Next Generation Science Standards: What Do Lessons Look Like?

By Liana Loewus — July 07, 2016 2 min read
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Eighteen states and the District of Columbia, along with many individual districts, have now adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, meaning millions of students around the country will be learning science differently.

But the standards themselves can be tough to parse, so there’s no doubt still plenty of confusion about what’s really new here.

In a recent Ed Week Commentary piece, Lauren Madden, an assistant professor of elementary education at the College of New Jersey, explains a major difference between the Next Generation Science Standards and other state science standards.

“Earlier science standards, both in my home state of New Jersey and across the nation, addressed science content separately from the act of doing science,” she writes. “The Next Generation standards take a different approach. ... [They shift] away from the notion that science is simply a collection of facts and toward a deeper understanding of the broad and connected nature of scientific phenomena.”

Madden also poses a few examples of NGSS lessons, which further illustrate that difference. Do you remember first learning about solids, liquids, and gases in elementary school—the drawings with dots that are close together for solids and far apart for gases? Here’s how a 2nd grade NGSS lesson might now approach matter.

And another example from Madden on how the NGSS changes a lesson:

“In the past, students may have studied the rock cycle as a topic in a geology unit by simply learning to define characteristics of various rock types and reciting the phases in the cycle. But by first introducing students to the crosscutting concept of patterns [using the NGSS], they can relate the rock cycle to an important overarching scientific phenomenon: Things in nature occur in predictable, cyclical patterns. This shift in focus opens the door for an infinite number of connections across scientific domains, from cell division to star formation.”

More than memorization, NGSS lessons focus on applying ideas and making connections.

This focus on doing has caused concern among some educators, who say the standards should include more facts.

It’s also probably making things tough for textbook and curriculum providers. As of now, there’s little in the way of materials aligned to the NGSS, so most teachers are forced to come up with these sorts of lessons on their own. (Note that the boat lesson above was designed by preservice teachers.) Perhaps that’s partly because these kinds of interconnected, application-focused lessons don’t lend themselves well to the printed page. But even digital materials are hard to come by for now, so maybe it’s just that these lessons are tough to devise?

As always, would be great to hear from educators in the comments section below. What are you doing differently with the NGSS? And where are you getting your lessons?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.