Why Time on Learning Matters When Implementing NGSS

little kids with prototypes_87283808_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpgBudgeting enough science time on learning will go a long way toward helping districts successfully implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

If you don’t have enough time on learning for science, your implementation of NGSS will likely run into some significant hurdles.

This is because of the importance of effective STEM instruction under NGSS . The National Research Council definition of effective science instruction is that it capitalizes on students’ early interest experiences and builds on it. 

This is an intentionally nurturing process that provides students with the experiences to engage in the practices of science and engineering. It sustains their interest because they're involved; they're the ones in the driver's seat.

If your district is value-oriented and focused on teaching to transform and improve students’ critical thinking skills as well as scores, then you need adequate time on learning to achieve these goals. Keep in mind that scores are merely the sign of good instruction; they are nothing more than the outcome at the end. That means you need to provide enough time for instruction during the weeks and months leading up to testing.

Suggested Time on Learning for Science

  • Grades K–2: approximately 25 minutes/day (~2 hours/week)
  • Grades 3–5: approximately 35 minutes/day (~3 hours/week)
  • Grades 6–8: approximately 55 minutes/day (~4.5 hours/week)
  • Grades 9–10: approximately 60 minutes/day (~5 hours/week)

The total hourly allotments (shown in parentheses at the end) should not be lumped in a single block, but rather parsed over multiple days.

Often, educators point out that it’s hard to meet these time-on-learning recommendations because, for instance, class periods in high school are only 50 minutes a day. It must be noted that that's a district choice.

Some districts are taking a different route, using waterfall schedules where they implement a six- or seven-day rotation, give or take, so they're able to get larger blocks of time and achieve the overall time-on-learning recommendations. If you can create those large blocks of time, transitions have far less impact because you’re only doing them once in and once out for a two-and-a-half-hour stretch, for example. But this is not nearly common enough in our schools.

One reason is that many educators rebel against the idea. They hear the idea of an hour-and-a-half or two-hour block and they say, “Our students could never sit through that.” At KnowAtom, we don’t believe that to be true. Indeed, it is usually a warning sign that there's a problem with curriculum or pedagogy. In a science class, there should be active, problem-based, hands-on learning, and that simply cannot happen in a rushed 30-minute block bracketed by relatively long transitions.

When districts do institute those long blocks, we’ve never seen a problem keeping students engaged. This is not to say students don't still have social or emotional issues, but by and large, engagement in this model is not an issue. More frequently, you hear the math and the ELA people claiming that they can’t keep their students learning that long, and again, that's usually an issue of pedagogy or curriculum.

ELA and Math Proficiency

Another question that arises about time on learning is the question of whether students have to reach a certain level of proficiency with math or ELA before you can attempt to implement NGSS classes. The answer is no, it doesn't need to come before because the operations required are very basic.

Think of it the other way around. Rather than assuming math and ELA proficiency are needed to teach science, instead assume that science is now an opportunity to improve math and English language skills, specifically the Common Core practices. In an ELA context, this means speaking and listening standards, reading informational text, process writing, technical writing, and so on.

Math and English/language arts now have a home in science because there are hands-on, real-world applications. In science, you now have a setting in which students can read about a problem, create their own solution to that problem, gather data, and use math to reflect on it.

Using Time Efficiently

As you can see, making sure that there is enough time on learning for science instruction has many benefits. It provides students with the space to develop their critical thinking skills, which has the important effect of also improving test scores. It engages students in meaningful learning. It also provides teachers with the opportunity to integrate STEM, ELA, and math so that students are learning and applying their skills across disciplines in real-world scenarios.

This will go a long way toward successful implementation of NGSS. Check out our "7 Principles of Effective NGSS Implementation" blog post to learn more.