Because of the Next Generation Science Standards, the classroom experience is moving away from the traditional models of remembering, understanding and applying information. Memorizing information, like that there are solids, liquids and gasses, won’t cut it anymore. The idea that we know this rock is sedimentary because it has layers isn’t enough. What is going to move students forward is being able to use that knowledge to analyze a situation, evaluate a problem or create something.
The question then becomes: How do educators facilitate the development of higher order thinking skills with STEM?
Standards vs. Curriculum
Curriculum development starts with understanding the difference between standards and curriculum.
Standards are like health department regulations: a bar that has been set and should be achieved.
The role of curriculum is to articulate an experience that connects all aspects of STEM in a cohesive experience where standards are being introduced, mastered and reinforced both throughout the year and from year to year.
In the case of NGSS, where there are grade-specific standards, these standards are not owned by each grade level’s teachers. Everyone is responsible for all the standards—for mastering what is in their grade level, but also for introducing the next level and reinforcing prior grade-level standards.
To some it might sound like a daunting task, but broken down it simply means thinking about the context for mastery in one grade level as an opportunity for introducing or reinforcing standards from other grade levels. Doing that, you create a robust curriculum that’s cohesive from September to June but also from grade to grade, which is incredibly important in many schools, especially in those where students may be transient.
Consider a student who has entered a district at grade five, and come from an entirely different state. If the curriculum isn’t designed to blend across grade levels, to introduce, master, and reinforce from level to level, gaps in learning will happen.
A new breed of STEM resources, however, based closely on the National Research Council's new definition of quality STEM instruction, helps blend grade levels and implement context- driven instruction for today’s learners.
But how do you assess that? We can think about it as fresh context. The student has learned about states of matter and has that background, but now they can also use their skills to understand why a chocolate bar may have changed shape in the sun and consider what precisely has changed about it. Will they be able to look at something like dry ice and understand where it has gone when it is left in the sun? Will they be able to talk about how the change occurred? Where the heat from the sun came from? Where the solid of the ice has gone and how its mass has changed? That is engaging higher order thinking skills.