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Preparing for the Next Generation Science Standards

Administrators need to be ready for the increased rigor of the NGSS

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were finalized in April 2013 after a lengthy research and development process by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Achieve and a group of 26 states. Not a set of curricula, the NGSS serves to provide teachers with guidelines for teaching practical, more in-depth science. This web seminar, originally broadcast on December 12, 2013, addressed how the standards were written, how performance expectations were formulated, and necessary changes in science pedagogy and teaching.

Carol Baker
Science and Music Curriculum Director
Community High School District 218
(Orland Park, Ill.)
Member, NGSS Writing Team

Around the country, most states had science standards that were created in the mid-1990s. One problem with that was many states used research from the 1980s or early 1990s in creating those standards. As you know, the world of science has changed a lot since the 1980s! We now live in a society where up-to-date information is at our fingertips. Many states were using science standards that were fact- and knowledge-based. It is time to create a set of standards that takes the emphasis away from the content of science in favor of an emphasis on having students “do” science.
There are several conceptual shifts that directed our change in the way we think about teaching science. The first was making sure we are helping students connect science to what is going on in their everyday lives. Traditional science education centers around science that is old and can be difficult for students to connect to their lives.
It is important to understand that the NGSS are written as student performance expectations, not a set of curricula. The development of curriculum is still essential for teachers and administrators.
An important idea in the NGSS is that science conceptually should build from kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond. Brain research was used in the creation of the standards, which informed the writers what concepts and ideas students are able to master at a given age or grade level. There are standards for each grade year, and each standard builds upon previously mastered information.
Engineering concepts are integrated throughout the NGSS. They are integrated in a natural way, in which we encourage science teachers to take class projects one or two steps further. Students should analyze the success of a particular project, device or idea. Students should formulate additional solutions and complete a diagram to explain what they have done. In a very natural way, we have extended science concepts into engineering ideas, so that students understand that engineers use science concepts to solve problems. We want students to know we are all engineers, because we are constantly solving problems as they arrive.
It is important to know that we were proud to tie NGSS explicitly to the Common Core State Standards. Every NGSS standard is correlated to a specific CCSS standard. It was our desire that many schools will be able to use these links to help teachers create lessons and activities that meet both NGSS and CCSS at the same time.

Emily Miller 
ESL and Bilingual Resource Teacher
Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan School District
Member, NGSS Writing Team

This more rigorous view of science requires teachers to shift the way they teach. Many teachers are taking small pieces of the new standards and introducing them into their classroom a few at a time to make the transition easier.
Instead of starting with scientific ideas, teachers will now have to start with phenomena. The focus is now on using these scientific practices to explain phenomena. Teachers will have to start incorporating teaching that is focused on developing scientific practices. The performance expectations include measuring the students’ mastery of the scientific practices. Teachers need to be focused on the teaching cues that indicate students are ready to move from one of the progressions of the practices to the next.
These practices will shift the science classroom from a place where students simply learn about science ideas to a place where students explore, examine and use science ideas to explain how and why phenomena occur. The cross-cutting concepts offer a framework for teachers to develop all of the scientific disciplines. For example, we found that scientists and engineers approach phenomena a different way than a student or non-scientist may. Scientists will use a cross-cutting concept, such as cause-and-effect, patterns or energy and matter to make sense of a phenomenon. The NGSS dictate using cross-cutting concepts as lenses to help students make sense of an idea, like scientists. Teachers will need to introduce this way of thinking into the classroom.
Research around science has shown that students can start accessing and expressing scientific ideas at a much younger age than previously thought. Many ideas that students were expected to learn in high school with previous standards have been moved to middle school in the NGSS. This gives students the opportunity to be more ready for STEM in college or as a career.

Baker: One big change that teachers will see is that we are moving away from standards that are “a mile wide and an inch deep.” What NGSS asks teachers to do is to cover significantly less content than with prior standards, but go much deeper by using these performance expectations.
We hope that teachers understand the shift is moving from a classroom that is teacher-centered to one that is student-centered, where students are doing the action. Students are “doing” science using science and engineering practices. Each standard begins with a science and engineering practice. Immediately following the performance expectation, there is a clarification statement, which gives additional information about what the writers intend the students and teachers should be doing in the classroom. There is also an assessment boundary, which is meant to be a guideline for teachers, so they understand how deeply they need to go into a particular topic. It is not meant to limit a teacher’s instruction. The disciplinary core ideas and the CCSS that are explicitly related to the standard are also listed. 
A performance expectation is not a lesson that can be done in a single class period. It is meant to be an end point or goal for instruction. A teacher will need several days to accomplish a single performance expectation. Whenever possible, as teachers work through lessons leading up to a particular performance expectation, teachers will be using other science and engineering practices. It is important for teachers to keep in mind that they need to create clear objectives when they are creating lessons and activities. Objectives will help teachers and students stay focused on the end goal or performance expectation.

Miller: When writing the NGSS, we focused on creating standards that would better mirror what we know about the new research regarding how well students can learn science. Our cross-cutting ideas make explicit that some students come to school knowing and understanding, and some students need to be explicitly taught about concepts like energy and matter. This makes science more accessible to more students. Students who use science and engineering practices in sensemaking will end up with a stronger understanding of a core idea.
The diversity and equity team worked to make NGSS accessible to students of all backgrounds, even though the rigor is greater. Value was placed on the experiences students bring to the classroom, as well as creating meaningful context around science.​

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: