The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are almost here… but not quite yet. They haven’t been officially adopted by New York State, there isn’t a California framework, the assessments and curriculum are far off, and many of us are still being overwhelmed with APPR, and Common Core information. Even with so much going, what can teachers do right now to start moving in the direction of NGSS? They can start by embedding the NGSS science and engineering practices into their instruction and by getting students involved in engineering projects.
The crosscutting concepts are another place to get your feet wet. These are the “big ideas” that connect all of the sciences and help to make sense of nature, so they are already there in our current science standards even if they are not identified by name. Understanding the crosscutting concepts can help students make the connections and increase the a-ha moments that really help them understand how science and nature work. There are 7 cross cutting concepts listed in the NGSS. They are:
2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation
3. Scale, proportion, and quantity
4. Systems and system models
5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
6. Structure and function
7. Stability and change
These crosscutting concepts are considered to be one of three strands of the NGSS, along with the disciplinary core ideas and the science and engineering practices. The standards are written so that a crosscutting concept is embedded in each of the performance expectations. But sometimes it is a challenge to keep the big ideas in focus once we get into the nuts and bolts of a subject. One strategy is to use the crosscutting concepts as a way to prompt reflection by using questions based on the concepts to push students into higher order thinking and making connections about what they are learning.
If you are not ready to dive into the crosscutting concepts, there are certainly other things you can do. Michael Padilla from Clemson University recommends the following ideas:
- Get together with a group of colleagues to analyze and make sense of the Next Generation Science Standards – The first step in implementation is knowing what the standards will require. I suggest that you can do this best by reading, deconstructing and making sense of the standards with a group. Don’t wait to be told what they mean; determine meaning yourselves. If the standards require that students “develop and use models” or “argue from evidence to support theory” then discuss what this would look like in your classrooms and with the students you teach. Clearly, these statements would mean a different level of sophistication depending on the age and prior experience of students. What would it mean for your students? How would implementing these important practices change the way you teach? How would implementation change your time allocations?
- Determine how your teaching will have to change in order to implement the NGSS – No one believes that you have to throw out everything you presently do because of NGSS. Determine what works for you now and figure out new teaching strategies might be helpful for you to implement. Perhaps you are great at implementing hands-on science labs, but having students make sense of their results sometimes falls short. What can you do to change that situation? How do you get students to think about the science they are learning?
- Don’t panic! – The last words of wisdom are to take the NGSS as a challenge and not an insurmountable task. This is not rocket science; much of what you have been doing, assuming you have been making incremental changes over the years, will still apply. Sometimes it takes the introduction of new standards to make us step back and reflect on what we have been and should be doing!