Science Education Is About to Change—And That’s a Good Thing

Takepart.com

It would be a mistake to think my job only entails the dissemination of diagrams and the creation of mnemonic devices to remember the order of the planets.

As a science teacher, my job is to enable students to discover their world through the scientific method. My job is to give them the ability to unlock their own mysteries. The newly released Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were designed, in theory, to do just that. 

The NGSS are a comprehensive set of practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts developed by key organizations including the National Research Council, National Science Teacher Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The last National Science Education Standards used by many states were released over 15 years ago and a lot has changed since then. The goal of the NGSS is to strengthen science education and prepare our current students to handle the challenges they’ll face in the future.

 

 

As a middle-school science teacher I think there is a lot to be excited about. First, the language of the standards reflects how students will demonstrate understanding rather than what they are supposed to understand. The information below explains this difference:

Current New York State Standard:

Energy flows through an ecosystem in one direction, usually from the sun, through producers to consumers and then to decomposers. This process may be visualized with a food chain of web.

New Next Generation State Standard:

Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.

The NGSS is about more than the concrete facts—it’s the process for understanding those facts.

As a result of standardized testing in the sciences (primarily multiple choice with a few short answers), it is my opinion that science education has too often been diminished to fact regurgitation. I’ve had students come to my classroom armed with loads of tidbits but no means by which to connect them.

The explicit crosscutting concepts in the NGSS are designed to address this issue. These concepts, including patterns, scale, models, and systems, serve to “provide students with connections and intellectual tools that are related across the differing areas of disciplinary content and can enrich their application of practices and their understanding of core ideas.”

At every level, from kindergarten through 12th grade, the NGSS pushes the expectations towards engineering design (problem solving through design) and scientific inquiry (questions solved through investigation). These are the skills that will make it possible for my students to excel in their adult lives, find a good niche in the workforce, and contribute to the world’s prosperity.

As a new teacher in a school with one other science teacher, who is also a rookie, I was overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to teach. I certainly made the mistake of teaching too much content without the foundation of process to make the facts meaningful. Through this reflection I see the benefits that are possible through state adoption of the NGSS. 

Change is challenging and there are still many questions around if/when/how states will adopt the standards, assessment tools, and implementation. However, I encourage science educators to view the NGSS on a scale much larger than that of their classrooms.

While we live it day to day with our individual students, we need to be responsible as a community for the education of all students. The NGSS somewhat uncomfortably exposes weak spots in my teaching, but will also be a source of structure and support going forward. As educators we take on unexpected challenges on a daily basis, and we should not shy away from the challenges of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Common Core: What It Means for American Education

• Common Core: Will Testing Be Its Fatal Flaw?

• Common Core: What It Actually Means for Kids


Lauren Prentiss teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science at Dual Language Middle School in New York City. Lauren is a 2013 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow. She is also a part of the National Science Foundation's GK-12 fellowship and a Teacher for America Corps member. TakePart.com

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