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.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…