Next Generation Science Standards

Background

For some fifteen years, California has had a science framework built around reasonably well-defined sets of standards. In the case of chemistry, these standards were quite well defined. For many science teachers, it has been a genuine pleasure to teach to these standards. During these past fifteen years I have adopted a number of important changes in my own instruction, perhaps most important of which has been benchmark assessments to track student achievement of our standards-based learning objectives. The expansion of this website was a result of the need to provide as many avenues as possible for students to access, review, and master the targeted content. The fact that use of this site has grown steadily over that time period suggests that I am one of many teachers who have adopted a multitude of strategies and resources to improve student achievement.

The California Science Standards have repeatedly been rated highly by the Fordham Institute, so it is bit frightening to consider this shift to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Part of the original purpose behind our current Framework was to return to sanity after the disaster of “Constructivism” – the notion that kids’ natural curiosity would lead them to discover the important tenets of science. With leadership from Glen Seaborg, our current framework was developed with the notion that there is fundamental information that students must understand in order to be scientifically literate.

Where we Find Ourselves

I admit that I don’t deal well with uncertainty and lack of direction. At this point in California, we find ourselves in the academic doldrums. The California Department of Education has given the go ahead to the Next Generation Science Standards. However, the NGSS is NOT a framework. Over the next two years, groups of science educators and administrators who like meetings and committee work (read: NOT ME) will gather repeatedly and generate a new Science Framework for California. The new Framework is expected in early 2016. There will be no aligned textbooks until the 2017 – 2018 school year.

I am not a bit bothered by the long delay in new textbooks. In fact, I am hoping that the shift to NGSS and the delays in textbook availability will provide the opportunity for electronic texts and online resources to bring about the death of traditional textbooks. The difficulty for me is stasis – remaining invested in the old framework while awaiting the new. I’m not certain how this will all play out in other states, but I imagine that it will play out in a similar manner throughout much of the country.

Shoot, Ready, Aim

I’m opting to move ahead, while keeping an ear to the ground. I read an article recently that described the philosophical differences between Apple and Google. The folks at Apple were described as “Castle Builders” because of their desire to get things perfect before releasing a product. Google, on the other hand, was described as being experimental, where programmers are encouraged to release things in an unpolished state, and then allow input to determine changes and improvements. I once heard this approach described as “Shoot, ready, aim.” I am without a doubt in the “Shoot, ready, aim” camp. I cannot reasonably wait for a new Framework, or even longer for textbook publishers.

Fortunately, I have company. My colleagues at El Diamante are on board, and we are all reviewing our current curriculum and NGSS with an eye toward making necessary changes, while not dispensing with the best things we have learned over the past fifteen years. We will certainly keep the concept of incremental benchmarks, though the content will see some changes. We are hopeful that the new California Science Framework will contain detail that the NGSS lacks. We are going to move ahead with the hope that our new Framework will keep the best of the old, measurable standards, while adopting some of the spirit of NGSS.

What This All Means at ScienceGeek.net

There are going to be some changes, but they will roll out slowly. The focus initially will be on chemistry, because that is my primary assignment. Old practice activities will be kept around, but new activities will be created. Our units will be restructured. We have decided to change Unit 6, with its focus on solutions, to a unit that focuses on the properties of water, as well as on water as a natural resource. We will get that up and running this Spring. Next school year we will restructure a couple more units, and try to fine tune Unit 6 based on our experiences this Spring. It is our hope that with steady work and some information of the progress of the Framework, that we will stay ahead of the game .

We will never all agree on all aspects of any unified curriculum. I am as alarmed at the complete omission of Gas Laws and Kinetic Molecular Theory in NGSS as I was with the omission of Electrochemistry and Redox from the current California Framework. Gas Laws will remain a part of my curriculum, and I have every hope that it will make it into the new Framework. I will continue to post on our progress, my views on what has happened already and what is coming.

I am the owner-developer of Sciencegeek.net and a science teacher at El Diamante High School in Visalia, CA.

Posted in NGSS, Teaching