Where are you in your understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?
When districts embark on the implementation of these standards, it's useful to compare the process to a high-powered microscope. What magnification are you currently using -- 4x, 10x, or 100x? Everyone will go through each of these magnifications in phases as they begin exploring the standards deeply.
The 4x Phase
The 4x Phase occurs when a science teacher first sees the NGSS. During this phase, teachers compare old lessons to the new standards to see where old material "fits" into the new. Some teachers are overwhelmed by (what appears to be) the enormity of what is being asked by the standards, and this phase allows for some release of that initial anxiety. Furthermore, this stage also allows for a small magnification into the context of the standards without requiring complete understanding of the NGSS. Making the shift is extremely challenging, so it's easy for teachers to simply plug old curriculum and methodology into the new standards.
Does this mean teachers are creating an environment where students begin to think like scientists simply by using old curriculum to meet the standards? On the contrary. This recycling is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. The NGSS are so different from previous standards that it's impossible to get students to think at the level required by the NGSS without significant changes to the curriculum.
The 10x Phase
During the 10x Phase, teachers begin to view the standards as a new way of teaching science and not a plug and chug of old content. Teachers should review and discuss the standards collaboratively in order to build a consistent understanding of the intent of the NGSS. They should also now realize science must be taught with a focus on application and engineering, not memorization of facts. Following this realization, teachers will generate new materials and lessons to address the intent of the standards and work to transform students into scientific thinkers. Developing and revising lessons to meet the intent of the NGSS is very time consuming, but the reward for dedication on the part of the teacher is student success. Ultimately, this phase creates an important shift in how science is taught.
The 100x Phase
This phase occurs after teachers have created lessons and units they feel meet the demands of the NGSS. Teachers, working collaboratively, vet their work at 100x magnification using high-quality critical guides such as the Achieve EQuIP rubric. This process requires teachers to analyze their own work to determine if three-dimensional learning and teaching is occurring. Teachers continuously revise lessons to ensure they meet the full spectrum of the NGSS. The result of this thoughtful and intentional process will be strong lessons that require students to be scientific thinkers.
No matter the magnification, implementing NGSS jump starts the process of developing and fostering scientific investigation and understanding. What lens are you using?
Shelly Hammons is the Federal Programs Coordinator at Daviess County Public Schools in Owensboro, Kentucky. She has taught middle grades science for 11 years before moving into her current position. Shelly is a graduate of Murray State University and University of the Cumberlands. She is currently working with the 12 elementary schools in her district on the implementation of NGSS and is a member of the Tch Next Gen Science Squad. Connect with Shelly on Twitter: @HammonsShelly.