Voices for Science
I am pleased to add another harmonic voice to the CORElaborate choir—a voice that sings and speaks to teaching and learning science. I’m grateful because science provides one of the best contexts (at every grade level) for integrating reading, writing, mathematics, and evidence-based reasoning. I’m also grateful because the community of science professionals is populated with interesting people who decided their career path at a young age. When these professionals reflect on who influenced their decision to pursue science-related courses, majors, and careers, they typically tell vivid, endearing stories of their elementary and/or middle school teachers.
Most students who enter 9th grade have already made up their minds whether or not they will pursue a science-related career. We really need to provide K-5 and 6-8 science experiences that give students the opportunity to be inspired. Science-as-factual-information simply cannot do this. I could go on, citing STEM job statistics that you’ve likely seen before, but my real focus today is to celebrate that the Next Generation Science Standards describe a vision of science that is authentic, engaging, challenging, and deeply integrated with Common Core ELA & Mathematics.
That’s right! The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are actually helpful. The main assumption here is that we actually want to reduce the tradition of science-as-vocabulary-and-facts-to-remember. Instead, we wish to have students regularly doing and learning science using the same “practices” and “reasoning” that actual scientists and engineers use.
The NGSS describe a number of “key shifts” that make them different than what most states had before. Appendix A of the NGSS describes six shifts, but I’d like to focus on the first of these shifts to help make the case that NGSS is truly helpful:
Shift #1: from Isolation to Integration
The Next Generation Science Standards are “integrated” in several ways, each of which contributes to representing the true richness of science. The primary layer of integration is with the 3 dimensions of every performance expectation, describing an integrated student action of practices, content, and crosscutting concepts.
“The practices describe behaviors that scientists engage in as they investigate and build models and theories about the natural world and the key set of engineering practices that engineers use as they design and build models and systems.”
“Crosscutting concepts have application across all domains of science. As such, they are a way of linking the different domains of science.”
“Disciplinary ideas are grouped in four domains: the physical sciences; the life sciences; the earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology and applications of science.”
Another layer of integration is in the equal status of science with engineering. Still another layer is how every NGSS performance expectation cross-references the strongly relevant standards in CCSS-Literacy and CCSS-Mathematics.
So, how is all of this integration helpful? (1) Doing science for NGSS means richer, more authentic, and more active learning that uses the same practices that real scientists and engineers use. It’s helpful when science is meaningful and interesting to students.
(2) Doing science means using evidence to productively engage in argumentation and explanation. Argumentation (claims, evidence, reasoning, and rebuttal) is central to science, yes, but it is also central to CCSS-M (e.g. Math Practice #3, “Make valid arguments and critique the reasoning of others”) and CCSS-ELA (e.g. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.1: “Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.”). It is helpful that science provides an authentic, engaging context for furthering the aims of ELA and Mathematics.
(3) Doing science means including engineering (solving human problems). We’ve witnessed in classrooms that engineering consistently taps students’ (and teachers’) creativity, engages students who often find school irrelevant, but it also demands that they use evidence to refine their engineering designs. It is helpful when science can engage reluctant learners.
See Hallie Mills’ CORElaborate post, “Shaking it Up with NGSS and CCSS.”
Transition to NGSS
If you’re living in Washington State, you’re fortunate that our state science leaders are following the national multi-year recommendations for transitioning to NGSS. All school district transition plans that I’ve seen are using the same logic:
- First and foremost, learn. We have no business making major curriculum changes until we have thoroughly studied and understand the unique, 3-dimensional nature of NGSS. Start with the Science & Engineering Practices, especially #6 (Constructing Explanations & Designing Solutions), and #7 (Engaging in Argument from Evidence). Later, study a few closely-related Performance Expectations that are in your wheelhouse–similar to what your students are already doing…What are the 3-dimensions of these Performance Expectations (which Science & Engineering Practices, which Crosscutting Concepts, and which Disciplinary Core Ideas)?
- Secondly, try small things and talk to colleagues to gain experiential knowledge, especially where your curriculum seems to already be “3-dimensional.” This will help you to internalize how the 3 dimensions work together. See if you can do this so that the Science & Engineering Practices and the Crosscutting Concepts are explicit to you and the students.
- DO NOT try to design a full suite of lessons and units to cover all the NGSS in your grade level or course! This is the work of publishers and school districts…and it will be a few more years before we have many high-quality materials to choose from.
Resources for Getting Started
I’m listing only a few introductory NGSS resources for now—some are big, others small. Stay tuned to this CORElaborate blog for more from the Science section of the choir each month. What’s been helpful where you work to help folks get started with NGSS? Please chime in with a comment, especially to share a noteworthy NGSS resource or activity.
- NGSS app – Fast access to performance expectations, appendices, and CCSS integrations.
- NGSS 101 – An introduction to NGSS (e.g. What are they? Where did they come from? What’s the timeline?)
- NGSS@NSTA hub – A portal to standards and professional learning resources (articles, webinars, curriculum planning tools).
- Those Darn Squirrels: Teaching Design with a Picture Book – A K-5 teacher guide for using this children’s picture book to teach students about the engineering process.