March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

NGSS, Classroom Educators, and Informal Education Centers: A Mother’s Point of View

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Christie Sweeney

As a curriculum developer for an informal science institution, I have closely followed the development of Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards. It is essential that we continue to provide teachers with programs that align with their goals for their classrooms. However, I also have another, more personal reason for my interest in the latest educational reforms: I am the parent of children who will experience these shifts in the middle of their formative education.

As an informal educator, I cheer the reforms. The focus on understanding and application as opposed to the memorization of facts is what our informal education programs do best. At the Ocean Institute, Experience is the Teacher is our trademark. Students engage daily in scientific practices that stimulate curiosity and foster problem solving skills, while increasing overall knowledge. From the smiles on their faces as they discover answers to complete their tasks to their exclamations of, “This was the best field trip ever!” I know that hands-on investigations open new worlds to these young scholars. A deeper appreciation for science is sparked and potential future scientists just may be inspired.

As a parent, I am wary of education reform. I wonder, “Will the teachers be given the resources necessary to implement these programs? Will they be provided with any necessary training, time and equipment to achieve the goals of NGSS? Isn’t the trend of increasing class sizes and overcrowded classrooms on a collision course with the requirements of small group collaborative hands on activities that would be NGSS aligned?” I also worry, “Will my kids be at a disadvantage as the new standards are implemented midstream in their education process?”

In regards to NGSS, I believe the benefits my kids will receive far outweigh the potential difficulties faced during the challenges of transition. In the schools my boys attend, I am grateful to see that their teachers have already started to meet that challenge. Old workbooks are being replaced by activities teachers have developed collaboratively, often using resources found on the Internet. In this quest to create curriculum that develops critical thinking and communication skills, using scientific practices while exploring cross cutting concepts, informal education institutions can be a formal classroom teacher’s greatest ally. In addition to fieldtrips, workshops, student internships and assemblies, informal education centers often provide educators with ideas or activities they can use in their classroom. These projects can range from simple to elaborate, but many activities are designed to be easy to set up, require a few, low cost materials and include access to extensive background information.

Over the years, the Ocean Institute has developed many pre- and post-trip activities for the teachers who have attended our programs. Our classroom activities for teachers may be found on our website under program listings as separate links or may be included in our Prep Packs. While we are currently evaluating our curriculum to ensure that it reflects the vision and achieves the goals of NGSS, the basic building blocks are solidly in place. Revisions will be necessary, however, often that revision will largely consist of a new roadmap.

Our Sea Floor Explorer Lab and Cruise programs designed for middle school students have Pre Trip Activities that explore liquefaction and the spreading of the sea floor. In the first activity, students use scientific practices to create experiments that explore the relationship between viscosity and stress. They are asked to make connections based on the evidence found while evaluating the data from their experiments. In the second activity, students create graphs based on real world data, analyze samples and make predictions based on their findings. In the past we would have categorized these as Earth Science activities. However, upon further evaluation, the activities also touch upon or set the stage for all four of the Physical Science Disciplinary Core Ideas. In addition, the activities explore five of the seven cross cutting concepts (cause and effect, Scale, proportion, and quantity, energy and matter, structure and function, stability and change). Should the teacher choose, the cross cutting concept of systems and system models could be explored while introducing the activities.

In addition to classroom activities, look to your local informal education centers for NGSS seminars, symposiums, conferences and other training and networking activities.   As we develop programs in informal settings that aid teachers as they work to achieve the goals of Common Core and NGSS, we can foster critical thinking and problem solving in the context of authentic learning experiences. Through this period of transition, together as formal and informal educators, we can cultivate young minds to be productive and successful members of society armed with working knowledge and practical skills. As an informal educator, as a parent, and as a citizen of our society, those are worthy goals for all of our children.

Christie Sweeney is Program Development Specialist at the Ocean Institute, Dana Point. She was invited to write 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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Written by Guest Contributor

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