The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) mark an innovation in science and engineering instruction. By extension, this means that there needs to be an innovation in classroom resources as well, to stay aligned to NGSS.
As awareness grows about how the NGSS are changing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction, and as the testing goes into place, it's going to be very important that you have true alignment to the standards. And true alignment can only happen if you understand the true innovation of NGSS.
Simply put, the nature of next generation science standards is authentic instruction.
It involves students authentically engaging in the content, using practices, and so on. Any “next generation” program that is 100% scripted is, in all likelihood, not really a next generation program. That’s because there always needs to be room for the students' creative, evaluative and analytical thinking, and that's something that can't be scripted.
Over and over again, we come back to skills. Without leaving room to use them, science instruction cannot truly be NGSS-aligned. Of course, these changes will require others as well. Changes in the science curriculum will require changes in professional development.
Districts that are already behind with the previous science standards may have the hardest time adapting, but the change in state policy is an opportunity to take a close look at all resources, for the purpose of serving students and teachers as well as possible.
When you think about alignment, it's important to think about not only the standards themselves, but also how all of the resources you use align to the standards. There are several tools that can help you figure this out.
Primary Evaluation for Essential Criteria
First is the Primary Evaluation for Essential Criteria for alignment, the PEEC guidelines. The NGSS Primary Evaluation of Essential Criteria for Alignment (PEEC-Alignment) is still in draft form (the current version of this document will be released later in 2016), but is free to download from Acheive.
The purpose of the PEEC guidelines:
“... to help developers and reviewers of instructional materials answer the question: ‘do the materials contain or exhibit the essential features of a program aligned to the NGSS innovations?’ The PEEC-Alignment document focuses on the innovations set forth in NGSS and their implications for instructional materials.
If the program under review seems to be adequately aligned to the NGSS innovations, it could then be reviewed for the presence of other key components of instructional materials – some of which are also described in the PEEC-Alignment document – as well as for any other criteria that are relevant in a local context.”
This document will break down further a lot of what we’ve already covered in five key innovations across the Next Generation Science Standards. We highly recommend using it to assess your own curriculum and any others you're considering.
EQuIP Rubric for Next Generation Science
The second resource to keep in mind is the EQuiP rubric for science, which you can also use to evaluate lessons and units for their alignment with the NGSS. According to EQuIP,
“This document was developed in response to the recognition among educators that while curriculum and instruction will need to shift with the adoption of the NGSS, there is currently a lack of high-quality, NGSS-aligned materials. The power of the rubric is in the feedback it provides curriculum developers and in the productive conversations educators can have while evaluating materials.”
Aligning curriculum to Next Generation Science Standard is, believe it or not, a really great opportunity to do amazing things for students in terms of teaching and learning both within and outside of STEM disciplines.
With enough hard work and attention to detail, districts will be able to build the kind of productive, effective STEM environments that ready all students for a career of their choice.