March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Now Is the Time to Be Heard!

Posted: Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

by Pete A’Hearn

We are about to begin the period for public review of the Next Generation Science Standards (release is anticipated on or around March 30). The process is guided by documents by the National Research Council. Twenty-six states including California have signed on to be part of the development of the standards and to adopt them when complete.  The new standards will represent a big change in how science is taught in California, so teachers should be  following the development closely and giving the feedback that comes with their experience. But few classroom teachers have time to digest and respond to the large amount of material that makes up the science standards. The purpose of this blog is to break it down into chunks and send it out a little at a time.  I will start with the conceptual framework and then move on to the standards when they are available. I will be making comparisons to the current California standards, but science teachers from other states are encouraged to participate. The framework can be downloaded as a PDF from the National Academies Press website at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13165.

The Big Picture- Three Dimensions

The Next Gen Framework’s most striking feature is also its overall vision of three equal aspects to science education. Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas are the three dimensions. The Next Gen logo reflects this trinity of ideas.

Here they are:

1. Scientific and Engineering Practices

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)

2. Developing and using models

3. Planning and carrying out investigations

4. Analyzing and interpreting data

5. Using mathematics and computational thinking

6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing

solutions (for engineering)

7. Engaging in argument from evidence

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

2. Crosscutting Concepts

1.      Patterns

2.      Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation

3.      Scale, proportion, and quantity

4.      Systems and system models

5.      Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation

6.      Structure and function

7.      Stability and change

3. Disciplinary Core Ideas

Physical Sciences

PS 1: Matter and its interactions

PS 2: Motion and stability: Forces and interactions

PS 3: Energy

PS 4: Waves and their applications in technologies for information transfer

Life Sciences

LS 1: From molecules to organisms: Structures and processes

LS 2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics

LS 3: Heredity: Inheritance and variation of traits

LS 4: Biological evolution: Unity and diversity

Earth and Space Sciences

ESS 1: Earths place in the universe

ESS 2: Earth’s systems

ESS 3: Earth and human activity

Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Science

ETS 1: Engineering design

ETS 2: Links among engineering, technology, science, and society

These differ from the current CA standards in many significant ways. The biggest is the existence of Crosscutting Concepts, there is simply no analogue in the current standards. The concepts are necessarily there since they are fundamental ideas of science, but they are never explicitly mentioned or referenced. Another big change is the inclusion of engineering as one of the core disciplines in addition to life, physical, and earth sciences. There are from two to four core ideas identified in each discipline. This is intentional:

“The committee made this choice in order to avoid shallow coverage of a large number of topics and to allow more time for teachers and students to explore each idea in greater depth. Reduction of the sheer sum of details to be mastered is intended to give time for students to engage in scientific investigations and argumentation and to achieve depth of understanding of the core ideas presented.”

Scientific and Engineering Practices are similar to what are now called Investigation and Experimentation standards in California, but include some that go beyond what the CA standards now ask students to do. In the new framework, students are expected to develop and evaluate scientific models, construct explanations, and engage in arguments from evidence.  The idea that these practices are co-equal with the disciplinary core ideas also represents a big change.  Currently in California the Investigation and Experimentation standards count for only 10 % of CST tests and are found at the back of the standards. The authors of the new framework seek a stronger link between the two aspects of science , “… the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 science education.”

Chapter 9 of the framework provides some tables to show how these three dimensions can be integrated. It gives examples at different grade levels of a core idea, a crosscutting concept that links strongly to that core idea, the scientific and engineering practices that students will use to access and process that core idea, and examples of what students will produce to demonstrate their learning.

So what do you think so far? Some questions to consider:

What are the biggest challenges of implementing this framework for teachers? Students? Schools and districts? Families and communities?

Does this vision help support the kind of learning that our students need for the future? Is this the science framework that you would want your own children to have? (I have two young children- this will be their framework).

Does the inclusion of scientific application (engineering) strengthen or weaken student’s learning of science?

Pete A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is region 4 director for CSTA.

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

9 Responses

  1. Nicely done Pete.

  2. eagerly anticipating learning more

  3. Congratulations on this great work that you have done. It is surely high time we changed the way science is taught.

    However, I have an observation and comment about the framework which is:

    I do not quite understand why this framework is separating science from engineering. Engineering is an application of science so it should be subsumed within sciences and not seen as separate entities. For example, Asking questions and Defining problems are things that scientists do generally. So are constructing explanations and designing
    solutions. There is absolutely no need to separate these science inquiry process into science and engineering pursuits. Doing this is bound to confuse teachers.

    Irene Osisioma
    CSUDH

  4. I just heard a heated argument by an engineer at the Suborbital Research Conference this week to the effect that engineering and science are NOT the same. So I’m passing that on.

    The framework looks great. But the Devil in in the Details when it comes to implementation. Since I began teaching K-8 in 1971, California has regularly inflicted my colleagues and me with mandates to teach subject about which we know zilch. For me, it included music, statistics, and chemistry. For many teachers, it means science.

    For some reason, California seems to think that if you mandate it, everyone can teach it — no need to check teachers’ content knowledge — despite the fact that elementary credential holders are ELD and math specialists.

    Since I now do teacher training in space sciences, I’ve checked for content knowledge and can assure you that many fifth grade teachers don’t know what an astronomical unit is or how to distinguish between a solar system and a galaxy — even though these items are on California’s 8th grade standards, and these teachers potentially could find themselves in a self-contained 8th grade classroom some day.

    When I warn these teachers that they soon will be expected to teach engineering, too, they react with shock and disbelief.

    If you want a successful implementation, you need to do two things:

    1. Get rid of textbooks. They would be used by teachers as crutches to mask their ignorance.They also successfully kill interest in science by the end of high school.

    2. Make sure that extensive in-service training in content and inquiry methodologies is implemented the year BEFORE the standards are rolled out. If there’s no money for this training, then delay the standards implementation until money becomes available. Or, how about this? Use that textbook money to buy the very best teacher training there is.

  5. On behalf of CSTA, I have attended several meetings about the Conceptual Framework and the NGSS, both in California and with science implementors from 41 other states. From those meetings, several things that you mention are crystal clear. First, the addition of Engineering in the NGSS is a significant change. The authors of the Conceptual Framework acknowledge this and the need for professional development to enable a successful implementation. Yes, many of the things that engineers do are similar to what scientists do. The important thing is that the NGSS call for us to actually do some of those things with our students. The second thing is that the preparation of new teachers will have to change as well. If you consider that the existing Standards have been in place for at least the last 10 years, it will be important to start preparing teachers now to implement the NGSS when finally adopted, be it 2013 or later. Finally, many teachers will feel challenged by the NGSS, but that is no reason to accept the status quo. Just as any new endeavor requires buy in, training, and collaboration, so will the implementation of any new standards. These can be potentially exciting times if we realize that the NGSS describe the kind of science teaching that we have argued is missing in the current Standards. It will not necessarily be easy but nothing of real value ever is.

    One thing to keep in mind is that SB 300, the legislation authorizing new standards for California says that the Superintendent of Public Instruction must propose, by March 30, 2013, new science standards based on the NGSS, for California. The standards proposed may not be exactly like the NGSS but at least they are to be based on the same ideas and foundational concepts. The State Board of Education has until July 30, 2013 to adopt, reject, or adopt with modifications new standards for California. For this reason, it is eminently important that as many people participate in the public reviews of the NGSS when they are released on March 30, 2012. The more people participate in the review the more that the NGSS will be what California stakeholders want in new standards.

  6. Thanks to all for this conversation. I truly hope – ask – that it will be replicated in every hallway at every school in CA. Please keep spreading the word so the public comment can be effective in guiding policy in CA.

    Having followed this work for more than a year now via the website, webinars, etc. I can confirm what Rick addresses – the idea here is not to just deliver content, but to DO the science by applying process skills, engineering and cross-cutting concepts. This quote featured above by Pete is really important – for us and students.

    “The committee made this choice in order to avoid shallow coverage of a large number of topics and to allow more time for teachers and students to explore each idea in greater depth. Reduction of the sheer sum of details to be mastered is intended to give time for students to engage in scientific investigations and argumentation and to achieve depth of understanding of the core ideas presented.”

    We often express frustration at our curriculum being a mile wide and inch deep – here is our chance to address that and make a change.

    Many thanks Pete!

    Marian
    Siskiyou COE
    Region 2 Science Lead
    CSTA Secretary

  7. I’m excited about the new three-dimensional “Big Picture”. I’d like to begin implementing it right now! I think it fits the way I want to teach and manage my classroom instruction, and I think it would make science more “real” for the students, rather than ramming a bunch of facts “into their brains” for purposes of scoring well on a test. The details, of course, remain to be seen, but this seems like a positive step in the right direction.

  8. The pendulum swings back and forth between detail and process. For now it would seem the pendulum is moving toward process.

    I am excited by the possibilities before us and the way we teach. I just hope that teachers start conversations now and start development now that will lead to a whole new way to teach our students. Many of the educational models we still use today have been in place for decades. With the current pace of technology, now is the time for us to look at new ways to learn and teach.

  9. I appreciate Susan Morrison’s concerns about implementation and what we are asking teachers to be prepared for. I agree that strong professional development will be needed. I disagree in that I think most teachers will need strong curriculum to guide them in implementation. Creating units that strongly connect scientific practices, core concepts, and crosscutting concepts will be daunting for most teachers. There are some very knowledgeable and creative teachers who are chomping at the bit to do this, but most teachers, especially those teaching science without a strong science background will need to have well designed materials to achieve the vision of the NGSS.

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