Engaging in the Art of Teaching With the Next Generation Science Standards

NGSS coverFor the past 15 months, a four-letter acronym has been on the tip of science educators’ tongues: NGSS, the Next Generation Science Standards. Whether you personally are or your state board of education is “in favor of,” or “opposed to,” or you are simply “engaged with” the NGSS, there is no doubt that their release has been scrutinized in the media and intensively discussed within the science education community; it is an exciting time for science education.

Crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, performance expectations, and assessment boundaries are all important aspects of the curricular process that science educators should consider while planning curriculums, units, and daily lessons. Considering the information the document contains, it is fair to say that the NGSS covers the “what” of teaching—the content students should know and understand—and up to a point, the “why” has been incorporated into the architecture, which used the learning progressions from A Framework for K–12 Science Education to design the performance expectations.

NGSS does not mention the “how” or method by which these core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and practices should be taught. An online search of the NGSS for the keywords “teaching” and “pedagogy” returned no hits for either. However, if we review the Framework, it has some valuable points to remember and continue to practice in our classrooms every day to engage students in learning. The Framework states, “[I]nstruction refers to methods of teaching and the learning activities used to help students master the content and objectives specified by a curriculum. Instruction encompasses the activities of both teachers and students. It can be carried out by a variety of pedagogical techniques, sequences of activities, and ordering of topics” (NRC 2012, p. 250). The overarching point of this quote connects with the “how” or method a teacher selects to engage students and assist them in discovering the content, concepts, and practices outlined in the NGSS. These decisions are not as clearly spelled out and require experience, skill, and creativity in selection.

In recent years, there has been discussion, discourse, and debate about direct instruction versus inquiry, which are on opposite ends of the spectrum. This debate has produced research results on both sides of the topic (some of which are published by the National Academy of Sciences, the publisher of the Framework and the NGSS). Furthermore, current generalized approaches in the educational arena too often bleed into the science area and focus on remediation, intervention, and test preparation skills, with little or no direct relationship to how students learn science.

In developing the Framework, the Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K12 Science Education Standards was not charged with addressing instruction, but rather content. However, they still felt the need to incorporate the chapter titled “implementation,” which discusses instruction. They quickly pointed out that they were not making formal recommendations, but understood the “[s]tandards provide a vision for teaching and learning, but the vision cannot be realized unless the standards permeate the education system and guide curriculum, instruction, teacher preparation and professional development, and student assessment” (NRC 2012, p. 241). So the area of instruction becomes the question of “how” and thus becomes personal to each teacher in each classroom each day. Decisions of “how” or what teaching methods to select are at the intersection of general educational understanding, content knowledge, and knowledge of how the students in an individual class will best learn. Some call the intersection of these three aspects pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Applied PCK is at the heart of decision-making in the moment; it is “the art of teaching.” Teachers need to take the individual components within PCK, combine them with their own passion and energy for learning and teaching, and encourage students to engage in the learning process. No two classes will be the same, no two lessons will follow the exact path, and no two students will arrive at the same outcome at the same moment. Each of these experiences for the students, class, and teacher will be an individual discovery. As the American poet and teacher Mark Van Doren stated, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery”—and I contend the ultimate answer to the question of “how.”

My certificate from the state of Pennsylvania certifies me “to practice the art of teaching and render services” in my certificated areas. I support and believe in the efficacy and importance of the NGSS, the focus they bring to what students should know and understand, as well as the explicit need to integrate the three dimensions within the classroom lessons. However, like each of you, I am a teacher who knows my students and needs to make informed decisions about how to best engage them in the instruction of the content presented in the standards. In the end, it is important to remember that we need to know about the content and resources available, as well as make decisions that will best bring that content alive for our students. This intersection among content, an understanding of education, and knowledge of our students is where we must all practice the art of teaching and help our students engage in discovery.

Author Christine RoyceToday’s Blogger

Christine Anne Royce, a professor of education at Shippensburg University, where she also serves as department chair. For the past two years, she also has codirected the Master of Arts in Teaching in Science Education program and focuses on the integration of science and literacy for her research area. Royce earned an EdD in science education from Temple University and has taught science at all levels. She has served on the NSTA Board and Council. Email her at caroyce@aol.com or follow her on twitter @caroyce.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the September issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Visit the NGSS@NSTA Hub at http://www.nsta.org/ngss to access NSTA’s growing collection of NGSS resources.

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5 Comments

  1. Amanda Schwarz
    Posted September 27, 2014 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Science is a vastly interesting subject in schools, which probably explains why I chose it as one of my Middle-Level concentrations. Science is not engaging and interesting right away, at least in my experience. Science became fun for me because of my teachers. They were the ones that talked to me like I was a scientist in the making, and they were the ones that made me find answers to questions on my own. With guidance and practice, I learned how to think and ask questions, and it eventually made science a very enjoyable subject for me. The new NGSS have all of the foundational work to make science engaging for students. If teachers merely stand at the front of a classroom and hit every standard on the list in a lecture, we will not promote thinking and we will not create future scientists. We will continue to promote passive learners, and this is something I do not want to see in my classes. It is the teacher’s job to engage students because we need to find ways to encourage students to think and learn. Any student can sit in a classroom and listen to science concepts. We as teachers need to make it fun so those concepts stick and transfer to new learning. One of my favorite quotes from Plutarch is, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” If we do not engage students, they will never learn how to meet their full potential; we need to kindle this learning and make science a subject they want to learn about.

  2. Meridith Fitzwater
    Posted September 28, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Science is one of those subjects that student’s love or that they just do their work to get by. For many students it is a dreadful class that they are required to take. In all reality science classes hold the opportunity for students to learn actively. As an educator it is important to involve and engage our students so that they feel included when learning the topic. In science classes it is important to make sure that students have a concrete background on some terminology, but with activities that are hands on and require abstract thinking students are able to build skills that will help them be connected and understand the topic better. The NGSS is giving teachers a chance to demonstrate their love and knowledge for science. It’s quite exciting to have freedom to show what we know and the independence to decide the best way to teach students. It also gives us opportunity to engage students in the most effective ways. Engaging students will increase their desire to want to learn more, as well as their overall interest. As teachers we have the ability to add creativity into our science classes, and to help students learn inquisitively.

  3. Eric Bowman
    Posted September 28, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    The common adage, “Students learn best by doing,” is a prime example of how science should be taught in the classroom. Science and math are two disciplines where “doing” rings true. Yes, students can sit through direct instruction of a concept, but being actively engaged allows them to “own” their learning and construct it in a way that makes sense to them. The NGSS is unique in the respect that the “what” and “why” are emphasized, but it does not incorporate “how” methods, practices, and concepts should be taught. This process eliminates the rigidity and force-feeding of how information is delivered, and provides teachers the freedom for creativity that allows students to discover meaning in an engaging way. In this method, teacher and student roles are almost switched so to speak. The student(s) dictates how they want to go about solving a problem and the teacher acts as a facilitator, prompting them with guiding questions and having explain their reasoning. This creativity in the classroom can then be transferred and connected to other science topics that align with the NGSS principle of crosscutting concepts.

  4. Amanda Rainwater
    Posted November 12, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this viewpoint about NGSS and focusing on the professionalism of teachers. There is a lot of anxiety in our district around the implementation of NGSS and how it might obliterate other science classes and make it more challenging for students to take upper level classes like AP and IB sciences. Right now we have a committee of teachers wrestling with how to articulate all of the performance expectations into courses that will best prepare our students but allow for flexibility as well. Keeping in mind that there isn’t just one way of teaching these standards is refreshing to hear.

  5. Warren Phillips
    Posted November 25, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Hi Christine!
    I just read your NSTA article and passed it along to my colleagues. I love your perspective on NGSS standards and the responsibilities of teachers! I have always thought “just tell me what standards you want me to teach and give me the freedom to find a way to make it unforgettable to students.” This is what lead me to research in brain-based learning and finding strategies that reach all students.

    “When you go fishing, do you use bait that you like, or bait the fish like?”
    Teachers should teach with strategies that best facilitate children’s learning. I had the good fortune of meeting Marcia Tate, a renown brain-based educator, who has identified 20 teaching strategies that she calls Tate’s 20. Together, we collaborated to write a book called “Science Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites”. It provides science lessons incorporating each of the 20 strategies. Having taught for 40 years, I can tell you that these lessons can be unforgettable to students. For example, using music, I wrote a song for every unit that I teach. These songs I call Sing Along Science, using melodies that they are already familiar with that often become “earworms”. Changing the lyrics (with science info/concepts) and adding movements places the information into the amygdala and hippo-campus, parts of the brain where information is stored for life!

    Anyway, Thank You for writing this article and reminding us that teaching is an art form that, when engaging students with science content, can create unforgettable experiences and a lifelong love of the subject.

    Warren Phillips http://www.singalongscience.com a1science@yahoo.com

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