The new standards aim to prepare students to be better decision-makers about scientific and technical issues and to apply science to their daily lives.

Science teaching in at least some of the nation’s classrooms is about to undergo significant changes as states adopt a new set of K-12 science standards.

The voluntary, rigorous, and internationally benchmarked standards are designed to get students thinking like scientists, and they place new emphasis on engineering at the elementary level. That will mark a big shift for teachers who’ve never taught engineering principles before, observers say.

The new standards also call for schools to address the sensitive topic of global climate change—something that could hinder their adoption in more politically conservative states.

(Next page: The specifics)

Two years in the making, the final Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were released on April 9. A 41-member team representing 26 states worked to develop the standards, which identify science and engineering practices and content that all K-12 students should master to be fully prepared for college, careers, and global citizenship. The NGSS were built on a vision for science instruction established by the Framework for K-12 Science Education, published by the National Academies’ National Research Council in 2011.

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Climate change science poised to enter nation’s classrooms

As education standards shift, schools rediscover science class

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Students’ science proficiency all over the map 

The lead state partners were Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

“The NGSS aim to prepare students to be better decision-makers about scientific and technical issues and to apply science to their daily lives. By blending core science knowledge with scientific practices, students are engaged in a more relevant context that deepens their understanding and helps them to build what they need to move forward with their education—whether that’s moving on to a four-year college or moving into postsecondary training,” said Matt Krehbeil, a science education program consultant from Kansas.

“As emphasized in the Framework, an active learning of scientific practices is critical, and takes time. A focus on these practices, rather than on content alone, leads to a deep, sustained learning of the skills needed to be a successful adult, regardless of career choice,” said Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science, who served two six-year terms as president of the National Academy of Sciences. “We must teach our science students to do something in science class, not to memorize facts.”

The creation of the NGSS was state-driven, with no federal funds supporting the effort. The process was funded primarily by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Achieve, a non-partisan, nonprofit education organization, coordinated the states’ efforts.

(Next page: What science teachers think of the standards; challenges to adoption)

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) said in a statement that the standards are “an opportunity to transform K-12 science education by changing the way science is taught and learned in classrooms around the country.”

The group said it is encouraging states to adopt and implement the standards.

“The new standards … have the ability to strengthen and improve science teaching, because they stress the importance of practices that reflect how science is experienced in the real world,” said Karen L. Ostlund, NSTA president. “The NGSS is based on sound science, integrate both science and engineering in an interdisciplinary approach that supports STEM education, and is closely integrated with the Common Core State Standards to provide a seamless system of K-12 education.”

Next steps for implementation

In the coming months, state leaders will consider adoption of the NGSS.

“The development of the Next Generation Science Standards has ended, but it’s only the beginning of the work that will be needed to make these standards a reality in the classroom,” said Ostlund. “We encourage all states to give serious consideration to the Next Generation Science Standards. NSTA looks forward to working with adopting states and other stakeholders to come together and map out the support, resources, and professional development that will be needed to carry out state implementation.”

In an online survey with nearly 1,400 science educators conducted in February via NSTA Express, an overwhelming number of educators (83 percent) indicated that the NGSS would have a positive impact on the quality of science education. However, implementation could be a challenge.

See also:

Climate change science poised to enter nation’s classrooms

As education standards shift, schools rediscover science class

Bill Nye warns: Creation beliefs threaten U.S. science

Students’ science proficiency all over the map

Thirty-two percent of those responding said they will need a “considerable” amount of professional development to successfully implement the NGSS, but only 38 percent expected their school or district to provide it. The professional development topics teachers cited as needing most are designing instructional strategies, addressing the needs of students with different levels of ability, incorporating engineering and technology in the curriculum, and assessing whether students have achieved the standards.

“It’s obvious that changing the way science is taught and learned will require stakeholders to provide the broad support that schools and teachers will need in the months and years ahead to build the capacity for these new and ambitious standards,” said Ostlund. “Teachers will be doing the heavy lifting and will need significant professional development and resources to change instruction geared to the NGSS.”

NSTA is developing a web portal to serve as a home base for science teachers on the NGSS. The portal will enable teachers to view the standards in multiple formats, identify and share resources, interact and collaborate with colleagues, and locate tools to plan instruction and professional development.

Other NSTA efforts will focus on equipping educators with the skills they need to teach engineering concepts in the NGSS and helping teachers make important instructional connections to the Common Core State Standards in English and math.

The new standards come amid widespread concern that American students are falling behind global counterparts in their mastery of science and math, which are seen as critical fields for future economic growth.

For the first time, the proposed education standards identify climate change as a core concept for science classes, with a focus on the relationship between that change and human activity. According to the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, two-thirds of U.S. students in a 2011 survey said they are not learning much about the topic.

Material from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report. (c)2013, the Los Angeles Times; distributed by MCT Information Services.