The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent the work of twenty-six state partners, the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Together, these partners have created a new set of curriculum standards for K-12 science instruction.
Why Were New Standards Needed?
The science curriculum standards had not been updated in 15 years, and that’s a long time in the science world! To put that in perspective, consider what has changed in our world over that time:
- iPhones were launched in 2007, and they became the face of a changing personal relationship with data and information. In 2010, only 20% of the population had a smart phone, but by 2017, that had grown to over 67%. Today’s students are learning in a world where scientific literacy is more crucial than ever because they are constantly bombarded with information (and misinformation).
- Our understanding of the solar system and astronomy has changed greatly in the past 15 years. Pluto’s planet status was thrown into question and the European Space Agency successfully probed Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Meanwhile, Mars exploration grows ever more detailed. The information we have about the universe and our place in it has changed considerably since 2003.
- The number of peer-reviewed scientific articles addressing climate change has grown immensely since 2003, representing not only new information, but an increased focus and attentiveness to the issue.
Clearly, the world has changed, and having updated, modern science standards is part of our responsibility as educators to change with it.
The NGSS hopes to not only address the modern knowledge needed to participate in contemporary science, but the intellectual curiosity and interest needed to draw students to STEM fields that will be a crucial part of the next generation of careers and discoveries.
How Do The Standards Impact Curriculum?
While these lofty goals for the NGSS are great, the nuts and bolts of the program will be implemented in individual classrooms, and teachers need to have a clear understanding of how to use them in order to meet these goals.
Luckily, the standards are built with flexibility and adaptation in mind.
The most fundamental change to the standards is the move to performance expectations. In other words, students will be expected to demonstrate not just knowledge of a topic, but the ability to apply core ideas within each of the major scientific disciplines.
The new standards have what are called “crosscutting concepts,” which are core scientific principles that are relevant and useful across multiple disciplines. For example, one of the crosscutting concepts is cause and effect. Students should understand that simple tests can be designed to gather evidence to support or refute student ideas about causes. This is a concept that can be applied across disciplines and helps students master a major scientific principle.
To put it another way, the standards not only explain what skills and ideas students need to learn, they also suggest methods to assess whether the students are capable of understanding the foundations required to grasp those skills and ideas.
The best way to approach an NGSS-aligned curriculum is through backwards design. Since students will need to demonstrate performance-based competencies, the entire curriculum should be designed with these performances in mind. By beginning at the end, curriculum development will ensure that the next generation of scientists are capable, confident, and thoughtfully connected to the concepts that frame scientific thinking.