Adopting the Next Generation of Science Standards: A Step in the Right Direction?

Adopting the Next Generation of Science Standards: A Step in the Right Direction?

It’s been 15 years since the National Research Council revised the standards for science education on a national level. Since then, NASA landed their first successful Mars Rover, measles was eliminated from the U.S. for good, and Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status. Times are changing, and it’s time for our outdated science standards to change as well. And that’s exactly what happened. The NRC named these up-and-coming standards the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, for short.

The NGSS revolves around three dimensions: practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.“Practices” refer to science inquiry behaviors that real scientists utilize to do investigative work that leads to connections and discoveries. “Crosscutting concepts”refers to concepts that connect all types of sciences together that students learn so that they understand the overlapping nature of these different sciences in the real world, outside the classroom. Lastly, “disciplinary core ideas” refer to the common themes that are seen recurring from kindergarten classes to senior high school classes. These disciplinary ideas are grouped in four domains: physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering, technology, and applications of science.

You may remember him from last week’s blog post. This week, Teach100 Mentor’s guest blogger Mike Lerchenfeldt, whose school currently implements the NGSS, shares with us how he thinks the NGSS will benefit not only science education, but education as a whole:

The shift to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will make it easier to embed Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Literacy. With the focus off rote memorization, reading, writing and critical thinking will be fundamental skills in a science class.

The United States’ ability to innovate depends on science education. Citizens are required to use critical thinking and communication skills in a global economy driven by advancements in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

The National Science Foundation (NSF) reports that there are currently between two and three million unfilled positions due to the lack of qualified candidates in the areas of STEM. This shortfall in employees is likely to increase.

The NGSS emphasizes the eight practices (skills and knowledge) essential to scientists and engineers in their workplaces and intertwines these practices with the core ideas students are learning in science class. These eight practices are listed below:

  1. Asking questions and defining problems
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing applications and designing solutions
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

When students are engaged in these practices, they learn how scientific knowledge is developed and how it is linked to engineering. This type of education can help prepare individual students for a well-paying job in the future.

In addition to the science and engineering practices, the NGSS provides seven crosscutting concepts students should master in preparation for college and/or careers. These seven concepts are listed below:

  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and Effect
  3. Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  4. Systems and System Models
  5. Energy and Matter
  6. Structure and Function
  7. Stability and Change

We are in a transition from a focus on knowledge itself to a focus on putting that knowledge to use. In our 7th grade science class, we are currently learning about energy waves. Students were asked the questions: Is there a relationship between frequency, wavelength, and speed? If so, what is it? If not, why?

Each small group developed a model using a slinky, meter stick, and stopwatch. As a whole group, we planned an investigation for the small groups to carry out.

All students collected data. They analyzed the data and computed averages in search of a mathematical pattern or proportional relationship.

If students found a mathematical relationship, they were asked to construct an equation or formula to compute quantities.

In their conclusion, students had to answer the investigation questions and write an argument for their claim supported by evidence from their data.

Many of the small groups discovered a cause and effect relationship between frequency, wavelength, and speed. In addition to learning and using core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts, this investigation required students to learn and use skills in reading and writing.

The CCSS for Literacy will supplement NGSS in order to help students meet the challenges of reading and writing in a science class. Students who meet these literacy standards will have the skills needed to perform the critical reading necessary to pick through the astounding amount of information available today.

We model the reading strategies involved with comprehending science text by performing a think-aloud. Reading strategies for informational text are listed below:

  1. Connect information in diagrams, graphs, and data tables to text
  2. Skim headings, captions, and font-emphasized words
  3. Summarize text to understand what is important
  4. Use root words to determine word meaning
  5. Connect prior knowledge to text and visualize
  6. Use graphic organizers such as Venn Diagrams

Students use science journals for writing observations and what they learned during class. They use graphic organizers and charts to write vocabulary words with definitions and to explain processes or relationships.

All of these skills are paramount in the real world and this world is becoming more about being able to critically think and less about memorizing text. Michigan’s recent implementation of the CCSS and NGSS standards will serve as a tool for students to learn in new ways and pave the road for them to tackle 21st century problems in confidence.

--Sarah Liu

About Mike:

Mike Lerchenfeldt is a member of the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship. He earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Oakland University and his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from Saginaw Valley State University. Since 2008, he has been a math and science teacher in the Chippewa Valley Schools. Mike is a Blogger at The Light Bulb for Digital First Media. Connect on Twitter @mj_lerch.