Thinking Like a Scientist: What Educators Can Learn From a Six-Year NGSS Initiative
Six years ago, Kari Koch was pretty confident in her work as a sixth-grade science teacher. Her students at Tierra del Sol Middle School, in California’s Lakeside Union School District, were good at memorizing discrete information and her classroom featured a mix of fun activities.
“My PowerPoint lessons were awesome,” she joked. But now looking back, she knows her students weren’t grasping the concepts behind the experiments and the connections among the technical terms. “I wasn’t really teaching them the practices of how to think and act like a scientist.”
Then, Lakeside Union became one of eight districts and two charter management organizations across the state chosen to participate in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Early Implementers Initiative. Funded by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and co-led by the K–12 Alliance at WestEd, the six-year Initiative worked to build districts’ capacity to implement the NGSS in grades K–8 and make science a core subject.
Science not only helps students learn about the world around them, it can also be a pathway to a promising career, says Burr Tyler, a research associate at WestEd who helped lead an extensive evaluation of the Early Implementers Initiative. But science typically receives less attention than reading and math, particularly in grades K–8. Teachers in the elementary grades often lack a solid foundation in how to teach science, and at the middle school level, they might have a narrow focus, such as Earth science, says Tyler.
Much as the Common Core State Standards revamped English language arts and math by requiring students to demonstrate deeper comprehension, the NGSS are transforming science education. Lectures and rote learning are giving way to activities that simulate science and engineering practices, such as having students design and lead investigations, construct scientific arguments, and record their findings in science notebooks.
After six years as an NGSS Early Implementer, Koch is getting much more than one-word answers from her students. Now, her students are designing their own experiments and tapping each other’s knowledge as they gain a deeper understanding of the concepts.
Posted on April 21, 2021