January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

(In)formal Partnerships: Building District Capacity for Supporting the Convergence of the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Vanessa Lujan

This is a critical and historic time for education – nationally and regionally. California districts, schools, and teachers are in the midst of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and with the recent state adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), these players find themselves at a critical juncture where they must have a clear understanding on how to connect the two initiatives and communicate this connection to their stakeholders that include district leaders, principals, teachers, students, parents, and community. With a framework for the relations and convergences CCSS to NGSS (see Stage, et al., 2013), educators and leaders have a clearer sense of these connections. One of the unique opportunities of the common standards movement is the ability for states to develop a guiding framework. At the same time, one of the unique challenges is the ability for districts to further tailor the implementation.

Many schools and districts call upon Informal Science Institutions’ (ISI) science education expertise (including professional and curriculum developers) to provide support for their educators and students. At this important time, many of these ISIs are well positioned for this role as it relates to the convergence of CCSS and NGSS as they have long histories of working with K-12 school-based science leaders and educators to provide programs and support for teachers, students, schools, and districts (CILS, 2005). In addition, many ISIs have not only taken part in the development and refinement of these standards, but have established programs and materials for students and teachers that are founded upon the very principles from which these standards documents were created.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a coordinated effort called BaySci is being led by the Lawrence Hall of Science, Exploratorium, and Inverness Research, where Informal Science Institutions, districts, schools, and teachers work to systematically enhance the quantity and quality of science teaching and learning. BaySci is aimed at improving the likelihood that every student in the greater Bay Area will encounter high quality science within a national and state context surrounding the implementation and convergence of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

BaySci is:

  • A network of 8 partner school districts committed to improving elementary science education through the development and support for a district-wide science vision, distributed leadership, strategic and sustainable plans for science, and increasing the access to high-quality science teaching and learning across school districts.
  • A network of 78 individuals or “science champions” (teachers, administrators and other educators willing to champion science in their own settings) outside of BaySci partner districts supported through professional development summer leadership academies and academic year follow-up sessions.
  • A learning community for improving the capacity of ISIs to improve the support they provide to districts, schools, teachers, and students related to the convergence of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Despite the major improvement in the national policy environment supporting high quality science and STEM teaching and learning, science education experts expect that the Next Generation Science Standards will present even more of a challenge for our financially beleaguered school systems. Teachers will need more in depth conceptual knowledge of science and science pedagogy, as well as access to the time, space, and materials required to engage learners in the practices of science and engineering, math and literacy. BaySci provides what we call a “high quality improvement infrastructure” to districts at this critical time. BaySci provides districts with professional development, planning time, technical assistance, access to expertise, and opportunity for collaboration that are otherwise unavailable.

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Syntheses of research regarding the improvement of science education in districts suggest several common features feed into a successful model:

  • Districts and schools must have instructional leadership and infrastructure (PD, quality materials and materials management, supportive policies, parent support, etc.) focused on science, and science instruction must be an obvious and explicit priority.
  • Rigorous standards are needed to guide a coherent system of curriculum, instruction, assessment, teacher preparation, and professional development. Instructional materials, other classroom experiences and field trips should provide students opportunities to learn science by engaging in the practices of science that approximate what scientists actually do.
  • Teachers need a strong knowledge base of science, science learning and science teaching to help them to apply a range of effective instructional strategies in a variety of contexts.
  • Professional development is needed to help teachers to learn science content and pedagogy, and to provide on-the-job support for implementation and reflection.
  • Student assessment and program evaluation must align to standards and materials, be an integral part of ongoing instruction, and be used iteratively to inform instructional and programmatic decisions.
  • Districts and schools must align policies to support science education. External/community resources should be strategically prioritized to achieve district science goals.

Currently, it is rare to find educational settings where even some of these features exist concurrently. With CCSS and NGSS, BaySci deliberately engineers its work to allow for the development and improvement of multiple parts of the support infrastructure throughout a school district. BaySci districts, leaders, and teachers work towards achieving the new national vision for science education, and we have found that the work of BaySci to-date has been an important source of support and improvement towards the convergence of NGSS and CCSS for participating districts and teachers.

BaySci is also grounded in the expanding body of research that confirms the important role ISIs play in building the capacity of teachers and school systems by providing professional learning experiences focused on strengthening science teaching and learning. Many districts nationwide rely on university, informal education or industry partners to provide professional development as critical leverage to help build and nurture their internal capacity for integrating science with other subjects, and for making science universally accessible, and engaging and important to learners. BaySci believes that ISIs can purposefully and systemically provide the focused expertise and leadership needed to support the work that lies ahead regarding the convergence of the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards.

For more information on BaySci or becoming involved, please contact Vanessa Lujan, Ph.D., Program Director at vlujan@berkeley.edu. You may also visit www.baysci.org for more information on our partners, program, science education-related news, and resources.

Vanessa Lujan is the Project Director at BaySci, at the Lawrence Hall of Science. You can reach her at vlujan@berkeley.edu. She was invited to contribute to CCS by CSTA member Valerie Joyner.

 

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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