A Refresher Course on the NGSS

Does the term next gen make your ears perk up like it does mine? It’s a term that became popular in the early 2000s in reference to new technology adoptions and developments in the gaming and 3D graphics industry. But today, it’s used more liberally to refer to any “major upgrade.”

But what exactly has it meant for the past several years when used in tandem with Science Standards? 40 states have adopted the NGSS or a modified version thereof, so it’s worth knowing what are they, why their three-dimensional approach is effective, how they differ from previous standards. This post explores all of these details and provides a snapshot of an NGSS lesson in action.

What are Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?

NGSS are intended to provide all students in the U.S. an internationally-benchmarked science education through a structured, coherent approach to science content and practice.

In response to the fact that science standards had not been revised since the beginning of the 21st century, despite the many advances in science that have occurred in that time, education reform organization Achieve led the collaborative effort between twenty-six state partners, the National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and a final draft of the standards was released in April of 2013.

The standards were developed in a two step process; first came the development of the Framework for K–12 Science Education, a research- and evidence-based document identifying what science all K-12 students should know and how students learn science most effectively, and then the science standards were developed by science educators and other experts based on the framework.

What are the three dimensions of NGSS?

Every NGSS has three prongs working together to create a three dimensional learning experience. These include the following:

  • Crosscutting Concepts are a means of linking the different domains of science identified as Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science. Examples of crosscutting concepts include: patterns, similarity and diversity; cause and effect; scale, proportion and quantity; systems and system models; energy and matter; structure and function; and stability and change. Thoroughly understanding these concepts helps students to interrelate knowledge and develop a scientifically-based view of the world.
  • Science and Engineering Practice helps students understand what scientists and engineers do to investigate, develop theories, and build models and systems. By defining and engaging in practices, students better understand the relevance of science and its connection to everyday life.
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas focus science curriculum, instruction and assessments on the most essential aspects of science. Core ideas meet at least two of the following four criteria.
    • Have broad importance across multiple  sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing concept of a single discipline;
    • Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems;
    • Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technological knowledge;
    • Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication.

How is NGSS different than prior science standards?

It is noted by the NSTA that the format of the standards differs from prior standards in three ways:

  • Performance. The Performance Expectations (PEs) identify what the student needs to be able to do in order to demonstrate meeting the standard, in addition to what students should know or understand. In general, this small adjustment brought cohesion and alignment to the development of curriculum, instruction, and assessment targets.
  • Foundations. Each PE incorporates the three-dimensional approach and includes Crosscutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Practices, and Disciplinary Core Ideas.
  • Coherence. Each PE is connected to other ideas in science and engineering and with the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics.

An example performance expectation is broken down below to show how each standard is systematically arranged. Each PE is identified with a coding system and a title and is broken into performance expectations that incorporate the three dimensions of NGSS, three colored boxes containing the foundational language for the standard based on the Framework for K–12 Science Education and including connections to the four domains of science, and a section with connections and applications to other disciplinary core ideas, grade-levels and Common Core State Standards.

Title and Performance:

Foundational Language:

Coherence and Connections:

Source: “How to Read Next Generation Science Standards

An NGSS Classroom Snapshot

A teacher relying on the systematic outline of each standard has a clear map for lesson planning. In one example, a video on the NSTA website shows a snapshot of one teacher’s lesson on Developing and Using Models of Electrical Interactions and her approach to encouraging students to use evidence. She discusses how she tries to respond neutrally to her students’ ideas – “I do this because I want students to gain confidence based on the evidence they’ve gathered as opposed to my reaction to their ideas.” The students are later given the opportunity to evaluate themselves for any inaccuracies. The teacher walks the students through applying evidence while incorporating crosscutting concepts and core ideas.

Understanding science and how scientific concepts relate to the things around us is arguably now more important than ever. Guidelines like the NGSS are important to streamlining how we prepare teachers to give students the scientific skills and knowledge they’ll need for their futures.

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