Want to understand the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)? In three words: three-dimensional learning. Figuring out exactly what those words mean and how they make NGSS different from existing standards will get you much closer to understanding exactly what is expected in the next generation of science education.
The term "three-dimensional learning" refers to the three pillars that support each standard, now called "performance expectations." These three dimensions are: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas.
You can use this rubric to evaluate your own curriculum for NGSS.
Three-dimensional learning fundamentally shifts science education. Science is no longer seen as fact trivia or rote memorization. Instead, NGSS recognizes that while content-specific knowledge is important, it falls far short of what’s required to do science and engineering.
Equally important is the ability to create, analyze, and evaluate because science is not static. Scientists are constantly discovering new knowledge, or new ways of looking at existing knowledge. Therefore, students must be able to understand scientific concepts, use those concepts to answer questions and solve problems, and recognize how those concepts connect to other concepts in other STEM fields.
So, what do these 3 dimensions entail? Let’s take a closer look.
Dimension 1: Science and Engineering Practices
Science and engineering practices are the same behaviors that scientists use to answer questions and engineers use to solve problems in the real world.
NGSS uses the 8 science and engineering practices identified by the National Research Council:
- Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
- Developing and using models
- Planning and carrying out investigations
- Analyzing and interpreting data
- Using mathematics and computational thinking
- Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
- Engaging in argument from evidence
- Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
By stressing the importance of these practices, NGSS is emphasizing that science is not just isolated facts. When students engage in the practices, they learn how scientific knowledge develops by working through the same practices that scientists and engineers use. This participation also creates a more meaningful learning experience, students are doing science.
Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts
Crosscutting concepts are those concepts that apply across all scientific disciplines. They provide students with an organizational framework based on behavior and function that connects ideas from different scientific disciplines. For example, students can see how energy and matter are essential to understanding Life Sciences, but also for understanding Physical Science, Earth Science, and Engineering.
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts:
- Cause and effect
- Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
- Systems and System Models
- Energy and Matter
- Structure and Function
- Stability and Change
Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas
Disciplinary Core Ideas form the basis of what most educators would consider STEM "content knowledge," also known as scientific facts.
These core ideas are grouped into four content domains:
- Physical sciences
- Life sciences
- Earth sciences
- Engineering, technology and application of science
NGSS deliberately points out which elements of the three dimensions are required for each performance expectation. NGSS also includes supporting elements, which provide the bounds of a scenario that students may be presented when asked to perform expected learning outcomes on future standardized tests.
By successfully creating hands-on experiences that invest students in doing science and engineering using each of these dimensions within the context of the performance expectation, classrooms will be able to achieve maximum student engagement and learning outcomes.