RECOMMENDATION 1 Communicate and support a vision of instruction that is consistent with A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and the Next Generation Science Standards. Regional and local science education leaders should establish and clearly communicate a vision of science instruction that is consistent with that in the two documents ensure that their actions, policies, and resource allocations for science education—for professional development, curriculum materials, time to learn, space, equipment, and consumable materials—are aligned to supporting that vision.
RECOMMENDATION 2 Support teachers in making incremental and continuing changes to improve instruction. Administrators, science specialists, and resource and mentor teachers should help classroom teachers understand and adopt the new vision for science learning and instruction through incremental and continuing changes to instruction. They should provide teachers with the curriculum resources needed to support this vision.
RECOMMENDATION 3 Develop a classroom culture that supports the new vision of science education. Teachers should align their teaching approaches, curriculum resources, and students’ tasks with the vision. Principals should support the vision and work to provide the necessary resources for teachers and students.
RECOMMENDATION 4 Make assessment part of instruction. Teachers should incorporate performance tasks, open-ended questions, writing tasks, student journals, student discourse, and other formative assessment strategies in their instruction. These activities should be embedded in ongoing classroom work during units and used to obtain information about students’ learning in science that can inform further instruction and provide feedback to students. Summative evidence of student learning aligned to the performance expectations in the Next Generation Science Standards should be gathered through student work products that document elements of performance tasks.
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) do not dictate a single approach to instruction. There are many approaches to science instruction that could be consistent with the vision in those documents. By instruction, we do not mean the information that a teacher delivers to students; rather, we mean the set of activities and experiences that teachers organize in their classroom in order for students to learn what is expected of them. The scope and sequence of these activities should be guided by a curriculum plan and be supported by curriculum resources that are well matched to that plan, while the day-to-day instruction is carried out by teachers who are making continual decisions about what best meets their students’ needs along a learning path that allows them to achieve the types of proficiencies and performances embodied in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
The heart of the Framework and the NGSS is a clarification and focusing of what students need to know and to be able to do in science. An important
first step for implementation is for both school leaders and teachers to establish a shared vision both of what should be happening in science classrooms to support such learning and of what successful student performance should look like. Only when such a shared vision has been articulated and broadly communicated can the extended effort that will be needed to implement the necessary changes be successful.
The performance expectations in the NGSS are targets for assessment. For students to achieve such performances, they will need regular opportunities to engage in learning that blend all three dimensions of the standards throughout their classroom experiences, from kindergarten through high school (K-12). When instruction is consistent with the Framework and the NGSS, students will be actively engaged in the full range of scientific and engineering practices in the context of multiple core ideas. Student work will be driven by questions arising from phenomena or by an engineering design problem. Students will be supported in connecting their learning across units and courses to build a coherent understanding of science ideas and of the crosscutting concepts. They will have opportunities to apply their developing science knowledge to explain phenomena or design solutions to real-world problems. Finally, they will interact with each other as they conduct investigations; represent data; interpret evidence; gather additional information; and develop explanations, models, and arguments.
Many teachers will need time and support to transform their instruction so that it reflects this vision (Banilower et al., 2007; Reiser, 2013). That support should include, but not be limited to, ongoing professional learning opportunities for both teachers and administrators to create a shared understanding of goals for instruction and to collaborate on steps to achieve them. Teachers and district science leaders will need to work together to reevaluate the scope and sequence of the science that they teach, their curriculum materials, unit and lesson plans, and the classroom-level assessment tasks that they use to make sure that these are all designed to support the multidimensional learning outcomes expected for the NGSS. Teachers need structured time to engage with others in ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of their approaches for helping students achieve the instructional goals. They also need structured time to reconsider and revise those goals, and they need district policies that are supportive of the changes they are expected to make (see Chapter 4 for a detailed discussion of teacher learning).
It is unrealistic to expect teachers to completely transform their instruction at one time or quickly. They will need time and ongoing support to take incremental steps toward the instructional vision, over a period of at least 2-3 years. For
example, teachers might start by teaching only one new or redesigned unit that incorporates science and engineering practices and focuses more in depth on the target disciplinary core idea. Even after the initial 2-3-year implementation period, continued support for teachers will be important, through participation in a professional learning community, for example, as teachers refine their instructional approaches. When new curriculum materials are developed, adopted, or purchased, teachers will need time for professional development and collaboration in order to use the new resources effectively. Classroom and school budgets will need to support the purchase of the equipment and supplies that are required to implement the new curriculum.
This section provides a sketch of what instruction developed to support the NGSS might look like and describes some of the changes that will be required in classrooms (see Chapter 9 of the Framework, National Research Council, 2012, for an additional discussion).
The science and engineering practices in the Framework and the NGSS elaborate on what it means to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Engaging in these practices helps students understand how scientific knowledge develops and gives them an appreciation of the wide range of approaches that are used by scientists to investigate, model, and explain phenomena in the natural world and in engineered systems (National Research Council, 2012). The science and engineering practices also help students develop capabilities in engineering design, which includes defining and solving problems. Furthermore, students’ engagement in these practices is a critical element of supporting the conceptual changes (that is, changes in students’ ideas about the world) that are required for students to develop and deepen their understanding of the core ideas and crosscutting concepts of science (for an indepth discussion of conceptual change, see National Research Council, 2007, pp. 106-120).
Students need to have multiple opportunities to ask questions about, investigate, and seek to explain phenomena, as well as to apply their understanding to engineering problems. Students’ ideas are learned more deeply and retained longer if students apply them to situations that have meaning for them. In a classroom that is consistent with the Framework and the NGSS, students develop models of
the phenomenon being studied that make explicit their understanding of both visible and invisible aspects of what is occurring: two examples are interactions at the molecular level that explain the behavior of an air mass in a weather phenomenon and the accumulation of events across time that explain population-level phenomena in ecosystems.
Students apply and improve their understanding of science core ideas and crosscutting concepts as they develop and refine these models. They then use their models and their understanding of the science in question to support their explanations of what occurs or to design solutions for real-world problems. Students analyze evidence and engage in model- and evidence-based argumentation to support or critique an explanation, respond to critique of their own ideas, and compare the merits of alternate design solutions.
Importantly, the scientific and engineering practices work in concert with each other; they are not intended to be learned in isolation from each other. For example, as students analyze data they will likely use some mathematics. As they generate, discuss, and critique explanations, they will rely on model-based and evidence-based argumentation and reasoning. As they design and carry out investigations, they will need to revisit and refine their initial questions. And as they obtain and evaluate information from multiple sources, they will need to ask questions about what they are reading and its sources. The practices are neither a set of steps in a process nor a recipe as to how to proceed; rather, they are tools to be used as needed, and often one needs more than one tool at a time for a question or problem. It is also important to emphasize that a student’s ability to memorize facts, formulas, and definitions should not be a prior condition for engaging in the practices; rather, it is through developing models and explanations and engaging in argumentation to refine and improve explanations that students come to understand the value and meaning of definitions and facts (National Research Council, 2000).
The purpose of having students engage in the science and engineering practices around real-world phenomena is not that students will discover the science ideas for themselves. The phenomena or design problems introduced have to be carefully chosen to provide a context in which students become engaged and in which the science ideas they are learning are useful because they can help explain what is occurring. Students still need to learn basic science ideas and terminology, whether through reading about them or through a teacher’s questions, suggestions, and focused explanations, in order to be able to use them within their models and in developing their explanations about the phenomena. Students who
learn and apply science ideas in this way integrate the ideas more deeply into their view of the world, are more likely to apply them for problem solving in new contexts, and remember the ideas longer than those who simply learn them as “facts” discovered by scientists that need to be memorized (National Research Council, 2000, 2007).
The Framework and the NGSS are also explicit about the need to engage students in using a range of technologies, including (but not exclusively) digital technologies. Such tools need to be used purposefully to advance particular learning goals, for example, to help students engage with real data, investigate phenomena, or work with and communicate their models. In particular, the practice of computational thinking involves such activities as simulations to model physical phenomena or test engineering designs under a range of different conditions, to mine existing databases, or to use computer-aided design software to design solutions to problems.
The NGSS are organized around central explanatory ideas in science and engineering for which students develop increasingly sophisticated understandings across K-12. The Framework and the NGSS articulate how disciplinary core ideas build coherently across multiple grades and connect between the life, physical, Earth and space sciences, and engineering. For example, students’ understanding of matter and its properties develop across the grade levels. In the early grades, these understandings relate chiefly to recognizing and categorizing matter by its properties. Ideas about what changes and what does not as matter interacts or conditions change begin to be developed in these grades and are refined and made more explicit in the subsequent grade levels.
Critical understandings and models of the particle substructure of matter and how this structure changes with conditions, such as undergoing transitions between solids, liquids, and gases, help explain many properties of matter. These understandings are developed in the middle school years, and many aspects of middle and high school science across all disciplines build on these models.
Learning sequences within a grade need to be designed with coherence in mind. This may require a reorganization of topics and omission of some existing units. The goal is to provide students with multiple opportunities to explore important scientific ideas in depth at a level of sophistication appropriate for their grade level. Exploration of the ideas occurs through engagement in the science and engineering practices.
The crosscutting concepts introduced in the Framework are relevant across the disciplines of science and can help students make connections across topics, courses, and disciplines. Teachers using appropriately designed curriculum resources can support students in applying the crosscutting concepts across different core ideas and, at the secondary level, across different courses. For example, the idea of a system, and the need to delineate and define a system in order to model it, is used again and again across all of the sciences. By developing a common language and set of questions around this concept, students not only acquire a useful tool for analyzing phenomena or designs, they also develop a view of what is common across very different science disciplines. Using and reflecting on both the science and engineering practices and the crosscutting concepts are thus important elements in developing a deeper understanding of the nature of science and the role of engineering.
Activities need to be sequenced so that students’ understanding of core ideas in the disciplines and how they are related through crosscutting concepts develops over one school year and over multiple years.1 Connecting across grades and across disciplines creates a learning environment in which the significance of ideas for making sense of the world drives learning, rather than external motivators such as “you’ll need this next year” or “this will be on the test.” The sequence of core ideas that are introduced throughout the year, and the connections made between them, are important in helping students develop an understanding of the most important ideas in science and how they are connected or related through crosscutting concepts.
In the Framework and the NGSS, engineering plays three roles. First, engaging in the engineering practices is a vehicle for building students’ understanding of science ideas by applying them to solve engineering problems. For example, designing a toy car to meet a specific performance challenge can provide a context to develop or extend students’ understanding of force and motion. These kinds of experiences also help students recognize how science affects their lives and society through engineering and technology. For many students, understanding these
1For details, see Chapters 3-8 of A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council, 2012) and Appendixes E, F, and G of the Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (NGSS Lead States, 2013).
effects gives relevance to science and makes science learning a more meaningful pursuit.
Second, engineering design itself is designated as a core idea, defining knowledge that is needed in order to engage in engineering practices. Students are expected to learn a few key engineering concepts, such as the process of design, as they gain facility with using the engineering practices by engaging in engineering design projects. Finally, students will also come to understand the similarities and differences between the ways the practices are used for science and engineering purposes.
In order for students to participate in the full range of science and engineering practices and for them to have time to develop their own explanations, models, and arguments, the structure of classroom activities and discussions will likely need to change. The norms for how students interact with each other and the teacher, how they work on tasks together, and how they respond to each other’s ideas will also need to change (Berland and Hammer, 2012; Driver et al., 2000).
Engagement in the science and engineering practices requires social interaction and discussion among students. Students need support to learn how to do this productively. The classroom culture will need to support both individual and collaborative sense-making efforts. Students will learn to take responsibility for their learning rather than waiting for answers, and they will be expected to collaborate with, critique, argue with, and learn from their peers.
A classroom culture that supports this kind of student engagement will likely require a significant shift in classroom management strategies for most teachers (Windschitl et al., 2008). Teachers need to see and analyze examples of how to facilitate discussions that enable all students to participate and learn, and they will need opportunities to try strategies in their own classrooms.
The combination of the NGSS and the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics (National Governors Association, 2010) offers opportunities to strengthen students’ learning through use of similar strategies across the curriculum. All three sets of standards emphasize student reasoning and arguing from evidence—even though the nature of an effective argument and what counts as evidence is specific to each subject. Science and engineering problems can be used as examples while teaching mathematics. Science topics can be
explored through using science-related trade books or magazine articles for reading in language arts classes. These activities can help support science learning, but they cannot provide all of the science learning opportunities that students need. Conversely, engaging in the science practices requires students to apply their mathematics and literacy skills in the context of their science classrooms and so can help students further develop those skills.
While engaging in the scientific and engineering practices, students will regularly construct oral and written arguments that focus on presenting and evaluating evidence for claims, resolving differences, and refining models and explanations or on improving engineering designs. Students will seek and evaluate information from a variety of sources to support and extend their science understandings. They will read, write, and communicate orally about science ideas. Students and teachers will use mathematics and computer-based tools and simulations flexibly and effectively to support investigations, data collections, and analysis and to develop understanding of key concepts.2
A Framework for K-12 Science Education and the NGSS emphasize that concerns about equity should be a focus of efforts to improve science education (see National Research Council, 2012, Ch. 11; NGSS Lead States, 2013, Appendix D). All students should have access to high-quality learning experiences in science. The Framework focuses on two sources of inequity that can be most directly addressed by educators. The first links differences in achievement to differences in opportunities to learn because of inequities across schools, districts, and communities. The second considers how approaches to instruction can be made more inclusive and motivating for diverse student populations.
Inclusive instructional strategies encompass a range of techniques and approaches that build on students’ interests and backgrounds so as to engage students more meaningfully and support them in sustained learning. An important element of many of these approaches is recognizing the assets that students from diverse backgrounds bring to the science classroom and building on them. Such
2The NGSS were constructed to facilitate making connections between mathematics and English language arts. In the NGSS, Appendix L discusses connections to mathematics, and Appendix M discusses connections to English language arts. A recent report of the National Research Council (2014b) provides examples of how to connect literacy and science and discusses many of the key issues in making such connections.
assets include students’ everyday experiences in their communities, their prior interests, and their cultural knowledge and modes of discourse. Appendix D of the NGSS includes a detailed discussion of these specific instructional approaches with examples that feature students from different groups.
Classroom-based assessment activities are critical supports for instruction. Classroom assessments can play an integral role in students’ learning experiences and inform subsequent instructional choices, while also providing evidence of progress in that learning. Implementation of the NGSS demands the use of assessment tasks that integrate the dimensions of the Framework (National Research Council, 2014a). These tasks also need to be designed so that they can accurately locate students along a sequence of progressively more complex understandings of a core idea and crosscutting concepts and successively more sophisticated engagement in science and engineering practices (National Research Council, 2014a).
Instruction that is consistent with the Framework and the NGSS will naturally provide many opportunities for teachers to observe and, on occasion, to record student performances that integrate the dimensions, and to use student work products to reveal student thinking. Science and engineering practices lend themselves well to being used as assessment activities: indeed, the line between instructional activities and assessment activities may often be blurred (National Research Council, 2014a), particularly when the assessment purpose is to inform future instruction rather than to grade individual students (Atkin and Coffey, 2003). Whether assessment opportunities are fully integrated into instruction or are more formal individual assessment tasks, students need guidance about what is expected of them, opportunities to reflect on their performance, and detailed feedback on how to improve their performance. Teachers need to see and work with examples of student work produced in the course of engagement in the science and engineering practices that can be used for assessment purposes. Methods of evaluating students’ performance—for example, scoring rubrics—can be developed and used to inform future teaching. Analysis of students’ work products and discussion of how to use them for assessment purposes could take place in the context of collaborative lesson study among groups of teachers.
Assessment tasks designed to be seamlessly integrated with classroom instruction are beginning to be developed, some of which are performance tasks. Performance tasks, while forming part of an ongoing learning sequence, also contain elements to be produced by individual students that can be used as summative
assessments (e.g., to assign student grades for a unit or course). The early versions of these types of assessments demonstrate that it is possible to design tasks that successfully elicit students’ thinking about disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts by engaging them in scientific and engineering practices (National Research Council, 2014a).
Assessments of science learning that integrate practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas are challenging to design, implement, and properly interpret. Teachers will need extensive learning opportunities to successfully incorporate both formative and summative assessment tasks that reflect the performance expectations of the NGSS into their practice (National Research Council, 2014a).3
As students are asked to learn new practices and engage with science ideas in new ways, they will need “scaffolding”—that is, a set of supports (National Research Council, 2007). It is important to provide sufficient time and support for students to develop increasingly sophisticated explanations of phenomena; to learn to support and explain their arguments with evidence; to make, accept, and respond to their peers’ critiques of explanations, models, and designs; and to develop greater facility with all of the practices (Furtak et al., 2012). All of this requires a shift of classroom culture, of pedagogy, and of students’ understanding of what it means to learn well. This shift is particularly important as schools, districts, and states think about how to support students in the higher grades who, in early years of implementation, may not have had the prior learning experiences needed to meet the expectations in the NGSS.
The emphasis in the Framework and the NGSS on discussion and allowing time for students to develop arguments and explanations can be uncomfortable for both teachers and students. For teachers, it can be difficult to allow students to explore incorrect or partially correct ideas out of concern that they will never
3The recent report Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards (National Research Council, 2014a) provides discussion of, and examples of, classroom-based assessments that are consistent with the NGSS. For a detailed discussion of formative and summative assessments, see National Research Council (2001).
arrive at the correct explanation. However, focusing exclusively on right answers can limit students’ engagement in argumentation and discourage discussions (Lemke, 1990; Mortimer and Scott, 2003). Teachers need to see how students’ models can become more accurate and complete over time, through elaborating, refining, and fine-tuning the models that may at times contain incomplete or technically correct but misleading ideas, rather than seeing students’ ideas as simply “correct” or “misconceptions” (Windschitl et al., 2008).
Students who have experienced success in school primarily by memorizing and reproducing facts or rote procedures provided to them by textbooks or teachers may resist the shift to a classroom culture where they are asked to apply science ideas and take part of the responsibility for the struggle to develop shared explanations to make sense of phenomena. Students need to learn about the ideas that have been established over many years of science, but they also should be able to construct evidence-based arguments that support these ideas or that refute alternate and commonly held naïve conceptions. They should be able to apply the scientific ideas in appropriate contexts to explain natural phenomena or design solutions to problems that may have several acceptable solutions.
Both students and teachers run the risk of slipping into the mode of students waiting to be told and of teachers as the purveyors of “right” answers. These tensions should be anticipated and proactively addressed through professional learning for teachers and administrators and well thought out messages shared with the community (including parents and students) before beginning to implement the NGSS. The messages need to be reinforced throughout the process.
The types of tasks that students are asked to engage in will look different in a classroom aligned to the NGSS. For example, simply memorizing a science vocabulary list—such as the names of parts of a cell or reading a textbook selection and answering questions at the end of the chapter that require students to restate or repeat portions of the text—is not consistent with the vision for learning in the Framework and the NGSS. Instead, students could be asked to explain how the function of a particular part of the cell fulfills the organism’s needs and use evidence to support that explanation, for example, to explain how and where DNA replication occurs and why this is needed for the organism’s functions. Students could also be asked to coordinate information from various sources and argue for an interpretation, including the reasons that they do not accept a source that disagrees with their interpretation. Tasks teachers have typically assigned to
students—either in class, for homework, or for assessment purposes—need to be carefully reconsidered in light of the learning goals of the Framework and the NGSS.
Shifting instruction to incorporate all of the scientific and engineering practices and designing tasks for students that integrate the three dimensions (practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas) will take time. Teachers first need to understand the changes expected and the reasons for them and then move in steps to incorporate these changes into their instruction. Not everything can be changed at once, nor will the first steps necessarily engender the sense of success that would foster commitment to the change. It is likely that 2-3 years of professional development for teachers will be needed to help them make the changes to instruction that are called for in the NGSS. Teachers will then need ongoing support to continue to refine their instructional practices. One approach for this kind of support might be participation in a teacher learning community devoted to this goal.
Teachers have considerable demands on their time and significant personal investment in the teaching strategies and materials that they have developed over time. Both of these factors often result in even the best teachers working in isolation. A more collaborative teaching culture is a necessary part of achieving the needed change.
The task of revamping an entire curriculum should not rest on the shoulders of a single teacher. At the same time, it is important to tap teachers’ expertise and leadership abilities. To bring about the change that is embodied in the Framework and the NGSS, implementation needs to be structured to develop collaborative networks of teachers and school leaders within and across grades, buildings, districts, and states that work toward a shared vision (Cohen, 2011). Such collaboration can help teachers let go of lessons and units that may have been thoughtfully developed for previous standards and assessments, but that do not meet the expectations of the NGSS or are misaligned to the grade-level curriculum scope and sequence that is being implemented in their district.
Teachers can learn not just through their own experiences, but also through those of other teachers, including some who are in schools or districts that are further along the path to implementation of the NGSS. Teachers can support one another by sharing effective strategies or by collaborating to develop new units of
instruction aligned to new scope and sequence expectations and to engagement of students in the practices. Students can benefit from experiencing a common culture of science learning across their school and across the school system. It is the job of leaders at all levels to create conditions that reduce isolation and facilitate cooperation and collaboration among science teachers.
Every teacher of science has a repertoire of ideas and activities that they have found effective in teaching. Each of these, while possibly still useful, will require reexamination, possible redesign, or even elimination in order to ensure that instruction is aligned to the performance expectations of the NGSS and engages students in science and engineering practices in ways that reflect the vision of the Framework. If lessons that were built for past standards do not support learning that combines all three dimensions of the Framework, (practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas), and cannot be easily adapted, they may need to be dropped or replaced.
The Framework and the NGSS focus on developing fundamental science ideas at a deep conceptual level, which likely will involve pruning some of the details that teachers have frequently covered. Some science teachers have developed a wide variety of mnemonics and other creative solutions to support students in learning some of the specific facts that are not in the NGSS. It may be especially difficult for some teachers to leave out part of the curriculum that they have previously thought to be essential in favor of more time for deeper engagement in the core ideas and crosscutting concepts in the NGSS.