May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Scientific and Engineering Practices Replace Investigation and Experimentation

Posted: Sunday, April 1st, 2012

by Peter A’Hearn

At last weekend’s CUE conference, I spoke to many publisher reps. I asked if their companies were starting to look at the NGSS and how they were approaching it. The most common response I got was, “We’ll just change the standards correlations on what we’ve already got.”

So, no big deal, there’s nothing new under the sun. My reading of the NGSS, however, suggests that there should be some big changes required in the way curriculum is designed and delivered to meet the vision of the NGSS framework. One of the best examples is to look at how different the “how we do science” part of the framework is from the one we currently use in California.


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


These standards have a view of science, and what science does, that is much more broad than just setting up investigations using the “scientific method.” As the framework authors state,

Our view is that this perspective is an improvement over previous approaches in several ways. First, it minimizes the tendency to reduce scientific practice to a single set of procedures, such as identifying and controlling variables, classifying entities, and identifying sources of error. This tendency overemphasizes experimental investigation at the expense of other practices, such as modeling, critique, and communication.

The emphasis on practices like modeling, arguing from evidence, and constructing explanations go far beyond what the current California standards ask students to do. These practices have striking connections with the Common Core Standards’ emphasis on applying math and language arts skills in science.

Another big shift is the idea that these practices are to be integrated into every unit along with the content core ideas. For example, in a unit on geologic time, the practice of constructing explanations would be emphasized. This is very different from the way many science classes are now constructed with a unit at the beginning where the scientific method is taught and then it is put away for the rest of the year while content is taught. The addition of engineering practices is another big change that these practices will involve.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What do you think?


Some questions to consider:

Are there any practices listed that you feel are less important than others? Are there any central practices that you feel the committee left out?

Are teachers, students, and families prepared to shift their thinking about what science is? The idea that there is a single central “scientific method” is a strong one.

How will these practices be tested? How will teachers and students be held accountable? Will teachers and schools that struggle be punished?

These standards are intended for all students and some of these practices by the high school level ask students to engage in abstract thinking. Is it realistic to expect all students to reach the high bar set by these standards?


The purpose of this blog: We are about to begin the period for public review of the Next Generation Science Standards. The process is being guided by the Achieve. 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 closely following the development and giving the feedback that comes with their experience. But few classroom teachers have the time to digest and respond to the 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 for teachers to respond. I will start with the 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.

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

3 Responses

  1. Good to see the break-away from “THE Scientific Method,” finally! I also like the mandate to carry the processes of science throughout each course. In addition, I would encourage the inclusion of the Nature of Science (NOS), experiencing the realm, limits and assumptions of science, as well as why science is such an effective tool for understanding natural phenomena.

    While including variations on the processes of science, be sure to include how the historical sciences are generally done : the search for understanding events and phenomena of the past, unobserved or unrecorded by people and largely unrepeatable (e.g., forensics, geology, paleontology, astronomy, evolution science, etc.). Generally, this involves the search for clues, the forming of hypotheses based on those clues, and the testing of those hypotheses by searching for additional evidence (clues) suggested by those hypotheses.

    Also, hopefully careful attention will be placed on how hypothesis is defined and used. All too often it’s presented as a mere prediction of experimental results, or simply as an “educated guess” completely missing its role as a tentative, testable explanation about a natural phenomenon. Furthermore, it needs to be made clear that such explanations cannot include supernatural causes (simply because they cannot be definitively tested (any outcome is possible, so it can’t be potentially disproved). Students need to learn this. Finally, testing should be approached as a challenge to a hypothesis – an attempt to disprove it, and to show that results of the test could go either way – could clearly support the hypothesis, OR show that it doesn’t work, and therefore is rejected.

    These things should certainly become prominent in high school science, but the groundwork laid in elementary and middle school should be careful not to create misconceptions that would get in the way of these concepts at the high school level (e.g., a hypothesis being taught as just an “educated guess).

  2. The practices are well explained, but fall a little short on the emphasis of Inquiry instruction as well as the Nature of Science. Both of these were very explicit in the NSES and are now embedded within the Practices of science and engineering. I hope that teachers, curriculum designers, etc. do not feel that these items are any less important now that they are embedded and not as explicit.

  3. […] I’d like to put forward some thoughts on one strand of the new standards, the “Practices.” Last month in this venue, Peter A’Hearn explained how the new focus on practices is different from the current California […]

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

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.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.