How Will the Next Generation Science Standards Affect Research and Practice?
In September 2013, California became the seventh state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), new K-12 science standards that move from what students are expected to know to what they are expected to do. The new standards focus on the process of inquiry, or scientific practice, and they are integrated across disciplines and applied to real life and careers in STEM disciplines.
Currently, several USC Rossier faculty members are involved in the development of K-12 curriculum materials aligned to both NGSS and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Among them are Fred Freking, a former scientist who focuses on math and science teacher preparation and development, and Gale Sinatra, whose research focuses on the cognitive and motivational processes that lead to successful learning in science, particularly controversial topics like evolution and climate change – two topics included in the new science standards.
The new emphasis is going to be on thinking about things….not just doing a fun experiment…
Rossier Reach asked Freking and Sinatra about the impact NGSS may have on research and practice.
Q: How will the new standards change the classroom experience?
GS: The way that inquiry – the emphasis in science education now – has typically been implemented is with hands-on activities and doing things. The new emphasis is going to be on thinking about things. So, it’s not just about doing a fun experiment, but emulating the practices that a scientist engages in as he or she is reasoning and thinking with data. For example, how do you weigh evidence and draw conclusions? So that’s a huge shift.
Q: What are the challenges to implementing NGSS?
FF: NGSS is a better guideline for teaching and learning science as a body of knowledge and a way of knowing. One criticism has been that curricular materials that are aligned to these standards have not been developed. Also, the emphasis on scientific practices, while a huge step forward for kids learning to do science, will be challenging for teachers, especially those who have not participated in doing science themselves. Most elementary teachers are not STEM majors and will need professional development to implement NGSS. Finally, the assessments, although promising, are still being developed.
Q: How does it impact how teachers should be prepared?
FF: Schools need to support teachers as they collaborate on curriculum to engage kids in the scientific practices in NGSS. All teacher education programs will need to address the integration of scientific practice, with cross-cutting concepts. The USC Rossier Master of Arts in Teaching program currently emphasizes developing students’ inquiry skills, which are very similar to the scientific practices as described in NGSS.
Q: How will NGSS affect science learning, and will kids be able to do it?
GS: Kids are naturally curious and all of the questions they ask are also asked by scientists, but in different ways. It will be more engaging, interesting and meaningful if it’s done right. My colleague Doug Lombardi and I just did a study that showed that urban middle school kids are able to weigh evidence for human-induced climate change versus a skeptic model, and they found the scientific model to be more compelling, scientifically correct and plausible than the skeptic model. So when kids are given the chance to weigh evidence, which is what NGSS asks them to do, they can do it.
Q: What future research opportunities do you see related to NGSS?
FF: In addition to studying the eventual curriculum and assessments, it will be interesting to know how science teachers implement NGSS and how their teaching impacts student understanding of science. Will a more interdisciplinary approach encourage more students to consider studying STEM in college? And, as a teacher educator, how will teacher education programs prepare future teachers for NGSS?
GS: I have submitted a proposal, building on the previous study I mentioned, to explore different methods that promote the skills and knowledge and the willingness to engage in critical thinking and reasoning among middle school students.
This article was featured in the December, 2013 Issue of Rossier Reach