Under NGSS, a student who is proficient has to be able to demonstrate it independently. That’s why we think about the new science standards as performance expectations. A student needs to be able to perform the expectations of the standard by developing and using the content. They must be able to solve problems and answer questions as a scientist or engineer would. And they must be able to make connections across the content by describing its attraction to other ideas and content.
The performance expectations are comprised of three parts: science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts. A student will need all of these to perform the expectation: “Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers and the environment.”
The focus of the new standards are three dimensional, meaning the performance expectation doesn't exist in isolation. You need understanding of the science and engineering practices, the content itself and a system within which the performance expectation will function in order to be able to perform it. Note that not only do none of these three aspects exist in isolation; neither does the expectation itself. Also note that while the above image showcases a single performance expectation, students engaged as scientists or engineers would actually combine multiple performance expectations and different elements of the foundation boxes that you see here.
The reason that phenomena are so important, and why the next generation model of instruction is so important, is that in order to perform the expectation, students need to be engaged in higher order thinking. The focus here is on the real-world context, on the observable phenomena we discussed above. In a physics context, for instance, we observe that the universe obeys natural laws, governing, for instance, what happens when two objects collide.
The revised Bloom’s Taxonomy no longer stacks thinking skills in a pyramid, but places creating, evaluating and analyzing together at the top as equally important. While remembering, understanding and applying are still crucial foundational skills, they pale in comparison to the importance of the top three.
When we think about that context of observing two objects collide, we can actually explore that phenomena. Not necessarily by remembering, understanding and applying the facts related to it, though that is important as a foundation. However, the Next Generation Science Standards are really asking students to evaluate, analyze and create something out of what they’re seeing that deepens their understanding of that collision. The new knowledge might relate to how one object moves relative to another or how high a ball bounces relative to where it was let go from, and so on. The point is that students do more than simply see and understand; they develop content and use skills, all within a systems context.
The demands on higher-order thinking only come to light if the classroom environment creates space for it. As teachers, we must create that opportunity for students, not by playing the conduit role and getting between content and students, but instead by playing the coach role. Part of being a coach, moreover, understands that you be able to recognize whether or not your classroom (or classrooms, if you’re an administrator) are phenomena-centered and using phenomena-centered curriculum. Let’s turn our attention to that now.