The Next Generation Science Standards, One Year Later

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were released one year ago today, following a development process extending back several years to the writing of A Framework for K-12 Science Education.

Happy Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday, NGSS!
Courtesy of Flickr user Will Clayton (

So, where do things stand now?

  • Eleven states (plus the District of Columbia) have adopted the NGSS: California, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Interestingly, Nevada was not a lead state in the development of the standards, showing that the influence of the NGSS is likely to extend beyond the original 26 states that helped draft the standards. About 25% of students in the US now live in an “NGSS state”.
  • Lead state partners that have not yet adopted include Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia. Some of these states are expected to adopt, but have not yet officially adopted thanks to choosing to take things deliberately, a slower state-mandated adoption process, or political cycles. The situation is less clear in a few states (New York, for example).
  • Unsurprisingly, although the standards have met with wide support from science educators, the NGSS has been at the center of political controversy, including an ongoing battle in Wyoming (interestingly enough, another state that did not participate in the writing of the standards but is discussing adoption). The Fordham Institute also released a somewhat critical report based on dubious criteria and reasoning that doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny.
  • Implementation is starting to ramp up. A number of helpful resources are in-progress and due out at some point this year, including an EQuIP rubric to help evaluate materials for alignment to the NGSS, and a set of publisher’s criteria due out in the fall. The new standards will undoubtedly mean many changes for students and teachers. In some parts of the country, such as Kentucky, students will start being taught based on the NGSS this fall.
  • On the assessments front, the picture is still developing. An NRC report on assessment for the NGSS was the first step, and several groups are now developing model assessments. It seems likely that initial state-level assessments may not be well-aligned to the NGSS, and there are significant questions around what it means to have a “three-dimensional assessment,” meaning an assessment that simultaneously assesses disciplinary core ideas, science practices, and cross-cutting concepts. Valid and well-aligned assessments at the classroom level are likely to be more achievable in the short term.

Given the encouragement for states to take adoption and implementation slowly, it’s hard to see the first year of the NGSS as anything other than a major success for supporters of the standards.

What are your thoughts on the first year of the Next Generation Science Standards? What do you hope to see over the next year?

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Can’t Miss Next Generation Science Standards sessions at NSTA14

The 2014 National Science Teachers Association national conference is coming up in Boston. If you’re attending, there’s a good chance you’re interested in learning more about the Next Generation Science Standards. With eleven states and the District of Columbia having adopted the standards and over 25% of US students now living in an “NGSS state,” it’s safe to say they will be a hot topic at the conference.

Here’s a short list of “can’t miss” NGSS sessions at NSTA14.

Featured Presentation: Science Standards Through the Years

Thursday, April 3 2:00–3:00 PM

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Grand Ballroom

Presenter(s): Stephen L. Pruitt (Senior Vice President, Achieve, Inc.: Washington, DC); Rodger W. Bybee (Executive Director Emeritus, BSCS: Colorado Springs, CO)

While this one is not strictly focused just on the NGSS, Stephen Pruitt is the NGSS ringleader and if you’ve never had a chance to listen to him speak in person, you’re in for a treat. Rodger Bybee has literally written the book(s) on STEM education and implementing the NGSS, among many other notable achievements.

NGSS Pathway Session: Making Connections Between Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society in Your Local Community

Friday, April 4 1:00–3:00 PM

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, 206 A/B

Presenter(s): Cary I. Sneider (Portland State University: Portland, OR); Mariel Milano (Orange County Public Schools: Orlando, FL)

Engineering is a topic that many of us are going to need to learn more about in order to successfully implement the NGSS. This looks like a promising session to get started down that path, with great presenters as well.

Planning an NGSS Curriculum (NGSS@NSTA Forum)

Saturday, April 5 9:30–10:30 AM

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, 210 A/B

Presenter(s): Matt Krehbiel (Kansas Dept. of Education: Topeka, KS)

All of the NGSS@NSTA forum sessions (scroll down for the full agenda) look promising, but I imagine the topic of this one will be near the front of most of our minds.

Translating the NGSS for Classroom Instruction (NGSS@NSTA Forum)

Saturday, April 5 11:00 AM–12:00 PM

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, 210 A/B

Presenter(s): Rodger W. Bybee (Executive Director Emeritus, BSCS: Golden, CO); Kim Bess (San Diego County Office of Education: San Diego, CA)

Also part of the all-day NGSS@NSTA forum. If you aren’t in the business of planning curriculum, you are likely going to be implementing the NGSS in your classroom. This session should help get you started.

The Future of Assessment with NGSS (NGSS@NSTA Forum)

Saturday, April 5 3:30–5:00 PM

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, 210 A/B

Moderator: David L. Evans (NSTA Executive Director: Arlington, VA)

Presenter(s): April McCrae (Delaware Dept. of Education: Dover, DE); Lee Ann Nickerson (Jefferson County Public Schools: Louisville, KY); Susan Tierney (Measured Progress: Dover, NH); Peter J. McLaren (Rhode Island Dept. of Education: Providence, RI); Chris Lazaro (The College Board: New York, NY)

If you haven’t been following the recent information on science assessment for the NGSS or don’t have the time to read up on it, this session should get you caught up.

Last but not least, a few random conference tips:

  • Make your schedule ahead of time, using NSTA’s handy online scheduler. My preferred method is to use the keyword search and filter by particular days and times. It’s not a bad idea to have a top choice and a backup choice scheduled, just in case.
  • Use the #NSTA14 hashtag on twitter to see what others are saying, share updates from the conference, and connect with other science educators. There will even be a #NGSSChat session live from the conference at 9 PM ET, Thursday April 3.
  • Know what you can be getting into if you attend sponsored sessions. The descriptions are written to be very attractive, but the quality of information is often not good, and there’s generally some kind of sales pitch in there. On the plus side, they do often have free giveaways :).
  • The Sunday morning sessions are less hectic but can have some hidden gems- even if conference fatigue has set in, try going to a few if you don’t have to head out early.

 I’m sure I missed some great sessions- what are you looking forward to at #NSTA14? Any conference tips to share?

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Integrated STEM Education Should be a Lasagna, not a Smoothie

A new National Research Council report makes it clear that if we want integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education to succeed, we need to start paying closer attention to what works and what doesn’t. Most importantly, not just any blend of STEM education is likely to succeed. A carefully constructed learning experience is preferable to any old blend of subjects. In culinary terms, we’re talking lasagna, not smoothie.


Mmmm… STEM education!

The report suggests that there are three key implications from the research for STEM educators.

  1. Integration needs to be explicit. While teachers are often able to see and understand the connections between different STEM subjects, this is difficult for students. Without calling attention to these connections, students are likely to overlook them. [Isn’t it wonderful how noodles, cheese, meat and tomato sauce go together in this lasagna?]
  2. Integrated STEM education shouldn’t trump strong education within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In many cases, strong understanding of an individual subject area is required in order to transfer that knowledge to a context with multiple relevant subjects and concepts. [We don’t have to have lasagna every night. Spaghetti is just fine sometimes.]
  3. More integration is not necessarily better. While integrated experiences can be more authentic and improve conceptual understanding, they also pose significant cognitive challenges for students. [No one likes a mushy lasagna- assemble and bake with care!]

Perhaps most significant is the overall assessment of the research behind integrated STEM programs.

The level of evidence gathered by the committee is not sufficient to suggest that integrated STEM education could or should replace high-quality education focused on individual STEM subjects. Indeed, integrated STEM education requires that students hone their expertise in the very disciplines that are being connected.

In general, the report is quite cautious about the research basis behind integrated STEM. While there is reason to be optimistic, few benefits have been clearly shown from integrated STEM programs to date, primarily as a result of insufficient research. In other words, there’s no need to rush to jump on the STEM bandwagon or start changing things around if you already have strong programs for science, math, engineering, and technology.

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Five Things Students Will Do More Often Thanks to the NGSS

How are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) different from what has come before? One important change is the new list of Science and Engineering Practices, which specify what students should be able to do as part of a strong science education.

The practices are:

  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

So what do these new practices mean for science education? Here’s a short list of five things I expect students will do more frequently thanks to the NGSS.

1- Construct Models

There appears to be a lot of confusion around practice 2, “Developing and using models.” This may be because of that old maxim that we teach the way we were taught, and few of us were taught anything about models in our science classes. To make things worse, the term “model” can mean anything from Heidi Klum to a toy airplane. But in this context, we mean conceptual models.

When we teach the structure of the atom, we often discuss different atomic models and the evidence scientists used to create their models (for example, the “plum-pudding model” or the “Bohr model”). Think about taking the process the scientists used to create these models, and having students construct models in a similar way as they dive into a concept. The structure of the atom, the particle theory of matter, the theory of plate tectonics, the formation and history of the solar system, how energy and matter flow in an ecosystem, how traits are inherited from parents… all these concepts are essentially conceptual models, based on evidence that can be observed in the natural world. Understanding these concepts requires that students follow the process of developing mental models from evidence, and then applying the models to make predictions which can be tested. The process of model building should be a central focus as students grapple with a core idea in greater and greater depth.

2- Plan Investigations

Practice 3 is “Planning and carrying out investigations” so why plan in particular? Because while students do frequently carry out investigations in science classes, they much less frequently have a hand in the planning of those investigations. But this planning is a crucial part of being able to apply science in the real world. In fact, I would argue that retaining the specifics of a particular area of science is less important for most people than understanding how to apply the idea of a controlled investigation to their everyday life and work. It’s a basic analytic skill that everyone should have.

3- Read

There is a shift in U.S. education towards being able to read and comprehend information from nonfiction texts, including scientific texts. The Next Generation Science Standards ask students to obtain and evaluate information as part of practice 8, and at the heart of this is reading. There’s a perception that having students read is opposed to strong science instruction, which should be primarily hands-on investigations. But literary nonfiction, including science and nature writing, is a highly effective way to learn new ideas. In fact, conducting investigations has to go hand in hand with acquiring information, and reading is the primary way to quickly and efficiently get this information.

In fairness, this one isn’t solely about the NGSS- the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects are a major driver of this shift. The two sets of standards are aligned and work hand-in-hand with one another.

4- Write

Practice 7 is “Engaging in argument from evidence” and practice 8 asks students to communicate information. One form of communication and argument is oral, but the real heart of scientific communication is the written form (think journal articles, popular science writing, blogs, and even presentations). Think about modifying the standard lab report to require students to construct a real scientific argument based on their results, and short in-class writing prompts that require students to use evidence they’ve collected to support conclusions.

5- Design Solutions

Engineering, which formerly had a minor place in science standards, is firmly embedded in the Next Generation Science Standards. At the core of engineering is the practice of designing a solution to a problem. Students should now have regular opportunities to go through the engineering design process as part of their science classes. In essence, they should be taking scientific information and applying it in the context of solving a real-world problem.

Do you agree with this list? What other changes do you expect to see thanks to the NGSS?

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The Next Generation Science Standards do not omit content knowledge

The claim that the Next Generation Science Standards leave out content knowledge bothers me, because it seriously mis-represents the truth. For example, this piece on EdSource by Paul Bruno claims that MS-LS3 Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits is an example of how the NGSS

…place relatively more emphasis on “scientific practices” – like asking questions and defining problems – and relatively less emphasis on factual scientific knowledge. Consequently, much important scientific content is omitted from the standards and much of what is present is stated only vaguely.

First, it is disingenuous to say that the NGSS place more emphasis on scientific practices than factual scientific knowledge. There are three equally important elements to the NGSS: science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), and cross-cutting concepts. The core ideas are factual scientific knowledge, and they are no less important than the scientific practices.

Let’s look at the same example given in the EdSource piece. Here is the text of MS-LS3-1, the specific performance expectation in question:

MS-LS3-1: Develop and use a model to describe why structural changes to genes (mutations) located on chromosomes may affect proteins and may result in harmful, beneficial, or neutral effects to the structure and function of the organism. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on conceptual understanding that changes in genetic material may result in making different proteins.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific changes at the molecular level, mechanisms for protein synthesis, or specific types of mutations.]

Here are the facts related to this performance expectation that students are expected to understand (these are taken directly from the orange “Disciplinary Core Ideas” box underneath the performance expectations):

  • Genes are located in the chromosomes of cells, with each chromosome pair containing two variants of each of many distinct genes.

  • Each distinct gene chiefly controls the production of specific proteins, which in turn affects the traits of the individual.

  • Changes (mutations) to genes can result in changes to proteins, which can affect the structures and functions of the organism and thereby change traits.

  • In addition to variations that arise from sexual reproduction, genetic information can be altered because of mutations.

  • Though rare, mutations may result in changes to the structure and function of proteins. Some changes are beneficial, others harmful, and some neutral to the organism.

These are major scientific facts that are fundamental to this performance expectation. These statements are not vague or unclear to me, I don’t think they would be unclear to science educators in general, and I don’t believe there are major omissions to what middle school students need to understand about how mutations can affect the traits of organisms.

The critics seem to believe that it is a serious omission that specific mutations are not mentioned. In fact, we should not require all students to memorize that a particular mutation causes a particular trait (such as how albinism or any number of genetic disorders can be caused by particular mutations). We should be interested in having students understand the scientific facts that underly particular examples, so students are able to generalize when they see a new example. These underlying facts are the facts that are outlined in the NGSS. The specific examples used to teach the concept and the specific examples that appear on any assessments should be irrelevant, if students actually understand these underlying concepts. We want students to be able to see a new example and recognize the deep structure behind it. Teachers, curriculum designers, and assessment writers should be free to choose the examples of these concepts that best fit their context.

The key is giving students lots of practice with many relevant examples, not cherry-picking one or two particular examples. That’s the path to having students memorize only those particular examples without understanding the fundamental concepts involved.

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Edtech and the Audience Effect

There’s been a lot of publicity recently about education technology gadgets. Amplify’s new tablet, iPads, Chromebooks, and the like come to mind. But reading textbooks or browsing the internet on a different divice doesn’t excite me. It’s not the device that matters, it’s what you do with that device.

To that end, the latest issue of Wired magazine has a fascinating article about how the internet enables anyone to write for and connect to an authentic audience, and the power of these connections. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here’s a brief quote:

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

Social scientists have identified something called the audience effect—the shift in our performance when we know people are watching. It isn’t always positive. In live, face-to-face situations, like sports or concerts, the audience effect can make athletes or musicians perform better—but it can sometimes psych them out and make them choke, too.

Yet studies have found that the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to pay more attention and learn more.

The internet is the killer app of education, but not for the usual “you can look up any information” reason that you tend to hear. It’s the connections students make with others and the ability to get work visible to others that are the true potential of edtech. Dan Meyer hits on something very similar in his recent post regarding the possibilities of networked devices.

A few years ago, I read a book called An Ethic of Excellence, by Ron Berger. One of the central principles of the book is the importance of having students do real, public work. Mr. Berger describes having his sixth grade students collaborate with a local college to test basements in their town for radon gas. The concern of the students to provide accurate and helpful information to the people of the town drove them to work harder on this project because “This was not an exercise. It was real, important work that mattered to the world. Anything short of excellence would be intolerable.”

The internet offers the potential for making all work real, important, and public. Yet the persistent urge to lock down the devices students use remains (see: LAUSD “iPad hacking” uproar). How do we shift from worring about what students will do on the internet to worrying about what they can’t do without it?

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It’s time to retire E D Hirsch’s tired refrains

Great post by Grant Wiggins on content knowledge and comprehension strategies in reading instruction. Very similar ideas apply in the science practices vs. content knowledge debate in science education.

Granted, and...

The time-consuming test prep with endless exercises on “finding the main idea” and “questioning the author,” exercises that are supposed to help improve verbal abilities, have become the chief cause of today’s curriculum narrowing.  Paradoxically then, emphasis on reading and reading tests have helped to cause low reading scores among school leavers.

 E D Hirsch recently in the Washington Post

The focus on the “skill” of reading has produced students who cannot read. Teachers cannot cultivate reading comprehension by forcing children to practice soul-deadening exercises like “finding the main idea” and “questioning the author.” Students would be better off gaining knowledge by studying real subject matters in a sensible, cumulative sequence. Instead, elementary schools are dominated by content-indifferent exercises that use random fictional texts on the erroneous assumption that reading comprehension is a formal skill akin to typing.

E D Hirsch recently in the Wall Street Journal

Over the years…

View original post 3,576 more words

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