Next Generation Science Standards: Exploring 10 Years of Progress

Next Generation Science Standards: Exploring Ten Years of Progress in Science Education edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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Approximately one decade ago, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were published, providing a new, hands-on way of teaching K-12 science. In the edLeader Panel “Next Generation Science Standards: Exploring Ten Years of Progress in Science Education,” four specialists in the field of science education took us through the history and impact of the NGSS, how assessments and educational practices have changed to work with them, and the challenges they pose.

The main focus of the NGSS is a form of three-dimensional thinking, which required a change in the ways science was being taught. Christopher Lazzaro, Ph.D., the Director of Science at New Meridian, stated that the purpose of the NGSS was to take the focus of education off memorizing facts and terminology, which had historically dominated science education, and instead, shift the focus to experiencing and understanding phenomena and the world.

This has also meant that the role of teachers has changed. Teachers have had to become more hands-on with science and their students in order to get the students engaged in the materials.

The NGSS was developed when states wanted to work together more and update their standards, some of which were over 20 years old and could be very different from state to state. Scientists, state officials, and teachers worked together to develop a consistent set of standards. The NGSS was created to be a consistent model that states could adopt or adapt, resulting in a higher focus in the classroom on critical thinking and finding solutions to problems.

Tricia Shelton, the Chief Learning Officer of the National Science Teaching Association, talked about how the biggest successes with the writing of these standards came about when teachers were given a significant voice in the development and implementation of them.

She was an early adaptor of the NGSS standards, focusing more on knowledge and the use of that knowledge instead of teaching to a test, which had the effect of making students feel excited and invested in the material. “Students feel that they’re making an impact on the current world and the future world,” she said, “because they really are.”

In addition, Carrie Brown, a middle school science teacher for the past 20 years, said, “The standards make students have to use concepts and science skills and overarching ideas to sense make.” Having to do this larger, three-dimensional thinking was a huge shift away from how science had previously been taught in the classroom.

Stephen Pruitt, Ph.D., President of the Southern Regional Education Board, stated that from the beginning, it was important that the NGSS have teachers at the table. He and others involved in developing the standards urged states to take their time adopting them and work with teachers to understand and implement them. States that listened and communicated clearly with teachers and administrators had much greater success than those that didn’t.

Brown also emphasized the need for communication during the implementation of the standards. “When we first adopted the NGSS in Michigan, that was when we were rolling out Common Core as well, and there was a lot of confusion with districts and teachers because there are Common Core science standards as well.” This caused some initial confusion regarding which standards to follow and showed the importance of clear communication.

There have been some frustrations with the NGSS. It takes a lot more reading and work, which can be intimidating for students for whom those are not strengths. Teachers must also work to make sure that the information and lessons are accessible.

Furthermore, teachers aren’t allowed to see the tests for the NGSS outside of practice tests. In addition, the NGSS is expensive. However, assessments were made with feedback from teachers and students, and Pruitt stated that there are ways for schools to focus money in order to invest in these standards.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, Next Generation Science Standards: Exploring Ten Years of Progress in Science Education, sponsored by New Meridian.

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Teaching Next Generation Scientists is a free professional learning community that provides educators and curriculum leaders with a place to collaborate on improving classroom practices for teaching PreK-12 science.

New MeridianNew Meridian is an assessment design and development company committed to advancing equity in education by developing assessments that focus on the skills that matter: critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication. Data from our assessments enable educators to be more responsive to students’ learning needs to ensure all students have the opportunity to master critical grade-level learning standards and graduate prepared for future success.

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Article by Jon Scanlon, based on this edLeader Panel.

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