In the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. was ranked #38 out of 71 countries in Math and 24th in Science. Ouch.
Surely we can do better—and we should, for the sake of our country's future, our quality of life, and our ability to compete in the global economy. In 2007, a commission of researchers and public leaders concluded that "the nation's capacity to innovate for economic growth and the ability of American workers to thrive in the modern workforce depends on a broad foundation of math and science learning."
As the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) points out, our country's science standards haven’t been revised in many years, and aren't keeping pace with advances in technology or the "innovation-driven economy." Too few students are entering the STEM fields, and many who do find themselves ill-prepared.
The NSTA partnered with the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve to develop the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in order to provide "the necessary foundation for local decisions around curriculum, assessments, and instruction."
Aligned with Common Core
The NGSS align grade-by-grade with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts. Their goal is to create a cross-disciplinary curriculum that enables students to incorporate reasoning skills and understand the connection between science, math and language arts. Each NGSS performance expectation links to the general curriculum.
The Building Blocks of NGSS
Disciplinary Core Ideas are at the root of the NGSS, focusing the curriculum on key concepts that are important across multiple scientific disciplines. Called "Crosscutting Concepts," these are core concepts such as cause and effect, energy, matter, patterns, stability, scale, proportion, and system models. As students grasp these concepts, they can go on to understand increasingly more complex problems, and begin to relate STEM to their own life experiences.
The NGSS is also practice-based, requiring students to apply the practices that scientists and engineers use in the real world:
- Scientific inquiry – answering questions through investigation
- Engineering practice – solving problems through design
The engineering approach, in particular, may be new to many teachers, but is directly pertinent to the needs of an evolving high-tech society.
Understanding Outweighs Memorization
Under the guidelines of the NGSS, students would not be handed an answer and asked to memorize it for a test. Instead they would be challenged to pose questions, do experiments, and discover answers for themselves. They are then better equipped to apply those answers to other scientific problems – and to the world around them.
These standards encourage a classroom culture of collaborative reasoning. As students analyze data and reason through problems together, modeling concepts and designing solutions, they connect the core concepts of their subject matter with other subjects and other elements of life.
In addition, the NGSS standards stress performance over mere knowledge – in other words, students must demonstrate their ability to put their knowledge to use.
As strong proponents of STEM education, we at Envision are not surprised to see the NGSS gaining popularity and acceptance by the States. These standards are built on the same principles that Envision career programs are: problem-solving, collaboration, and learning by doing. As students practice applying knowledge in real-world situations, they not only achieve better retention, but also develop a greater appreciation for education. This type of real-world focus helps build a generation of Americans with a strong base of practical knowledge, and the critical-thinking skills necessary to tackle new issues.
To access the NGSS by topic: