Just as the meanings of science and engineering under NGSS are different from their traditional definitions, the next generation model of science instruction is different from traditional ways it has been taught. The question is this: Why is the traditional model no longer effective under the new standards?
In the traditional model of science instruction, the teacher acts as gatekeeper between students and content.
It all comes down to the roles teachers and students play, and their relationship to the content, under the new model. A traditional model of instruction is one where content flows through a teacher. In this role, the teacher is a content expert who models facts, demonstrates phenomena and explains what things are to students. In that environment, students are in a rote-recall situation. Their job is to recall the facts, repeat the demonstrations and summarize the phenomena. This approach plays out throughout the curriculum. If you look at the traditional multiple choice assessments that are common across the United States, for instance, you can see that they're often looking only for fact recall. Under the new standards, however, that's entirely changed.
That's an important point. In some instances, the reason students using the KnowAtom model perform so well, so quickly, is that they're taught by teachers who never really used this traditional model. Therefore, a switch to the new standards isn't too difficult for them. For teachers who haven't used it, though, the transition is sometimes much more difficult, because under Next Generation Science Standards a traditional model of science instruction is totally outdated. As educators we simply can't get by with it anymore. (See our next post outlining the next generation model)
A lot of this has to do with the higher order thinking skills we're trying to cultivate in the classroom. These skills are necessary if students are to do well in higher education and succeed as innovators in their careers.
The NGSS standards are built to encourage the higher order thinking skills students need to succeed in college, career and later life. Unlike the traditional Bloom's Taxonomy, which progresses from remembering, understanding an applying to analyzing, evaluating and creating, this rearranged taxonomy features the latter three equally positioned at the top.
You can see on the rearranged Bloom's Taxonomy above that the new standards require creating, evaluating and analyzing to happen simultaneously. The traditional assumption that students first need to remember, then they apply, etc., is not really correct. It doesn't work that way, because students need to use all of these skills at once in order to operate as scientists and engineers. It is especially important that none of the top three are prioritized over one another, as all are needed to truly take on those roles. So instead of starting at the bottom and building up, you need to start at the top. If you can get students creating things, evaluating their creations and analyzing the outcomes simultaneously, they will automatically be forced to remember, understand and apply.
That doesn't happen in the traditional model, which is why highly effective classrooms look very different. By "highly effective," we mean those that are demonstrating 80, 90 or even 100 percent of students who are advanced and proficient in science. (Lest you lose heart, know that you don't have to start anywhere close to these numbers in order to end up there.)
So what's the difference with classrooms such as these? Simple: The teacher's role. Our next article will cover how NGSS has changed teachers' approaches in education.