Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Influence the Direction of Science Education: How to read and comment upon the Next Generation Science Standards

In 1996, The National Science Education Standards (NSES) were published and in the intervening 16 years, they have provided guidance for K-12 science education. While NSES is far from the only document to shape science standards at the state level and science teaching across the country, it is almost certainly the most influential.

Sixteen years is a long time and NSES is showing its age. A new set of standards are now under development. The Next Generation Science Standards have a targeted release date of 2013.

A public draft is available for comment and this blog post is intended to give some guidance on how to provide that input. It's a complex document with complex implications about changes not only in K-12 science education, but also in the K-12 education system beyond the sciences. The time for feedback is short -- the close of comments is June 1, but you can target your comments on specific components of the draft -- so the task can be managed in this short amount of time.

I've played a minor role amongst a cast of at least hundreds (and probably over a thousand) in the development of NGSS, first as a member of the Earth & Space Science Design Team for A Framework for K-12 Science Education and now as a member of the New York's Statewide Leadership Team. As someone who has been involved in the development of NGSS, I find navigating the NGSS Draft confusing. I know from talking to others that I'm not alone in that feeling, and that's why I've put this post together.

The complexity is to be expected -- reformatting American K-12 science is no simple task, and the complexities of science literacy aren't something that can be understood in a glance, but we can help make those complexities accessible.

We'll look at a video on why new standards are needed, and then two on how to read the standards. The first two of these are from Achieve Inc., the organization that is coordinating the writing of the standards. The third is a short one from me, showing some more of the technological tools built into the NGSS to help further with your reading, and simply pointing you to pages that I found helpful as I was working on providing my own feedback.

In addition to the videos below, and the information at, the National Science Teachers' Association has put together some resources to help you make sense of the NGSS Public Draft.

Before the videos, I'll highlight what I think are some (there are many) important changes that NGSS includes in its vision for K-12 science education:

  • Performance Expectations define what understanding looks like for each standard in NGSS, in ways far richer than what can be captured on today's standardized tests and this may be a catalyst for the development and use of more authentic assessments of understanding.
  • NGSS is structured with three dimensions, each of roughly equal importance: 
    • Science and Engineering Practices
    • Disciplinary Core Ideas
    • Crosscutting Concepts
  • NGSS addresses four disciplines:
    • Life Science
    • Physical Science (including both physics and chemistry)
    • Earth and Space Science
    • Engineering and Technology
  • NGSS is designed with an understanding that it takes years of coordinated instruction to build deep understandings of the central big ideas of science, and weaves this understanding into the fabric of the standards.
  • While not always explicit throughout the document, a systems perspective is embedded in NGSS's design.
  • Considerable attention to both evolution and climate change is included within NGSS; much more than in NSES. 

These changes define a new vision for science education. The three dimensions address not only the content of scientific disciplines, but also describe how scientific knowledge. The inclusion of Engineering and Technology as Core Discipline is also a marked shift from current practice, and an appropriate shift. Attention to building understandings of a few keys ideas over many years is not typically done in schools today, nor is significant understandings of a systems perspective. And, attention to serious omissions of fundamental science that shapes our world is long overdue. 

In short, these are important changes in positive directions and they are of substantial size.

On the NGSS website, you'll find a five page pdf with a delineation of what the authors regard as the important Conceptual Shifts in the NGSS.

Now, let's go to the videos.

Why Are New Science Standards Needed?

How to Read the Next Generation Science Standards

I found the above two videos helpful, but they didn't give me quite enough information to find all the pieces I was looking for. I learned more through webinars I've attended over the last couple of weeks and I wanted to share this with others who didn't have the benefit of those webinars. So, I put together a short video to tour Before you begin watching the video, you might open that link in another window, and pause the video as you explore the website.

More About How to Read the NGSS Draft

The final video closes with a few comments about targeting your feedback where it will likely have the most effect. The text in the colored boxes is from A Framework for K-12 Science Education which was published last year, and that text is unlikely to change. So, target your efforts elsewhere. Provide specific feedback on how to improve wording of Performance Expectations (those multi-colored sentences near the top of the box) or on the connections at the bottom of the box.

Direct your energies in providing feedback to the areas of the standards most relevant to your work and your experience. That both narrows your focus so that you can complete your task before the June 1 close of comments, and increases the likelihood that your comments are on target.

Also, if you think this document represents a vision you share for science education, include that in your comments. Be sure to say what you like about NGSS! Consider that individuals and groups of all sorts will be providing feedback on this work, and that your comments matter.

If there are strategies that you find helpful for navigating NGSS or for providing feedback, please share them in the comments below.

Don Duggan-Haas

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