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New Michigan Science Standards Change How Classrooms Teach Science

Posted by Nicole Lanoue on Jun 2, 2016

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In voting on November 10, 2015, to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as the framework for the new Michigan Science Standards, the state officially became the 17th to back this new approach to teaching science in US classrooms. It joins Arkansas, California, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Connecticut and the District of Columbia. 

The vote came after more than two years of review, and in so doing, the state has cast a vote for a different way of teaching science and engineering. The new Michigan K-12 Science Standards are based on three intersecting dimensions of NGSS, which include:

  • Disciplinary Core Ideas: specific concepts in various scientific realms
  • Science and Engineering Practices: skills students will used to answer questions as scientists and solve problems as engineers
  • Crosscutting Concepts: systems phenomena  that link various scientific areas together

The transitional standards go into effect in the 2015-2016 school year, with field testing taking place between 2016 and 2018, and full implementation of new science and engineering standards occurring in the 2018-2019 school year.

“The world is changing and we have to change with it and we have to change how we teach,” Robby Cramer told the Detroit Free Press in an August 2015 interview. Cramer, who is executive director of the Michigan Science Teachers Association, added that the new standards are based on research about how students learn best, and the methods that are most likely to equip them for future work as scientists and engineers.

In preparation to develop the new Michigan Science Curriculum, leaders held community meetings to gather input from various stakeholders and fine-tune the development of the standards. They’re important not only because they will inform newly aligned curriculum, but because they will also form a basis for statewide science testing.

As the Michigan Department of Education explains, “At the state level, these standards provide a platform for state assessments, which are used to measure how well schools are providing opportunities for all students to learn the content outlined by the standards. The standards also impact other statewide policies, such as considerations for teacher certification and credentials, school improvement, and accountability, to name a few.”

Not everyone has been happy about the endeavor to revamp science education in Michigan, however. In 2015, a Republican lawmaker attempted to block adoption of the standards, citing a lack of local control if they were to be adopted. On the other end of the spectrum, some people think the new science standards aren’t strong enough, and the state should adopt even tougher measures to ensure student success.

For now, however, the standards appear to be moving forward. Michigan is making strides in trading traditional instruction where rote memorization and fact recall is the norm with environments where students engaged in direct inquiry and follow their own ideas and interests.

Standards, however, are not the same as curriculum. Again from the Michigan Department of Education: “Standards should be used by schools as a framework for curriculum development with the curriculum itself defining instructional resources, methods, progressions, and additional knowledge valued by the local community. Since Michigan is a “local control” state, local school districts and public school academies can use these standards in this manner to make decisions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment.”

It is therefore critical to develop an excellent understanding of the NGSS to develop science curriculum that adheres to the new Michigan Science Standards. Depending on preference, districts may choose either to develop new curricula themselves that meets standards, or may use outside resources that align their curriculum to NGSS. It will also be important, however, when using curricula from third parties, to ensure that it is fully aligned with NGSS and doesn’t simply represent a mildly updated version of traditional curricula currently in use.

If you’re curious about what science curriculum that is closely aligned with the new Michigan Science Standards looks like, you can download some of our samples here. These samples are designed to follow EQuIP and PEEC guidelines for NGSS aligned science curriculum, and prepare teachers to help students meet standards as closely as possible.

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

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