The 2015 Content in Context conference features a session on untangling the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), examining the challenges, goals, and learning resource needs for the new science classroom. In this Q&A, David Beacom, Publisher and Associate Executive Director for the National Science Teachers Association, and his colleagues provide insights into the key issues facing educators concerning the NGSS.
1. The developers of the NGSS have talked about how the new standards are a huge departure from previous ones. What is the most significant change for teachers?
The standards are written as performance expectations that blend together three dimensions:
- Science and Engineering Practices
- Disciplinary Core Ideas
- Crosscutting Concepts
This three-dimensional approach to teaching and learning emphasizes working like scientists to make sense of the world rather than memorizing facts and requires that students be much more engaged in their own learning.
2. What have teachers (from NGSS adopting states) been doing to prepare to teach the new standards? How extensive are the professional development/training needs, in general? Do you find there are groups of teachers, e.g., elementary school educators, who need more help than others?
Throughout the country educators have been familiarizing themselves with A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which provides the foundation of the NGSS. As teachers begin to think about classroom implementation, most have first focused on the science and engineering practices and how best to incorporate them into their classrooms. They then think about how to create learning situations in which students are engaged in using all three dimensions to make sense of phenomena or design solutions to problems.
This approach to classroom instruction marks a significant departure from traditional instruction and from how “inquiry” is done in most classrooms these days. Therefore significant professional development across the K-12 spectrum is also required, though teachers’ needs may differ at different grade bands. Elementary school teachers, for example, may be comfortable with the idea of students working together on investigations but may feel less confident about their science content knowledge. On the other hand, high school teachers may know the science but need help shifting from a teacher-centered approach to one that is more student-centered.
3. How have the NGSS impacted the types of materials needed in the classroom? Are teachers making do with what they have, or are they looking to replace their science tools?
The old textbooks certainly are not “aligned” to the new standards, but schools and districts don’t necessarily have the financial resources to purchase new materials. Therefore, many teachers are adapting current materials, particularly if they have been using kit-based programs. Where budgets and textbook adoption cycles allow a district to investigate new textbooks, educators are wary of materials that claim to meet the standards but have only shallow connections to the NGSS.
For these reasons, work such as that being done by NSTA to produce and vet high-quality materials for teachers is crucial. In particular, 55 NSTA-trained educators from around the country are working to identify and evaluate existing resources, then offering recommendations for how to adapt them to support the type of instruction the NGSS call for. Teachers need to know where to find vetted materials from a trusted source.
4. Have you received any feedback from teachers on the materials available to them right now and what they need from publishers?
Anecdotally, teachers are frustrated by the lack of curriculum materials that truly support the NGSS.
5. How has the engineering component of the NGSS impacted the science classroom?
Traditionally, teachers of science have not taught engineering—and probably have little direct experience with it themselves. Helping teachers feel comfortable with engineering is key. Then they can work to incorporate genuine design problems into their instruction. That is, we should not have students engaged in engineering just for the sake of engaging in engineering. Solving a design problem should also require learning core ideas in physical science, life science, or Earth and space science.
6. What parts of the NGSS are the most beneficial to students?
Research tells us that three-dimensional classroom instruction is the most effective way for students to learn. What’s more, doing science is fun, taps into children’s inherent curiosity, and is likely to foster a lifelong interest in the world around them.
Learn more about the CIC and other sessions at www.contentincontext.org.