Where’s the Nature of Science in the NGSS?
Posted: Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014
by Larry Flammer
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013) looks like the best thing that could happen to science education in this country. As long as teachers can be effectively prepared, and students are properly phased in (starting with elementary levels, then into middle schools and high schools), students should be far better prepared for high school and college level work.
However, when you carefully study the NGSS (2013), you will find that one critical topic in science is rarely seen there. Even the Framework (2012) devotes only two pages (78-9) to this topic. And that was because “Many of those who provided comments in an early draft thought that the ‘nature of science’ (NOS) needed to be made an explicit topic or idea. They noted that it would not emerge simply through engaging with practices.” (Framework 2012, p.334). By the way, those two pages in the Framework (2012, pp. 78-79) are rich with specific examples of the NOS. Every teacher should read them carefully.
We all recognize that students (and the general public) hold many misconceptions about the nature of science (NOS): its realm, its limits, how it really does what it does, and why it’s so successful in doing what it does. Those misconceptions color public (and student) understanding of many scientific concepts, not to mention public attitudes about politically sensitive issues that involve science, like climate change and evolution. In addition, “science” is widely misused in our society, leading to many pseudosciences that frequently mislead people. For our future society to function better than it currently does, students should be learning all of those elements of NOS, and recognizing all of those current misconceptions for what they are. They should also be learning the critical and skeptical thinking skills that scientists effectively use.
Current research clearly shows that those important NOS concepts are not learned very well unless they are taught explicitly. Assuming they will be absorbed automatically by doing inquiries and experiments has been shown not to work well. The Nature of Science must be taught as an important content topic in science (if not the most important topic). And it must be reinforced throughout every science course as it applies to the many other content topics being taught.
But the NGSS, perhaps reflecting its afterthought treatment in the Framework, relegates NOS to one of the several appendices (Appendix H). It says there that NOS elements have been added at the ends of selected Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts Foundation Boxes. But when they’re isolated in those places, it’s unlikely that most teachers will even see them, much less teach them explicitly! Most of their focus is going to be on the “Performance Expectations” (in the “Assessable Components” white box atop each Core-Idea page).
The NGSS Appendix H says, “… students should develop an understanding of the enterprise of science as a whole—the wondering, investigating, questioning, data collecting and analyzing.” Included in this appendix is a 2-page matrix in which specific Learning Outcomes are listed in each of 8 Categories for each of 4 Grade Bands. For middle school, there is a total of 26 NOS Learning Outcomes (LOs). For high school, there are 32 LOs listed.
However, for the four middle school life science Core Idea pages, only 5 of those 26 LOs were posted. And for the four high school life science Core Ideas, only 7 of those 32 LOs were given. Again, these were placed at the bottoms of the Foundation Boxes, near the bottom of each Core Idea page. NOS is not likely to be seen as being very important.
The Framework (2012) did acknowledge the importance of the nature of science, saying, “… there is a strong consensus about characteristics of the scientific enterprise that should be understood by an educated citizen” (NGSS Appendix H, page 1). It also says (page 2) “… learning about the nature of science requires more than engaging in activities and conducting investigations.” A number of studies have shown that NOS must be explicitly taught and frequently reinforced.
So, how can we do that? Have you been to any PD workshops where NOS strategies were emphasized (if discussed at all)? Not likely. Therefore, I offer two suggestions:
#1: Get the recently published book by Douglas Allchin Teaching the Nature of Science (2013). In that book, you will see the benefits of effectively using historical narratives about real science. Real science is often messy, unproductive and frustrating. Let your students relive a few of those very human histories, reflecting, discussing, and even proposing possible solutions, as scientists struggle to understand the natural world. These real stories are very engaging. For more details, see my review of that book at http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/Rev.Allchin.Tch%20NOS.html.
#2: Take a look at Science Surprises: Exploring the Nature of Science. This is a little text supplement for students, written at 8th grade level, and made for students in any science class, grades 7-10. It is intended to be used in conjunction with selected interactive, student-centered NOS lessons on the ENSI website at http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/natsc.fs.html. Doing this unit will satisfy all of the NGSS NOS expectations. It even includes interactive lessons (meeting Common Core standards) on scientific argumentation, critical and skeptical thinking, how to distinguish good science from poor science, or pseudoscience, and even some math. The extensive Teaching Guide for Science Surprises is available to teachers (free upon request, using your school email address) from the ENSI webmaster. [Conflict of interest note: the author of this article is also the ENSI webmaster and author of Science Surprises.]
You should obtain and read these resources as soon as possible, so you will have time to properly prepare for your opening unit in the fall. You might even decide to use both of these resources, because they are mutually compatible. In the fall, you can introduce NOS intensively at the beginning of your courses, and relate back to those experiences with each new topic in your course. Make the coming year your very best year—for your students!
Larry Flammer is a CSTA member and the webmaster of the Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes.
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…