Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Power of Our Shared Science Standards

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

Kentucky now shares the Next Generation Science Standards with 18 states and the District of Columbia--as shown in the EdWeek map below and discussed in today's Curriculum Matters post.

Over the last year, I've been studying those standards more closely and getting more excited with each round, because there are shifts so deep I didn't understand them on my first or second read.

For one thing, NGSS makes it almost impossible to think about content apart from skills or knowledge apart from active engagement.  That starts with life sciences call for kindergartners to be able to "use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive."  It flows all the way through to the high school engineering expectation that students will be prepared to "use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem."

Even more deeply, NGSS focuses on a short, powerful list of eight scientific practices:
  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Those practices give a clear idea of the types of hands-on work students should be doing, the ways critical thinking and active problem-solving  should become tools they can use through a lifetime, and the forms of teamwork and communication that will be embedded in the work they will do as adults. We've known for decades that we need to cultivate  deeper learning and 21st century skills: the NGSS practices look to me like a specific, muscular plan for making that happen.

And at the deepest level, NGSS calls for students to be active science users and science makers.  That's about recognizing students as current participants, rather than just preparing for future engagement.  It's about seeing them as contributing and building here and now and watching for the energy and innovation they're already able to share.

Added note: there are brand new resources teachers can use to combine NGSS standards with Literacy Design Collaborative approaches to reading, writing, and thinking. Battelle Education has developed an impressive set of new resources, complete with video of the students and teachers who designed and tested them, focused on analyzing data, designing and conducting experiments, and solving engineering problems. I was honored to get an early look at these materials, and I think they offer very important illustrations of how much more students can know and do with the right opportunities. If you give them a look, I think you'll share my excitement about NGSS and the possibilities in reach for learners here and across the country.
Check out the Battelle LDC tools and videos of students at work!

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