The Next Generation Science Standards: Standards with a Purpose

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Few things are more inspiring than watching a student ask “why?” — except, perhaps, seeing that student use their skills and knowledge to confidently and effectively seek an answer to their own questions to make sense of the world around them. Scientific literacy provides students with the tools to explain and evaluate the things they see, touch, and hear every day. A strong, coherent science education from grades K-12 where student engagement drives learning can help unlock their curiosity and foster science reasoning and problem solving skills, along with a life-long love of learning.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are standards with a purpose. The NGSS shift expectations of students from memorization to understanding, and from recitation to application, providing teachers and students with the tools to transform science education into something that students can use to make sense of the world throughout their lives. The standards require shifts in both student learning and classroom instruction. Such shifts will help create opportunities for all students to meet the expectations set forth by the NGSS.

This suite of videos functions as a primer to the NGSS — a first step toward preparing for the instructional shifts to come. The videos provide an overview of the vision for the NGSS, as well as in-depth descriptions of each of the standards’ three dimensions. For the purpose of introducing the innovations in the standards, each of the three dimensions are described separately here, but in the NGSS, the integration of all three dimensions is fundamental to enabling students to shift from passive observers to active participants in science.

Importantly, the videos showcase teachers making sense of the standards by engaging in performances that students might do in a classroom, and highlight knowledge application as a vehicle for understanding. Across the suite of videos, teachers describe what about the NGSS excites them, and how they will adjust their approach to instruction in order to meet the standards.

The Three Dimensions and Their Integration in the NGSS

The NGSS were developed based on a Framework for K-12 Science Education, a National Research Council report rooted deeply in research about how students learn, and developed by scientists, engineers, and education experts. The Framework identifies the three dimensions students must use in unison to reach scientific literacy:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Science and Engineering Practices

Crosscutting Concepts

These three dimensions, integrated in each performance expectation in the NGSS, provide students with a structure for learning and doing science in authentic and meaningful ways, and help guide teachers toward creating a classroom environment where students can engage with that structure. The videos describe each of the dimensions in depth and explain their importance to science education.

The NGSS in Action: Teacher and Student Roles

The NGSS are targets for student learning. In the context of the NGSS, learning is an active process, driven by students engaging in science at the intersection of three dimensions — practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas — to develop explanations for phenomena and solve problems. Active student engagement in all three dimensions simultaneously is key; indeed, to help understand and become proficient in science and engineering practices, students have to authentically and regularly engage in those practices to help understand phenomena and make sense of the world. To be able to understand and use crosscutting concepts, students have to routinely use them as lenses through which they examine phenomena, bridging what they have learned in other situations to inform something new. To develop an understanding of core ideas and their utility, students must apply factual knowledge in the context of deeper understanding to explain new situations, or design solutions to new problems.

Teachers are the bridge between student experience and their deeper understanding of that learning. As such, they must carefully cultivate an environment that allows students to engage in three-dimensional learning. This change will take time, patience, and talented educators throughout the system. These videos are a starting point for developing an understanding of the standards and a new vision for science education. As more professionals become familiar with the NGSS, we hope to see professional development that clearly models student classroom performance, three-dimensional instructional materials, and innovations in instruction coming directly from teachers in their classrooms.

Brett Moulding is currently the Director of the Utah Partnership for Effective Science Teaching and Learning. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education and a member of the National Research Council (NRC) Committee developing the Conceptual Framework for K–12 Science Education.

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