Described as shifting “from learning about something to figuring out something,” the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are being adopted by states and integrated into schools around the nation, including CTD’s home state of Illinois in early 2014.
As you will read in this edition of Talent, the standards change the traditional approach to teaching science, encouraging inquiry-based learning; interdisciplinary content (to help students explore connections across four domains of science, including Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design); and focusing on disciplinary core ideas. These standards generally move away from “textbook” science, which has been a staple of K-12 classes, and instead allow students to explore and analyze content, while building their own solutions and conclusions as they engage with real-world questions and problems.
Image Courtesy of the Concord Consortium
Center for Talent Development (CTD) is incorporating the NGSS into its own programs and connecting with Northwestern University’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP) and other STEM leaders for support to ensure CTD students will benefit and reach their full potential.
To help you, our readers, gain a broader understanding of NGSS, we spoke to Amy Pratt, Associate Director of OSEP, who is instrumental in building partnerships to bridge education and industry; and Tania Pachuta, science educator and former Assistant Program Coordinator at CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program, who was recently involved in building a new course for the weekend program guided by NGSS.
We hope that through developing programs that are NGSS-aligned, our students will develop greater interest, knowledge, and skills in the sciences an enhance their creative- and critical-thinking abilities, so that more of them will be inspired to pursue scientific work in college and beyond.
In her role as an Associate Director of the Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP) at Northwestern University, Amy Pratt’s key responsibility is establishing partnerships between Northwestern faculty and students, K-12, the community, and industry. Pratt says OSEP is fortunate to have diverse partners in place to help STEM development for teachers and students. She believes with their support and collaboration, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a solid way to create deeper learning experiences in STEM. Here, Pratt shares her perspective on the NGSS:
“The NGSS is very exciting for those of us who have been working collaboratively in higher education and K-12 along with partners such as those in national research entities (i.e. the National Science Foundation) and industry. It not only focuses on content but the practices in STEM, and they help us make connections between those disciplines,” Pratt says.
Historically, science teaching has been done in silos even though many elements overlap. “The standards help us provide K-12 kids with a picture of what science really looks like in universities and in industry today. It also helps teachers to teach the subjects in very creative and fun ways,” Pratt adds, and this in turns gives the opportunity for kids to have fun while learning.
Blending both the content of science and its practices, Pratt says, means, “thinking about how to teach differently, providing hands-on, inquiry-based learning, and collaborative work among teachers to meet the standards in new ways.”
Pratt believes these standards are necessary to help drive change in K-12 education. “Teachers, researchers, and industry professionals, for example, need to work together as job requirements are constantly changing; therefore, we need to be innovative in K-12 education as well.” The pace of technology and science is moving quickly in the real world, making it difficult to develop curriculum, but Pratt is confident the new standards have an advantage as they give way to innovation and risk-taking in instruction.
Pratt says educators will stand to benefit significantly if they have access to meaningful professional development to meet the standards. “Teachers can get excited about meeting the standards, but they can become nervous and apprehensive as well. So when we adopt the standards like in states such as Illinois, we have to make sure that we will allow them the opportunity to learn, practice, and implement the standards. So it is an exciting time for teachers to learn and grow when they are teaching. It provides a new way of thinking in terms of pedagogy and training.”
According to Pratt, for in-service teachers, one of the things the STEM programs at OSEP are doing is focusing on STEM content and skill development and pedagogy. “It is how to bring more hands-on learning into the classroom, modify curriculum, and change practice.”
In any endeavor related to education the goal is improved learning. With a focus on application and real-world contexts, the NGSS are a pathway to more authentic STEM learning through skill development, broader knowledge of science applications, and deeper understanding of important concepts and fields of study.
“When you give students a picture of how it works in the real world, they get much more excited,” Pratt elaborates on the potential benefits of the standards. “It is not just a piece of content or about memorizing. It’s about learning content and translating that into practice, and how those practices influence science across disciplines; it gives a real world picture of what is happening across campus; in the laboratory, where they are working on cures for Alzheimer’s; in engineering for sustainability; better ways of helping climate change, new ways of capturing and storing solar energy.”
“There are so many things I’d like to see change. I’d love science to be taught in kindergarten, all the way through, and in different ways. NGSS mandates this, but putting into practice is hard.”
Pratt hopes that once the standards take root, they will allow teachers to be facilitators and collaborators with their students. She says the key question is how we can build classrooms of discovery. While these big ideas brew, Pratt is aware that putting them into practice can be difficult for educators and schools for lots of reasons – from resources, to professional development, to assessment and so on. However, she believes that in giving teachers and school leaders more room to innovate, they will be able to go further with their contributions to student learning in STEM and to society as a whole.
The Center for Talent Development (CTD) has created innovative programs that employ challenging curriculum and are designed to engage students in the real world, problem-solving activities scientists practice on daily basis. According to Tania Pachuta, a science educator and former Assistant Program Coordinator for CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) provide an excellent framework for CTD to develop excellent, cutting-edge science programming. The NGSS are especially suitable for students who are academically advanced and need more room for enrichment and acceleration.
CTD uses standards like NGSS to plan programs, assess course content, and guide instruction. As an example, Pachuta designed a class for the Saturday Enrichment Program called Science, Engineering, and Technology Honors that examines how science and engineering can be used to solve society’s challenges.
“I looked at the engineering practices that are included within the NGSS and then determined how we could offer a course that allowed students to engage in these standards consistently, but with different areas of focus for each session (Fall, Winter, Spring).
“For example, for Fall we focused on engineering through the lens of medicine. One of the activities students worked on was designing a prosthetic limb, so biomedical engineering and related topics were covered in that session. Winter focused on civil engineering, so the lessons allowed them to work on projects such as constructing bridges. Spring was environmental engineering, focusing on engineering problems such as designing landfills and building green and efficient buildings,” she elaborated.
These activities give students a taste of the wide variety of career options available in the engineering field, as well as a method of problem-solving that transfers to all areas of life. Teachers designed activities that centered around the engineering standards, such as HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. A general standard such as this can be applied in many situations, not only throughout all sessions of this course, but in life in general.
Pachuta is a big fan of the engineering design standard because it allows students to engage in hands-on problem solving, as well as work on challenges that exist in society now and potentially in the future. “The standards allow room for teachers to differentiate and engage students in activities that spark their interest,” she says. For example, HS-ETS1-3 states, “Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.” Teachers and students have the freedom to choose a topic they feel passionate about and run with it.
Pachuta suggests that parents can help students by encouraging them to enhance their problem-solving skills and to practice them regularly. “It is fine if you can memorize facts, but to be able to critically think and problem solve is important because it can get you through novel situations in the future. Parents should encourage their children to get involved with all kinds of activities that will foster creativity and critical thinking.”
The Science, Engineering, and Technology Honors program started in 2015 and has proven to be a popular with students. CTD plans to continue the program in the upcoming school year.