Recently, there has been a call to improve science and engineering education and to strengthen the associated practices and skills to help ensure that the United States stays internationally competitive. There is another, equally important, reason to improve science and engineering education: to increase citizens’ fundamental understanding of science and engineering so that they are better able to understand public policies related to science, including medical and environmental issues. These pressures have led to the evaluation of how we teach and learn science. Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are the result of these discussions.
A “standard” is what a student should know (content) and be able to do (skills). When many people hear the word “standards,” they think about Common Core. The usual focus in Common Core is on Language Arts and Mathematics, but there is a science component to both of those. Scientific literacy is important for all students. Strong mathematical and statistical skills are needed for science students to be able to explain and interpret results from scientific experimentation. All science educators want to help students develop the skills to ask questions about what they see every day and to describe, explain, and predict natural events or occurrences. All of us would agree that we want to develop students’ skills to think critically and to evaluate and then communicate positions that are scientifically and technologically sound. Scientific literacy is a key component for all students’ success in the science classroom.
The K–12 science Framework is just that – a framework. It is not a curriculum, which is a common misconception held by some educators.
The Conceptual Framework for New K–12 Science Education Standards articulates the committee’s vision of the scope and nature of the education in science, engineering, and technology needed for the 21st century. It is intended as a guide to the next step, which is the process of developing standards for all students…. By framework we mean a broad description of the content and sequence of learning expected of all students by the completion of high school – but not at the level of detail of grade-by-grade standards or, at the high school level, course descriptions and standards. Instead, as this document specifies, the framework is intended as a guide to standards developers…. (National Research Council, 2012, p. 8)
The framework was built on a foundation of three common ideas: (1) science and engineering practices, (2) crosscutting concepts, and (3) disciplinary ideas. There are 8 practices, 7 crosscutting concepts, and 44 disciplinary ideas in physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering. A key part of this framework is engineering – the application of science. Science and engineering practices are knowledge and skills used in all science, similar to the AP Biology Curriculum Framework and the Vision and Change report. The crosscutting concepts are big ideas that are common in life science, physical science, earth and space science, and engineering. The last section is the disciplinary ideas, which states will use to help with the progression through the content. The progression starts in elementary school and goes all the way through high school. Teachers need to look at this progression and determine whether there are any “gaps” or “weaknesses” that may need to be added to the state or local standards to help ensure learning for all students. In addition, educators need to look at topics that may need to be “reviewed” at different grades to ensure proper student understanding.
NABT was a participant in the review process and final rollout of NGSS. NABT is a place where best practices of NGSS are to be discussed and presented. We have encouraged teachers to write articles for the ABT about successful implantation of the NGSS in the classroom because we appreciate that teachers need to have examples of what is working so that they can plan, adapt, and make NGSS a success in their classes.
NABT has also encouraged teachers to submit proposals for the NABT Conference on NGSS to present and discuss ideas with others. These presentations in November will give teachers ideas about what is working in the classroom and how they could modify it to meet their teaching situation.
NABT has an online resource called the NABT Ecosystem. This is a great place for NABT members and non-members to “start and join the conversation” about NGSS. The Ecosystem is a great place for members to discuss NGSS and other topics of interest, including Vision and Change and AP Biology Curriculum Framework.
In regard to curricular discussions in education, NABT members need to continue to be leaders at all levels. We need to take the lead and be involved with the curricular and standards discussions at the institutional, district, state, and national levels. And as NABT leaders, we need to be involved in the discussions about “the next generation of assessments.” These assessments include district and state exams, and national exams including the evolution of the AP Biology exam or other national exams. If you are not already involved, please consider representing NABT in your area in regard to the new science standards.