In 2015, the National Research Council released it’s landmark Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. The framework for K-12 Science Education and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was a vision for how to teach hands-on science processes and practices to build the skills needed for the workforce of the future. Since then, NGSS have been adopted by at least forty-five states and the District of Columbia, impacting the vast majority of the U.S. school aged population, according to Northeastern University researcher Dr. Tracy L. Waters.
Achieving widespread change is not easy, however, and a long-term investment in time, resources, and commitment from both teachers and administrators is needed. KnowAtom is partnering with school districts across the country to support NGSS-based instruction, with its research-based science curriculum designed to connect students with phenomena-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning opportunities and support teachers throughout the full process. Dr. Waters evaluated use of the KnowAtom curriculum in fourth and fifth grade classes to identify just how much of an impact collaborative learning models are having on students – and the results may surprise you.
KnowAtom’s NGSS-based science curriculum delivers a significant shift in how we teach science at the elementary and middle school levels. Rather than delivering abstract facts and asking students to memorize and recall them, teachers deliver hands-on learning opportunities that give students the chance to learn collaboratively. Together, students question, research, and respond to science-based phenomena in the classroom. In doing so, Dr. Waters found, they build knowledge, including improving core math, reading and writing skills.
To implement this new model, traditional teachers must make realistic changes to pedagogy and in some cases, their ideas about student ability and the nature of teaching science. Instead of delivering a large amount of content, teachers focus on core principles and ideas that have a broad impact across science, engineering, and other disciplines. Lessons make key connections between science education and the outside world – from current events to career opportunities. Teachers are doing much less direct instruction and instead become a coach or facilitator, as students take on more responsibility in their own learning and work together in their discovery process. Together, students question, struggle, discover, and learn. This provides authentic differentiation, more diversity in opportunity for students to show proficiency in the learning process and practice key math, reading, and writing skills.
All of this is exciting for teachers who can see first-hand the improvements to student engagement, proficiency, and classroom behavior when introducing hands-on learning models. To achieve the vision long-term, teachers must be well supported by their peers and leadership, both in the resources required to teach collaboratively, and in the professional development to change their teaching practices. Study data showed that as teachers saw first-hand what their students could achieve with the KnowAtom curriculum, they changed their teaching practices and beliefs in what students could learn and achieve together.
Waters’ study showed hands-on learning with KnowAtom resulted in measurable improvements to student collaboration and engagement levels, better test scores, and enhanced classroom behaviors. Teachers began to hold their students to a higher level of learning and accountability. To achieve this, the school district had to improve its professional development opportunities, giving teachers more opportunities to share best practices and improve their NGSS-based curriculum teaching methods. Ongoing professional development communities helped the teachers implement, measure, and achieve long-term success with KnowAtom’s NGSS-based curriculum.
Rather than a “one and done” approach to science, the NGSS model connects science discovery to the building of critical thinking skills. Because these concepts build across K-12 education, hands-on science curriculums should be implemented at every grade level. KnowAtom supports teachers and administrators throughout the curriculum implementation process, to ensure the type of long-term success Waters identifies in her research is a reality for communities that are willing to invest themselves in the process.