Before NGSS, you may have used textbooks, etexts, or otherwise taken a content approach centering on understanding and applying. What the new Next Generation Science Standards ask is that we go further in challenging student's higher order thinking skills: creating, evaluating and analyzing, so that students are not only consuming the content but are actually participating and interacting with it, working to develop it as a solution to a problem or answer to a question of their own within the classroom.
This is the key: The new classroom experience asks students to play the role of scientist and engineer, take ownership of their learning, and work with the content and engage in the practices. That is how the practices connect with that disciplinary core idea. The content background is the disciplinary core idea and the way content behaves in context is the crosscutting concept. These are big shifts—the idea that students not only need to develop STEM skills, but that they also need to engage them as they create, evaluate, and analyze within the STEM classroom.
And the best ways to engage practices are within the content itself.
THE 8 STEM PRACTICES
Under NGSS, as a result of STEM instruction, a student must be able to:
- Ask questions (for science) and define problems (for engineering).
- Develop and use models, but not just something given to them. They must actually participate in that development
- Plan and carry out investigations, which goes deeper than just being given a procedure. They must be able to plan the investigation and plan the procedure itself.
- Analyze and interpret data, applying math to hunt for the key data points that support a claim about their hypothesis or prototype solution.
- Use math and computational thinking. Think of this as considering scale when designing a prototype, being able to figure out resources required, conduct multiple trials, and determine sources of error and orders of magnitude.
- Construct an explanation (for science) and design a solution (for engineering).
- Engage in argument stemming from evidence.
- Obtain, evaluate and communicate information.
Using these practices, students are effectively engaging as scientists and engineers in their classrooms.
The effect is a classroom in which the teacher is no longer the sage distributing facts—with 30-plus students in class, it’s impossible to regulate the flow of knowledge to each individual student all the time. Engaging students in the practices of science and engineering allows educators to instead become facilitators of a STEM learning environment where students are discussing in an organized way and interacting with content, but are also expected to engage those practices and challenges themselves to solve problems and answer questions.
The result: A much more authentic science or engineering lab experience than would often be considered under standards prior to NGSS.