A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council, 2012; hereafter referred to as “the Framework”), and the Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (NGSS Lead States, 2013) based upon it, have the potential to catalyze improvements in science classrooms across the United States. Together, these documents present a vision of science and engineering learning designed to bring these subjects alive for all students, emphasizing the satisfaction of pursuing compelling questions and the joy of discovery and invention. Achieving this vision in all science classrooms will be a major undertaking and will require changes to many aspects of science education. Effective implementation requires coordinated planning, roll-out of changes across multiple levels of the education system, and sustained efforts to understand and improve practice. This report identifies many of the major challenges and offers guidance to states, districts, and schools on how to plan and implement needed changes.
Standards alone accomplish very little. But standards can help drive improvements when they inform all aspects of the education system, including curriculum scope and sequence, curriculum resources, instruction, assessments, professional development for teachers and administrators, and state policies (National Research Council, 2002, 2006b, 2012). Coordinating changes in all these aspects of the education system is challenging. Improved learning experiences for all students in all classrooms will not occur unless states, districts, and schools develop and follow plans for implementation that allow sufficient time and provide sufficient support to make the necessary changes in a systematic and
iterative approach. Such plans will need to be sensitive to and coordinated with other current demands in the system, such as the ongoing efforts in many states to implement new and challenging standards in mathematics and English language arts. To increase the capacity of the system to reach this vision of the Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), all of the stakeholders in science education will need to work together. The plans will need to involve a wide range of people and institutions, including places that provide informal learning opportunities; scientists and engineers working in business or higher education; science education researchers; and science-rich institutions and organizations, as well as parents and others in the community.
The research on learning science and engineering that informed the Framework and the NGSS emphasizes that science and engineering involve both knowing and doing; that developing rich, conceptual understanding is more productive for future learning than simply memorizing discrete facts; and that learning experiences should be designed with coherent progressions over multiple years in mind (National Research Council, 2007). The Framework describes broad learning goals for students in terms of three dimensions: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. It outlines coherent trajectories for students’ learning in science that span grades K-12. The Framework emphasizes the importance of providing opportunities for all students to continually build on and revise their knowledge and abilities through engagement in the practices of science and engineering. The expectation is also that, in doing so, more students and a more diverse group of students will want to continue their education in these areas to become scientists or engineers and, as citizens, will more deeply understand the processes and core ideas of science and engineering (National Research Council, 2007, 2009).
The NGSS describe ambitious targets for student learning in science that are based on the goals described in the Framework. These targets are framed as performance expectations that describe how students will use their knowledge as they engage in scientific and engineering practices. To reach these targets, science education will need to change—for educators at all levels as well as for students, and for networks as well as individuals. The necessary transformations in classrooms will require time, resources, and ongoing attention from state, district, and school leaders.
TABLE 1-1 Implications of the Vision of the Framework and the NGSS
|Science Education Will Involve Less||Science Education Will Involve More|
|Rote memorization of facts and terminology||Facts and terminology learned as needed while developing explanations and designing solutions supported by evidence-based arguments and reasoning|
|Leaning of ideas disconnected from questions about phenomena||Systems thinking and modeling to explain phenomena and to give a context for the ideas to be learned|
|Teachers providing information to the whole class||Students conducting investigations, solving problems, and engaging in discussions with teachers’ guidance|
|Teachers posing questions with only one right answer||Students discussing open-ended questions that focus on the strength of the evidence used to generate claims|
|Students reading textbooks and answering questions at the end of the chapter||Students reading multiple sources, including science-related magazines, journal articles, and web-based resources Students developing summaries of information|
|Preplanned outcomes for “cookbook” laboratories or hands-on activities||Multiple investigations driven by students’ questions with a range of possible outcomes that collectively lead to a deep understanding of established core scientific ideas|
|Worksheets||Students writing journals, reports, posters, media presentations that explain and argue|
|Oversimplification of activities for students who are perceived to be less able to do science and engineering||Providing supports so that all students can engage in sophisticated science and engineering practices|
Together, the two documents provide a vision for science education that both builds on previous national standards for science education and reflects research-based advances in learning and teaching science. This new vision differs in important ways from how science is currently being taught in many classrooms: see Table 1-1.
This report is organized by chapters that correspond to the major elements that need to be considered when implementing the NGSS: Chapters 3-8 cover instruction; professional learning for teachers, administrators, and district leaders; curriculum resources; assessment and accountability; collaborations, networks, and partnerships; and policy and communication (National Research Council, 2002, 2006b). Each of these chapters begins with the committee’s recommendations for action and ends with the committee’s cautions about potential pitfalls. As context
for those chapters, Chapter 2 identifies the overarching principles that should guide the planning and implementation process.
The primary audiences for this report are district and school leaders and teachers charged with developing a plan and implementing the NGSS. Our recommendations are also relevant to a broader audience that includes community stakeholders, out-of-school science program providers, professional development programs, teacher preparation programs, and funders of science education.
Efforts to adopt and then implement the NGSS have been under way since their release in April 2013. Several science education organizations are involved in supporting these efforts including Achieve Inc., the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Council of State Science Supervisors (especially through its initiative, Building Capacity in State Science Education), the National Research Council’s Board on Science Education, and the National Science Teachers Association. Each of these organizations provides online resources that can be helpful in learning about the Framework and the NGSS and developing an implementation plan. Websites for these organizations are listed at the end of this report. Some states are already engaged in planning for or implementing the NGSS,1 but many districts and schools have not yet begun this work.
This report was conceived by the members of the Board on Science Education to help provide guidance for implementing the NGSS over the next decade and beyond. While the NGSS are the focus, the recommendations may also help everyone who is searching for how to better maximize science learning for all students, regardless of their science standards. The seven-member committee was composed of current or past members of the Board on Science Education, which was given the following charge:
Write a short report regarding necessary steps toward implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Drawing on existing National Research Council reports, the report will identify the parts of the education system that need to be attended to when implementing the standards and discuss the changes that need to be made to each part of the system.
To address this charge, the committee examined the National Research Council reports on science education, as well as those on the broader education system. These sources were supplemented with peer-reviewed research on relevant topics and the members’ collective expertise.