The Next Generation Science Standards and
redesigning science curriculum in our schools
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) most recent draft report advocates that science education in our schools should provide engineering and inquiry-based projects embedded within the curriculum.
The goal for science educators today is to develop, within each student, a mindset and a reverence for decision making based upon evidence. Engineering and inquiry-based projects are one of the primary means for students to develop these abilities and be able to produce rational and logical arguments supporting explanations of scientific experiments and theories.
Robert Lang, high school teacher at Glenbard North High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, recently published an article in Science Teacher Magazine. In this article Lang details his effort along with a team of physics science teachers in his school involved in redesigning the physics curriculum. The goal is to more closely align learning outcomes to the goals of NGSS. Throughout the article Lang emphasizes curriculum reform encouraging more rigorous debate among students with respect to evidence-based arguments. He states in the article that having students work on engineering challenges to solve real problems has resulted in higher exam scores in his science classes a noticeable increase in the level of confidence expressed by his students when solving problems.
In this current issue of Science Teacher Magazine science teacher Mark Vondreck describes the essence of doing STEM research in his physics science classroom. He believes that putting “physical systems” in front of students to play with results in students gaining understanding of hidden complexities that exist within the system. Students come to appreciate both the concepts learned in physics and the process of doing science.
Vondrack writes the following:
“The practice of science often involves extended experiences that are foreign to most high school students, as well as many teachers who don’t have a research background. If we want our students to be aware of the practices of science and how science works, and gain an appreciation for how complex the world is compared to simplified, approximated and idealized world of science textbooks, then we need to expose them to concrete examples of real phenomena and get them thinking about new ideas.”
What Vondrack writes clearly defines the challenge that science educators and other stakeholders in science education face as they redefine a new paradigm of how our students learn science in the classroom.
Giving students the opportunity to learn in an environment that encourages independent thought, skepticism and collaboration is fundamental to the process of doing science. Science educators now advocate for this long view of learning the concepts, theories and practice of science. It entails deeper understanding brought about by minds-on and hands-on engagement by students over time. The reason for this new emphasis is the realization that understanding comes from experience, questioning and reflection. The measure of time for this to occur in the classroom is determined by the learning environment provided by the teacher. It is not about a transfer of knowledge, but more like absorption of the reality of the experience. Learning is measured by student performance in the process of doing science. The educator facilitates this process in the classroom and students, immersed in this environment, develop the skills and abilities needed to think critically and to solve problems.
A quote by Grant Wiggins from the book titled Understanding by Design, “the learner should come to understand the skill’s underlying concepts, why the skill is important, and what it helps accomplish, what strategies and techniques maximize its effectiveness and where to use them… understanding-based teaching of skills develop more fluent, effective and autonomous proficiency than does instruction relying on rote learning and drill-and-practice methods alone.”
The case for change in science education, in how we deliver learning opportunities in the science classroom, has never been clearer and more pressing than it is today. Educators must realize that they have to provide these new opportunities for students to better prepare them for 21st century challenges that they will face in their lives.