraced the new science standards wholeheartedly, and are already changing their teaching practices to account for these new standards. 

These new Vermont Science Standards are, she argues, an excellent way to boost science learning around the state. Based on the Next Generation Science Standards, the new standards are aligned to the National Research Council’s recommendations for what constitutes cutting-edge science and engineering. They not only promulgate a hands-on, inquiry-based, real-world approach to science, they also “facilitate productive student conversations on science topics.”

Stainton adds, “Teachers also appreciate that the Vermont Agency of Education does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all implementation of these standards. Instead, each district and school has the ability to make decisions about the local changes needed to support an NGSS-rich science education and as a result, I’ve seen teachers developing new science lessons that engage students by asking them to embrace failure (a word normally scorned in school settings) as they design solutions to local problems.”

So far, it seems these beneficial traits and the new Vermont science curriculum are in line with the State Board’s vision for what its new approach to science would be. In fact, embracing this new approach is not terribly novel for the state.

As explained by the NGSS website, “Vermont has shown a strong commitment to standards based learning in its adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and its position as a governing state in SMARTER Balanced testing. Vermont has a history of effective collaboration, as shown in its participation in the New England Common Assessment Program. Science has proven important to Vermont through the Vermont Professional Development Network, which over the past seven years has provided professional development and collaboration to address issues in science.”

Still, Stainton argues, the adoption of these standards was a “clear message” reinforcing the state’s belief in the importance of the “core, interconnected ideas of science” as well as the importance of “allowing them to practice the skills of scientists and engineers.”

Teachers have taken this message to heart. Stainton herself has been involved in science-based summer learning programs that use NGSS principles as their framework. Such programs were established with the intention of halting summer learning loss, which affects students of all grades and disproportionately affects students from poorer households that lack access to enrichment opportunities over the break. SOAK (Summer Opportunity for Achievement and Knowledge), for instance, presents an excellent milieu to teach science. She named hers Femgineering (engineering for girls), and used it as an opportunity to “introduce engineering to an underrepresented group, dabble in some engineering design challenges, identify and solve a local problem, and have some summer fun in the process.”

This kind of ingenuity shows the range of uses to which these new standards can be extended in pursuit of developing a stronger interest in science and engineering at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Only by making this subject both accessible and fun in the early years can educators hope to produce students who go on to study science and engineering in college and later make lasting contributions to the increasingly competitive global workforce.

In order to do so, however, educators need excellent curriculum that aligns to the new Vermont science standards and puts the Disciplinary Core Ideas (science and engineering content), Crosscutting Concepts (systems phenomena that cross subject boundaries) and Science and Engineering Practices (skills scientists and engineers use to solve problems and answer questions) at the forefront of how STEM is taught.

Are you curious to know what some of these Next Generation Science Standards resources look like? You can download samples of KnowAtom's NGSS aligned science curriculum which also aligns to Vermont's new science standards. Check out these unit downloads, which will give you an idea of the curriculum and materials already available and aligned to Vermont science standards. You'll notice these examples follow EQuIP and PEEC guidelines for high quality science curriculum and instructional resources.

Topics: NGSS, Next Generation Science Standards, state-level standards

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