By Rubicon International, featuring Janet Hale, Educational Consultant

States across the nation are adopting and adapting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS represent more than just a list of expectations students are supposed to meet – they are a fundamental and pedagogical shift in the way science curriculum and instruction should be addressed in K12 classrooms. As teachers and administrators continue to grapple with the shifting science standards and realign their curriculum and shifting instruction, schools are coming to us with a multitude of questions about shifting their science class to NGSS-based. We partnered with Janet Hale, education consultant and author, to answer three common questions schools have when implementing the NGSS.

1. How does designing curriculum and planning units of instruction differ when creating NGSS-based units?

If you plan to develop science curriculum and teach science the way you always have ‘done it,’ you will not be embracing what the NGSS are trying to convey.

The NGSS are not just standards you incorporate into your curriculum, rather the Next Generation Science Standards change the way students learn about science and how we need to teach science. For example, we need to stop teaching students that there is a step-by-step scientific method, because in the ‘real world,’ scientists simply don’t use a set method (some now refer to it as the “scientific mythod”). In the scientific realm, both in colleges and careers, the scientific practices may be cyclical, but have no one set process pattern. We need to encourage students to think and approach questions creatively, because that is what scientists do.In NGSS-based units, one of the ways we encourage this is through modeling, which you can read more about here.

We offer professional development for adapting your curriculum and instruction for the NGSS. Learn more here!

2. Do we need to shift the structure of courses to meet NGSS requirements?

When developing NGSS-based units in K-5 curriculum, each grade level has a set number of arrangements as well as a grade-level band for engineering design (K-2 and 3-5). Engineering design is also embedded within specific Performance Expectations (PEs).

In middle school and high school, the standards are meant to be designed with purposeful interwoven connectivity. At first glance this isn’t evident with arrangement such as “Earth’s Systems.” However, once you read Appendix K, you will find that the standards are meant to be configured quite differently than your traditional science courses (i.e. Biology or Chemistry). If schools or districts miss the important and necessary processes, they miss the full purpose and intent needed to design an NGSS-based secondary curriculum.

For example: When a district was working on the overall structure and organization of their high school curriculum, the teachers struggled with how and where to divide the curriculum into courses. Here are some of the issues they faced:

  • Knowing their students need specific Carnegie Units (i.e., Biology, Chemistry), the teachers wanted to design multi-disciplinary science courses, which NGSS supports, but they worried: will the state and colleges accept the newly titled integrated science courses?
  • Given the desire to create NGSS-based integrated science courses, high-school teachers are typically endorsed for only one area (i.e., Physics). What will be the process or procedure to create training that leads to endorsements that will support an integrated science curriculum at the high school level?

This particular district eventually decided (after many hours of deliberation as well as in input from the district office) to begin their NGSS course development based on slightly modified traditional courses and then blend the sciences further each year. Using this process, they plan to have fully integrated science courses within four to five academic years, which allows the high school teachers time for the additional training and endorsements needed to comply with current state guidelines and NGSS requirements for teaching science.

3. How can we understand the progression of the NGSS?

Because the Performance Expectations (PEs) and three dimensions (Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Cross Cutting Concepts) are so interwoven, you have to take the time and invest energy into studying the standards in a systemic way.

If you want to truly know the NGSS, you cannot study them (or create curriculum) in grade-level isolation. Make sure your primary and intermediate elementary teachers work collaboratively, as well as your intermediate elementary teachers and middle school teachers, and likewise, middle school teachers with high school teachers.

A lot of what students will be learning in science is brought down two to three grade levels. This means that your kindergartners are now going to be learning what your second and third graders used to be learning. As a result, teachers most likely will not have the full content knowledge they need to design the science curriculum and plan for instruction. And, this means that teachers from higher grade levels need to be involved in the development of the lower grade levels’ units of study—not only to determine what students will need to know and be able to do, but to literally help the lower grade level teachers develop their own science understanding. This need continues across the grade levels.

To do this level of vertical curriculum-design work, it will affect how and when teachers meet. Often times, scheduling does not allow for vertical meetings at all or only for a few hours or a day once or twice a year. A critical question school leaders should be asking is: How will we be reorganizing our teachers’ curriculum planning to allow for in-depth vertical curriculum design?

Can’t get enough? Peruse our other blogs related to K12 science curriculum and instruction.

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