Category Archives: Inquiry

How I Plan to Eat an Elephant Named NGSS

NGSS Elephant

Change doesn’t come easy for me. I embrace it. I encourage it. I survive it. But it does not come easily.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were in review as I trained to become a teacher and released as I was hired for my first Science teaching position. So, in theory, the standards I am expected to teach have not changed in my career. However, the thinking behind the NGSS is so fundamentally different than how I was taught that I face the same shift as veteran teachers. One benefit I might have is that I am still developing my arsenal of strategies, units, and activities, rather than having to evaluate my favorite “go-tos” for their fit to NGSS.

As I learn more about the NGSS, the more I realize I don’t know. The biggest obstacle seems to be finding consistency with the 3-Dimensional Learning called for by NGSS. Traditionally, the focus has been on the core concepts, now called the Disciplinary Core Ideas. The shift comes as we add 2 more intentional dimensions to Science learning, the Science and Engineering Practices and Cross-Cutting Concepts. As a teacher, I am intimidated by the addition, but as a scientist and learner I am excited by their inclusion.

The practices used by scientists and the interdependence of concepts were only illuminated through my research at the college level. I learned these by doing. In my lab, I was expected to know the content and the connections and perform. Much of the time, I found myself chasing down information to fill the gaps in my education. It is because of this that I am thrilled to give students the opportunity to have these experiences during high school and be able to excel in later endeavors. If I had been taught with the lens provided by NGSS, I know the transition to collegiate research would have been a breeze.

Now, I know very few of my students want to go on to be science researchers, but I also know the approach to learning described by the 3-dimensions is applicable beyond just Science. Being able to ask the questions, define problems, analyze and interpret data/information, identify patterns and cause and effect relationships, are all skills that will further any student as both a citizen and professional.

The complicated part is also the most important part – implementing the necessary changes to accomplish the goals of NGSS. This is my elephant. How am I going to eat this elephant? Same way as any elephant, one bite at a time.

First bite – using the driving questions found in the NGSS Storylines to guide student exploration of scientific phenomena. Gulp.

Here we go!