July 2015 – Vol. 27 No. 11


Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

NGSS: Replacing “Have To” with “Get To”

by Anna Van Dordrecht

The following article was originally posted on March 6, 2015 by the Sonoma County Office of Education in their Exploring NGSS blog. It is republished here with permission from the author.

Now that we’re solidly into March, it’s a good time to take stock of New Year’s resolutions. The hype of January has long since worn off, so any resolutions that are still being kept are clearly important and have a much higher chance of succeeding than they did on January 2.

My resolution this year was—and still is—to examine how often I say “I have to” and, when possible, replace that statement with “I get to.” Although this may sound simple, I admit that I’ve failed on a number of occasions. I’ve been surprised at how hard it’s been to remember and amazed at what a big difference it makes in my outlook when I do.


The impetus for this resolution lies in an interaction with my students. It was a busy morning and I was very hungry, so at break I dashed to the refrigerator and grabbed a yogurt. I didn’t have time to open it until class began and to my great dismay I saw that it had frozen. I complained loudly, “Oh no! My yogurt froze. I hate when that happens.”

One of the students helpfully piped in, “Ms. Van, that’s a first-world problem.” Although not the comfort I was looking for in the moment, this was very true. For the most part, I am very privileged to have the option of yogurt or some other snack at any time I’d like it. After this encounter, I started thinking about other areas where I have a skewed perception of the demands and “trials” placed on me. Thus was born my resolution.

Since my resolution began in the classroom, much of what I’ve focused on has been work-related. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a year of new adventures for me: working at SCOE and also teaching an AP course for the first time. It’s sometimes tempting to complain that I have to rush between two new, demanding jobs. However, what is far more true is that I have the honor of working with two amazing sets of colleagues and the opportunity to develop a micro and macro view of the changes in science education and what they mean.

When I end a week and don’t have any lessons planned for the next one, my first impulse is to grumble that I have to spend weekend time learning AP content and planning learning experiences for the students. But I can equally say that I get to learn new things, then spend time with incredible students who find biology fascinating.


I wonder what would happen if we all tried replacing just a fraction of our education-based “have to” statements with “get to.” With CCSS already in play and the Next Generation Science Standards poised for implementation, there are a lot of things that feel like “have to” in science education.

We have to redesign lessons, units and, in some cases, entire curriculums. We have to make decisions about the sequence and structure of courses. We have to change some of our instruction and interactions with students. We have to break students in to new ways of learning science that they won’t all appreciate at first.

There are certainly needs and questions that we can’t wipe away with optimism and enthusiasm. Legitimately, there needs to be time structured into our day so that we can think about and make changes to curriculum and instruction. Tough decisions will need to be made. Students will struggle some with the transition, and we’ll need to develop strategies to help them.

We can’t change these realities and they need to be discussed. But the lens through which we approach this change can be altered. As science educators at this particular junction, we actuallyget to do quite a bit. We get to be creative in planning and instruction—and inspire the same creativity in students. We get the chance to engage in dialogue around decisions and truly consider what’s best for our students. We get to invite students to think in a different way, knowing that we are helping them develop skills they will take with them into the world. We get to inspire students about the STEM field at a time when it’s growing and there’s a lot of promise for employment and advancement.

I’ve already confessed that I don’t always remember my resolution. When I do, sometimes I don’t believe my own word choice. In addition, there’s no way around the fact that some things truly are a “have to” instead of a “get to.” At this time of year, when quarters and trimesters are ending and we’re all staring report cards in the face, you probably have no trouble agreeing! But even with all of this, a simple word choice has still made a difference. I am reminded more often that I’m extraordinarily lucky in my career. A change of wording also gives me hope even when the road ahead seems hard.


Perhaps the most compelling reason for me to continue pursuing my resolution is that it has the potential to impact others. “I get to” is contagious. It has inspired me to be more creative and enthusiastic, which in turn inspires colleagues and students. I encourage you to try it for one week—find one aspect of your job as an educator and replace “have to” with “get to.” If nothing else, you’ll try it, and then you’ll get to move on. But the odds are good that it will impact you and others. My hope is that it might also make the shift to Next Generation Science Standards more of a “get to” aspect of your work as a 21st century science educator.

 Anna Van Dordrecht is a Teacher-on-Loan for Science with the Sonoma County Office of Education, a science teacher at Maria Carrillo High School, and a member of CSTA.