Next Generation Science Standards
NGSS: Next Generation Science Standards
If you are a science teacher, or any teacher in the STEM fields, you have probably heard about the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS. These standards were developed by science experts and a consortium of educational leaders from 26 states.
Since many teachers are thinking consistently about the Common Core State Standards, it is important to understand how NGSS and CCSS are different as well as what they have in common.
In addition to providing guidelines for the scientific knowledge students should acquire, the NGSS also offer suggestions about the practices associated with strong science learning, scientific methods, instruction and thought. The key driving force behind the NGSS is the stated need to ensure students are able to forge strong links between core ideas underpinning modern scientific understanding, and science in practice, thus providing them with a strong grounding in the knowledge and practical application of science and engineering.
NGSS are cross-cutting standards, in that they focus on core ideas not only from the fields historically known as traditional sciences, but also from technology and engineering. The most important concepts and phenomena from math as well as the sciences are brought together in these very contemporary and forward looking standards. NGSS offer performance expectations for students in Earth and space science, life science, and physical science, but overall these standards are interdisciplinary in their nature and approach.
Performance Expectations & Evidence Statements
The NGSS standards incorporate performance expectations, which stipulate not only what students are meant to know in each of the scientific disciplines, but also what they are able to do. These performance expectations signify important knowledge and practice associated with contemporary science thinking and inquiry. Performance expectations are active in nature; each expectation begins with a verb that clearly explicates what students at a particular age level ought to be able to do within each strand of the sciences as well as associated fields. The performance expectations are directly related to the National Research Council's inquiry into what students in grades K-12 should be able to do in the sciences in order to achieve college and career readiness.
Another key aspect of NGSS is their incorporation of evidence statements. The evidence statements were developed and reviewed by scientists and educators, and they are clear descriptions of precisely what students should be able to do in relation to the standards. Evidence statements in NGSS provide teachers with clear, observable behaviors and practices they can see students engaging in as an example of meeting or failing to meet a particular standard in the sciences. The evidence statements are measurable, thus making it possible for teachers and curriculum developers to tie them to specific assessments and instructional practices.
Science & Engineering Practices
One of the major concepts underlying the NGSS has to do with the application of scientific knowledge. In other words, how can students use the concepts they learn in the sciences to complete real and applied tasks?
The NGSS science and engineering practices offer insight into the overlap between science and engineering, including how scientific knowledge can be applied in the fields of building, design and innovation.
Science, technology, engineering and math together are collectively known as STEM fields, and these are very important in thinking about college and career readiness, as well as next-generation learning overall. In other words, in addition to learning the traditional science fields, students being educated under NGSS also learn about the significance and overlap with technology, engineering and mathematics.
This engagement with STEM fields can be very useful in curriculum development using NGSS, especially since application is one way to get students more interested in science and aware of the relevance of science to their lives. Many students are particularly intrigued by the overlap between science and engineering practices, since they can immediately see the relevance of engineering to work in design, building, and other higher level scientific and mathematical practices.
NGSS take seriously the idea of cross-cutting concepts, which span different scientific fields. A cross-cutting concept incorporates content and knowledge from a variety of scientific disciplines. Some examples of cross-cutting concepts include the understanding of patterns, which occur across the sciences, the understanding of cause and effect relationships overall, and the mastery, or deep understanding, of scale and proportion. Cross-cutting concepts are significant across the sciences and across STEM fields overall, making their internalization and comprehension especially important in science education. For that reason, NGSS focus in on these concepts, articulating them carefully and ensuring that students have multiple opportunities over the years to deepen their understanding.
Once a student has internalized a cross-cutting concept, they will be able to independently see its application across the sciences. For instance, a student with a solid mastery of the concept of stability and change will see the relevance of this idea to biology, but also to physics, computer science and mathematics.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
The NGSS framework is interdisciplinary, incorporating the life sciences, earth and space science, physical science, and engineering. Within each of these fields, as well as across these fields, the NGSS pinpoint disciplinary core ideas. Disciplinary core ideas are salient across the sciences, are broad and focusing in nature, can be taught at a variety of levels of sophistication over time, and relate to students' interests, goals and experiences. These ideas can also be used to solve or at least work through complex scientific and social problems.
The disciplinary core ideas look different at different age groups, guiding science curriculum and instruction according to developmental science needs and understandings.
- The kindergarten NGSS focus on concrete observations and understandings.
- The elementary grade NGSS grow increasingly complex and abstract.
- The middle school NGSS are organized into more specific and discrete science units. For example, there are NGSS life science for middle school core ideas that can be applied across the sciences, even when they are taught explicitly within the context of life science.
- The high school national science standards build on all of the concepts and skills students have previously internalized.
Across all of the age groups, though, the core ideas and practices that students are meant to master are sorted according to these four domains of science listed above.
Finally, it is important to understand that the NGSS view scientific phenomena as a key aspect of deep scientific understanding. NGSS emphasize the idea that science is fundamentally based on observation of and inquiry into natural phenomena, and considers phenomena to be anchor points. The standards stress that natural phenomena should be used in scientific inquiry in the classroom, and by extension in the real world, to relate scientific principles. Such principles in turn are founded upon disciplinary core ideas, cross-cutting concepts and science and engineering practices so central to the standards' overall framework, as described above.