The best way to describe the Next Generation Science Standards is like this: We used to teach students the history of science (facts, dates, people), now we teach students how to think like scientists. In my mind, this is an amazing and positive shift. Whether we become scientists or not, we all interact with our physical world is some way. Observation and critical thinking is key to these interactions. So, it may not be necessary to know the intricate workings of the ribosomes and endoplasmic reticulum (although who can deny what fun words those are!) but it is arguably helpful to understand what nutrients our cells need and what happens when they don’t get them. This is the gift our new standards have given us, an opportunity for our students to ask probing questions while observing every day phenomena.
I’m sure many of us, myself included, can remember spending science class reading about other people’s discoveries and memorizing long lists of Latin-based words or laws about the physical world, particularly in middle school. If we were lucky, we had the pleasure of a class with labs which at least allowed us to re-discover those discoveries we read about. If this is all we ever did though, how would we ever discover anything new? To examine phenomena, ask questions, and test theories is its own special type of critical thinking, one that requires instruction. The Next Generation Science Standards is designed to steer instruction in this direction, but the fact of the matter is, it can be difficult to teach (and assess) “thinking like a scientist.” The setup of the written standards is difficult to navigate as well, leaving many teachers unsure about what to teach.
Over the next blog posts, I will be exploring the Next Generation Science Standards for grades K-8 and sharing a few tips I’ve found helpful, both on how to navigate the new standards as well as how to implement them in the classroom. I will be using and referring to the standards posted on the Next Gen website (http://www.nextgenscience.org/) (although I like the navigation and layout of the California site (https://www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ca/sc/ngssstandards.asp) a bit better). Lastly, I will try to share as many fabulous and fantastic resources as I can… starting with this one here.