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Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (2013)

Chapter: APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards

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Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
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APPENDIX H
UNDERSTANDING THE SCIENTIFIC ENTERPRISE: THE NATURE OF SCIENCE IN THE NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS

Scientists and science teachers agree that science is a way of explaining the natural world. In common parlance, science is both a set of practices and the historical accumulation of knowledge. An essential part of science education is learning science and engineering practices and developing knowledge of the concepts that are foundational to science disciplines. Further, students should develop an understanding of the enterprise of science as a whole—the wondering, investigating, questioning, data collecting, and analyzing. This final statement establishes a connection between the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the nature of science. Public comments on previous drafts of the NGSS called for more explicit discussion of how students can learn about the nature of science.

This chapter presents perspectives, a rationale, and research supporting an emphasis on the nature of science in the context of the NGSS. Additionally, eight understandings with appropriate grade-level outcomes are included as extensions of the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts, not as a fourth dimension of standards. Finally, this chapter discusses how to emphasize the nature of science in school programs.

THE FRAMEWORK FOR K–12 SCIENCE EDUCATION

A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (Framework) (NRC, 2012) acknowledged the importance of the nature of science in the statement “there is a strong consensus about characteristics of the scientific enterprise that should be understood by an educated citizen” (p. 78). The Framework reflected on the practices of science and returned to the nature of science in the following statement: “Epistemic knowledge is knowledge of the constructs and values that are intrinsic to science. Students need to understand what is meant, for example, by an observation, a hypothesis, an inference, a model, a theory, or a claim and be able to distinguish among them” (p. 79). This quotation presents a series of concepts and activities important to understanding the nature of science as a complement to the practices imbedded in investigations, field studies, and experiments.

THE NATURE OF SCIENCE: A PERSPECTIVE FOR THE NGSS

The integration of science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts sets the stage for teaching and learning about the nature of science. That said, learning about the nature of science requires more than engaging in activities and conducting investigations.

When the three dimensions of the science standards are combined, one can ask what is central to the intersection of the science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts? Or, what is the relationship among the three basic elements of the Framework? Humans have a need to know and understand the world around them. And they have the need to change their environment using technology in order to accommodate what they understand or desire. In some cases, the need to know originates in satisfying basic needs in the face of potential danger. Sometimes it is a natural curiosity and, in other cases, the promise of a better, more comfortable life. Science is the pursuit of explanations of the natural world, and technology and engineering are means of accommodating human needs, intellectual curiosity, and aspirations.

One fundamental goal for K–12 science education is a scientifically literate person who can understand the nature of scientific knowledge. Indeed, the only consistent characteristic of scientific knowledge across the disciplines is that scientific knowledge itself is open to revision in light of new evidence.

In K–12 classrooms the issue is how to explain both the natural world and what constitutes the formation of adequate, evidence-based scientific explanations. To be clear, this perspective

Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
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complements but is distinct from students engaging in science and engineering practices in order to enhance their knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

A RATIONALE AND RESEARCH

Addressing the need for students to understand both the concepts and practices of science and the nature of science is not new in American education. For example, the writings of James B. Conant in the 1940s and 1950s argue for a greater understanding of science by citizens (Conant, 1947). In Science and Common Senses, Conant (1951) discusses the “bewilderment of laymen” when it comes to understanding what science can and cannot accomplish, in both the detailed context of investigations and the larger perspective of understanding science. Conant says: “The remedy does not lie in a greater dissemination of scientific information among non-scientists. Being well informed about science is not the same thing as understanding science, though the two propositions are not antithetical. What is needed are methods for importing some knowledge of the tactics and strategy of science to those who are not scientists” (Conant, 1951, p. 4). In the context of the discussion here, tactics are analogous to science and engineering practices, as well as to the nature of scientific explanations.

The present discussion recommends the aforementioned “tactics of science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts” to develop students’ understanding of the larger strategies of the scientific enterprise—the nature of scientific explanations. It should be noted that Conant and colleagues went on to develop Harvard Cases in History of Science (available at: http://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/clc/382832), a historical approach to understanding science. An extension of the nature of science as a learning goal for education soon followed the original work at Harvard. In the late 1950s, Leo Klopfer adapted the Harvard Cases for use in high schools (Klopfer and Cooley, 1963). Work on the nature of science has continued with lines of research by Duschl (1990, 2000, 2008), Lederman (1992), and Lederman and colleagues (2002). One aspect of this research base addresses the teaching of the nature of science (see, e.g., Duschl, 1990; Duschl and Grandy, 2008; Flick and Lederman, 2004; Lederman and Lederman, 2004; McComas, 1998; Osborne et al., 2003).

Further support for teaching about the nature of science can be seen in 40 years of position statements from the National Science Teachers Association. Science for All Americans (Rutherford and Ahlgren, 1989), the policy statement Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993), and National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) clearly set understanding the nature of science as a learning outcome in science education.

Recently, discussions of the Framework (NRC, 2012) and implications for teaching science have provided background for instructional strategies that connect specific practices and the nature of scientific explanations (Duschl, 2012; Krajcik and Merritt, 2012; Reiser et al., 2012).

THE NATURE OF SCIENCE AND THE NGSS

The nature of science is included in the NGSS. Here is presented the Nature of Science (NOS) Matrix. The basic understandings about the nature of science are:

  • Scientific Investigations Use a Variety of Methods
  • Scientific Knowledge Is Based on Empirical Evidence
  • Scientific Knowledge Is Open to Revision in Light of New Evidence
  • Scientific Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena
  • Science Is a Way of Knowing
  • Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems
  • Science Is a Human Endeavor
  • Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World

The first four of these understandings are closely associated with practices and the second four with crosscutting concepts. The NOS Matrix presents specific content for K–2, 3–5, middle school, and high school. Appropriate learning outcomes for the nature of science are expressed in the performance expectations and are presented in either the foundations column for practices or the crosscutting concepts of the disciplinary core ideas standards pages.

Again, it should be noted that inclusion of the nature of science in the NGSS does not constitute a fourth dimension of standards. Rather, the grade-level representations of the eight understandings have been incorporated in the practices and crosscutting concepts, as seen in the performance expectations and represented in the foundation boxes.

Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
Overview

One goal of science education is to help students understand the nature of scientific knowledge. This matrix presents eight major themes and grade-level understandings about the nature of science. Four themes extend the science and engineering practices and four themes extend the crosscutting concepts. The eight themes are presented in the left column. The matrix describes learning outcomes for the themes at grade bands for K–2, 3–5, middle school, and high school. Appropriate learning outcomes are expressed in select performance expectations and are presented in the foundation boxes throughout the standards.

images Nature of science understandings most closely associated with practices.

images Nature of science understandings most closely associated with crosscutting concepts.

Understandings About the Nature of Science
Categories K–2 3–5 Middle School High School
Scientific Investigations Use a Variety of Methods
  • Scientific investigations begin with a question.
  • Scientists use different ways to study the world.
  • Scientific methods are determined by questions.
  • Scientific investigations use a variety of methods, tools, and techniques.
  • Scientific investigations use a variety of methods and tools to make measurements and observations.
  • Scientific investigations are guided by a set of values to ensure accuracy of measurements, observations, and objectivity of findings.
  • Science depends on evaluating proposed explanations.
  • Scientific values function as criteria in distinguishing between science and non-science.
  • Scientific investigations use diverse methods and do not always use the same set of procedures to obtain data.
  • New technologies advance scientific knowledge.
  • Scientific inquiry is characterized by a common set of values that include logical thinking, precision, open-mindedness, objectivity, skepticism, replicability of results, and honest and ethical reporting of findings.
  • The discourse practices of science are organized around disciplinary domains that share exemplars for making decisions regarding the values, instruments, methods, models, and evidence to adopt and use.
  • Scientific investigations use a variety of methods, tools, and techniques to revise and produce new knowledge.
Scientific Knowledge Is Based on Empirical Evidence
  • Scientists look for patterns and order when making observations about the world.
  • Scientific findings are based on recognizing patterns.
  • Scientists use tools and technologies to make accurate measurements and observations.
  • Scientific knowledge is based on logical and conceptual connections between evidence and explanations.
  • Science disciplines share common rules of obtaining and evaluating empirical evidence.
  • Scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence.
  • Science disciplines share common rules of evidence used to evaluate explanations about natural systems.
  • Science includes the process of coordinating patterns of evidence with current theory.
  • Scientific arguments are strengthened by multiple lines of evidence supporting a single explanation.
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
Understandings About the Nature of Science
Categories K–2 3–5 Middle School High School
Scientific Knowledge Is Open to Revision in Light of New Evidence
  • Scientific knowledge can change when new information is found.
  • Scientific explanations can change based on new evidence.
  • Scientific explanations are subject to revision and improvement in light of new evidence.
  • The certainty and durability of scientific findings vary.
  • Scientific findings are frequently revised and/or reinterpreted based on new evidence.
  • Scientific explanations can be probabilistic.
  • Most scientific knowledge is quite durable but, in principle, is subject to change based on new evidence and/or reinterpretation of existing evidence.
  • Scientific argumentation is a mode of logical discourse used to clarify the strength of relationships between ideas and evidence that may result in revision of an explanation.
Science Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena
  • Scientists use drawings, sketches, and models as a way to communicate ideas.
  • Scientists search for cause and effect relationships to explain natural events.
  • Scientific theories are based on a body of evidence and many tests.
  • Scientific explanations describe the mechanisms for natural events.
  • Theories are explanations for observable phenomena.
  • Scientific theories are based on a body of evidence developed over time.
  • Laws are regularities or mathematical descriptions of natural phenomena.
  • A hypothesis is used by scientists as an idea that may contribute important new knowledge for the evaluation of a scientific theory.
  • The term “theory” as used in science is very different from the common use outside science.
  • Theories and laws provide explanations in science, but theories do not with time become laws or facts.
  • A scientific theory is a substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. The science community validates each theory before it is accepted. If new evidence is discovered that a theory does not accommodate, the theory is generally modified in light of new evidence.
  • Models, mechanisms, and explanations collectively serve as tools in the development of a scientific theory.
  • Laws are statements or descriptions of the relationships among observable phenomena.
  • Scientists often use hypotheses to develop and test theories and explanations.
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
Understandings About the Nature of Science
Categories K–2 3–5 Middle School High School
Science Is a Way of Knowing
  • Scientific knowledge informs us about the world.
  • Science is both a body of knowledge and processes that add new knowledge.
  • Science is a way of knowing that is used by many people.
  • Science is both a body of knowledge and the processes and practices used to add to that body of knowledge.
  • Scientific knowledge is cumulative and many people from many generations and nations have contributed to scientific knowledge.
  • Science is a way of knowing used by many people, not just scientists.
  • Science is both a body of knowledge that represents a current understanding of natural systems and the processes used to refine, elaborate, revise, and extend this knowledge.
  • Science is a unique way of knowing, and there are other ways of knowing.
  • Science distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing through the use of empirical standards, logical arguments, and skeptical review.
  • Scientific knowledge has a history that includes refinement of, and changes to, theories, ideas, and beliefs over time.
Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems
  • Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.
  • Many events are repeated.
  • Science assumes consistent patterns in natural systems.
  • Basic laws of nature are the same everywhere in the universe.
  • Science assumes that objects and events in natural systems occur in consistent patterns that are understandable through measurement and observation.
  • Science carefully considers and evaluates anomalies in data and evidence.
  • Scientific knowledge is based on the assumption that natural laws operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
  • Science assumes the universe is a vast single system in which basic laws are consistent.
Science Is a Human Endeavor
  • People have practiced science for a long time.
  • Men and women of diverse backgrounds are scientists and engineers.
  • Men and women from all cultures and backgrounds choose careers as scientists and engineers.
  • Most scientists and engineers work in teams.
  • Science affects everyday life.
  • Creativity and imagination are important to science.
  • Men and women from different social, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds work as scientists and engineers.
  • Scientists and engineers rely on human qualities such as persistence, precision, reasoning, logic, imagination, and creativity.
  • Scientists and engineers are guided by habits of mind, such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, and openness to new ideas.
  • Advances in technology influence the progress of science, and science has influenced advances in technology.
  • Scientific knowledge is a result of human endeavor, imagination, and creativity.
  • Individuals and teams from many nations and cultures have contributed to science and to advances in engineering.
  • Scientists’ backgrounds, theoretical commitments, and fields of endeavor influence the nature of their findings.
  • Technological advances have influenced the progress of science, and science has influenced advances in technology.
  • Science and engineering are influenced by society, and society is influenced by science and engineering.
Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World
  • Scientists study the natural and material world.
  • Scientific findings are limited to what can be answered with empirical evidence.
  • Scientific knowledge is constrained by human capacity, technology, and materials.
  • Science limits its explanations to systems that lend themselves to observation and empirical evidence.
  • Scientific knowledge can describe consequences of actions but is not responsible for society’s decisions.
  • Not all questions can be answered by science.
  • Science and technology may raise ethical issues for which science, by itself, does not provide answers and solutions.
  • Scientific knowledge indicates what can happen in natural systems—not what should happen. The latter involves ethics, values, and human decisions about the use of knowledge.
  • Many decisions are not made using science alone, but rely on social and cultural contexts to resolve issues.
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×

IMPLEMENTING INSTRUCTION TO FACILITATE UNDERSTANDING OF THE NATURE OF SCIENCE

Now, the science teacher’s question: How do I put the elements of practices and crosscutting concepts together to help students understand the nature of science? Suppose students observe the moon’s movements in the sky, changes in seasons, phase changes in water, or life cycles of organisms. One can have them observe patterns and propose explanations of cause and effect. Then, students can develop a model of a system based on their proposed explanation. Next, they design an investigation to test the model. In designing the investigation, they must gather and analyze data. Next, they construct an explanation using an evidence-based argument. These experiences allow students to use their knowledge of the practices and crosscutting concepts to understand the nature of science. This is possible when students have instruction that emphasizes why explanations are based on evidence, that the phenomena they observe are consistent with the way the entire universe continues to operate, and that multiple ways can be used to investigate these phenomena.

The Framework emphasizes that students must have the opportunity to stand back and reflect on how the practices contribute to the accumulation of scientific knowledge. This means, for example, that when students carry out an investigation, develop models, articulate questions, or engage in arguments, they should have opportunities to think about what they have done and why. They should be given opportunities to compare their own approaches to those of other students or professional scientists. Through this kind of reflection they come to understand the importance of each practice and develop a nuanced appreciation of the nature of science.

Using examples from the history of science is another method for presenting the nature of science. It is one thing to develop the practices and crosscutting concepts in the context of core disciplinary ideas; it is another aim to develop an understanding of the nature of science within those contexts. The use of case studies from the history of science provides contexts in which to develop students’ understanding of the nature of science. In the middle and high school grades, for example, case studies on the following topics might be used to broaden and deepen understanding about the nature of science:

  • Copernican Revolution
  • Newtonian Mechanics
  • Lyell’s Study of Patterns of Rocks and Fossils
  • Progression from Continental Drift to Plate Tectonics
  • Lavoisier–Dalton and Atomic Structure
  • Darwin’s Theory of Biological Evolution and the Modern Synthesis
  • Pasteur and the Germ Theory of Disease
  • Watson and Crick and the Molecular Model of Genetics

These explanations could be supplemented with other cases from history. The point is to provide an instructional context that bridges tactics and strategies with practices and the nature of science, through understanding the role of systems, models, patterns, cause and effect, the analysis and interpretation of data, the importance of evidence with scientific arguments, and the construction of scientific explanations of the natural world. Through the use of historical and contemporary case studies, students can understand the nature of explanations in the larger context of scientific models, laws, mechanisms, and theories.

In designing instruction, deliberate choices will need to be made about when it is sufficient to build students’ understanding of the scientific enterprise through reflection on their own investigations and when it is necessary and productive to have students analyze historical case studies.

CONCLUSION

This discussion addressed how to support the development of an understanding of the nature of science in the context of the NGSS. The approach centered on eight understandings for the nature of science and the intersection of those understandings with science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. The nature of the scientific explanations is an idea central to standards-based science programs. Beginning with the practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts, science teachers can progress to the regularities of laws, the importance of evidence, and the formulation of theories in science. With the addition of historical examples, the nature of scientific explanations assumes a human face and is recognized as an ever-changing enterprise.

Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×

REFERENCES

American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Conant, J. (1947). On understanding science: A historical approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Conant, J. B. (1951). Science and common sense. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Duschl, R. (1990). Restructuring science education: The role of theories and their importance. New York: Teachers College Press.

Duschl, R. (2000). Making the nature of science explicit. In R. Millar, J. Leach, and J. Osborne (Eds.), Improving science education: The contribution of research. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

Duschl, R. (2008). Science education in 3-part harmony: balancing conceptual, epistemic, and social learning goals. In J. Green, A. Luke, and G. Kelly (Eds.), Review of Research in Education 32:268–291. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Duschl, R. (2012). The second dimension—crosscutting concepts: Understanding A Framework for K–12 Science Education. The Science Teacher 79(2):34–38.

Duschl, R., and R. Grandy (Eds.). (2008). Teaching scientific inquiry: Recommendations for research and implementation. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Flick, L., and M. Lederman. (2004). Scientific inquiry and nature of science. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Klopfer, L., and W. Cooley. (1963). The history of science cases for high schools in the development of student understanding of science and scientists. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 1(1):33–47.

Krajcik, J., and J. Merritt. (2012). Engaging students in scientific practices: What does constructing and revising models look like in the science classroom? Understanding A Framework for K–12 Science Education. The Science Teacher 79(3):38–41.

Lederman, N. G. (1992). Students’ and teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science: a review of the research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 29(4):331–359.

Lederman, N., and J. Lederman. (2004). Revising instruction to teach nature of science: modifying activities to enhance students’ understanding of science. The Science Teacher 71(9):36–39.

Lederman, N., F. Abd-El-Khalick, R. L. Bell, and R. S. Schwartz. (2002). View of nature of science questionnaire: Toward valid and meaningful assessment of learners’ conceptions of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 39(6):497–521.

McComas, W. F. (Ed.). (1998). The nature of science in science education: Rationales and strategies. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K–12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Osborne, J. F., M. Ratcliffe, S. Collins, R. Millar, and R. Duschl. (2003). What “ideas about science” should be taught in school science? A Delphi Study of the “expert” community. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 40(7):692–720.

Reiser, B., L. Berland, and L. Kenyon. (2012). Engaging students in the scientific practices of explanation and argumentation: Understanding A Framework for K–12 Science Education. The Science Teacher 79(4):8–13.

Rutherford, F. J., and A. Ahlgren. (1989). Science for all americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
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Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
Page 431
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
Page 432
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
Page 433
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
Page 434
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
Page 435
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX H: Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards." National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18290.
×
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Next Generation Science Standards identifies the science all K-12 students should know. These new standards are based on the National Research Council's A Framework for K-12 Science Education. The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve have partnered to create standards through a collaborative state-led process. The standards are rich in content and practice and arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education.

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