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How to Prepare for Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

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April 13th, 2017

As some key states are looking to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), we decided to feature a guest post to cover important changes around science education. The following post is from Dr. Melissa Backer, the NGSS Project Director at Fluence.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a major transformation for K-12 science education. NGSS was developed to focus more on Science and Engineering Practices in order to encourage authentic application of skills and knowledge. It’s shifting science education from what you know to how you use and apply what you know.

In other words, there’s not only richer and more rigorous content knowledge for students to learn, but also an emphasis on students understanding the scientific process. Essentially, it’s the integration of content and practice.

Conceptual Shifts

There are major conceptual shifts that impact the way science will be taught in the classroom. Here are some major points to note:

  1. K-12 science education should reflect the real world interconnections in science.
  2. The Next Generation Science Standards are student outcomes and are explicitly not curriculum.
  3. Science concepts build coherently across K-12.
  4. The NGSS focus on deeper understanding and application of content.
  5. Science and Engineering are integrated in science education from K-12.
  6. The NGSS are designed to prepare students for college, career and citizenship.
  7. Science standards coordinate with ELA and Math CCSS.

In general, it requires students to have contextual understanding in regards to scientific knowledge, how it’s acquired and applied, and how science is connected through a series of concepts.

Three Dimensions of Learning

The 3 dimensions of learning are a big piece of NGSS. Here’s what that looks like in a nutshell:

1. Science and Engineering Practices – The science and engineering practices are the same behaviors that scientists use to answer questions and engineers use to solve problems in the real world. NGSS uses the 8 practices that were identified by the National Research Council:

  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

2. Crosscutting Concepts – Those concepts apply across all behaviors and functions. They connect the ideas from different scientific disciplines:

  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect
  • Scale, proportion, and quantity
  • Systems and system models
  • Energy and matter
  • Structure and function
  • Stability and change

3. Disciplinary Core Ideas – They form the basis of what most educators would consider the content knowledge, also known as the scientific facts. These core ideas are grouped into four content domains: Life Science, Physical Science, Earth & Space Science, and Engineering & Technology.

By successfully creating these hands-on experiences with all three dimensions that invest students in doing science and engineering, while also using these three dimensions within a context, classrooms will be able to achieve maximum student engagement and learning outcomes.

Bundle Models (K-12)

Bundles are basically groups of standards put together to create the endpoints for units of instruction. NGSS made Bundle Models for K-12.

  • Kindergarten through Grade 5:
  • Thematic Model
  • Topics Model
  • Middle School (Grades 6-8):
  • Phenomenon Model
  • Topics Model
  • High School – 3 Course Model (Chemistry, Physics & Biology):
  • Conceptual Progressions Model
  • Domains Model

Tips for Administrators to Support NGSS Implementation

First thing is to ensure all teachers (not just science teachers) understand the connections to CCR Math and ELA. The one key shift is to prioritize the practices above content. All the practices for NGSS, CCR Math and ELA intertwine and how that can be used as an advantage to have collaborative conversation.

Professional Development needs to be thought of as NOT an event, but as a process. So teachers need to have PD that is a progression over time.

Finally, implementing NGSS provides a natural context for interdisciplinary teachers to collaborate. The reason for this is based on the integration of the integration of NGSS and CCR.

What About Partial NGSS Adoption or Non-NGSS States?

Whether or not you live in a state that’s shifting to NGSS, you can still integrate practices and philosophies that are associated with the framework that was used to develop the standards.

One of these ways is to incorporate NGSS goals through the Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting concepts. Although your state standards might be different, the way of doing science remains the same in the classroom.

An additional approach is applying the three dimensions of science teaching overtime, mostly because they still reflect good science teaching in general. This will require a major shift from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-driven classroom. The teachers need to remember as they shift to a three-dimensional teaching, it’s necessary for teachers to begin focusing on applying one or two of the dimensions, and then working towards that total integration.

For example—and you might already be doing this—if you develop a unit addressing life sciences (e.g., ecosystems and energy), students may use the Science and Engineering practice of investigating a problem while also applying “Cause and effect,” which is a crosscutting concept. That’s one way to bring this concept into your classroom instruction without necessarily having to follow the NGSS.

Lastly, it’s important to help students develop scientific literacy through the use of phenomena, thereby helping them to understand the problems in the world around them. Using that phenomena to develop scientific literacy for students is another way to bring the NGSS goals into the classroom while also following state standards.

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about the impact of NGSS, view a replay of our most recent webinar. (We have tailored the content by region: Non-California // California)

About Dr. Melissa Backer:
Dr. Melissa Backer has spent the past 5 years writing and building assessments for Fluence. Previously, Dr. Backer worked as a State Educational Data Coach, School Administrator and Teacher.


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