by Dan Kessler and Camilla Thayer
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a shift in the way students learn and are taught Science K-12. The NGSS represents “3-Dimensional” instruction, where students learn what scientists DO, how scientists THINK, and what scientists KNOW. Students use information gained by investigation in one situation and apply this information to new situations to learn deeply and think critically. There is a strong focus on science literacy with emphasis on argumentation using evidence. The new standards represent a cultural shift in science education, away from memorizing facts and toward reasoning and critical thinking.
Over the last two years, Piedmont Middle School has been incorporating new science standards, instructional materials, and lessons into our classrooms to best meet the needs of our students. The NGSS offer an integrated approach to science education, which addresses our students’ needs both pedagogically and developmentally. Prior to the adoption of NGSS, middle school science was divided by grade level, with Earth Science in 6th grade, Life Science in 7th, and Physical Science in 8th. In contrast, under NGSS, each of these disciplines will be taught in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. For example, plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes will be taught in 7th grade, and cells and cell functions will be taught in 6th grade. K-5 science standards are integrated, so it is a logical progression to continue this integrated model into the middle school science program.
One major shift under NGSS is the addition of engineering practices at each grade level. Engineering provides 21st century learning opportunities and job skills. Engineering projects include designing a shelter for “ice cube” penguins after studying heat transfer, designing a cold pack at the end of the chemistry unit, designing and launching rockets, designing bicycle helmets and collision safety equipment, designing a greenhouse for a unique biome, and creating an energy bar for disaster relief to provide nutrition for survivors and rescue workers. There are many exciting opportunities for students to think about and solve real-world problems by applying scientific principles.
Another change in the middle school curriculum concerns the study of human impact on the natural world. For example, middle school students examine the human impact on climate change through a “Climate Change Conference” and discuss possible solutions. Students investigate the cause of groundwater contamination in the imaginary town of “Fruitvale” and argue for different methods of clean up. As part of our study of Bushy Dell Creek, students observe the impact of chemicals on a freshwater organism. Related topics include the use of natural resources, drought and water consumption, artificial selection, and population growth.
With the shift to the NGSS, students will have greater scientific literacy and be better prepared to address complex problems using evidence and critical reasoning. The Piedmont Middle School science department is very excited about this transition and committed to continuing our delivery of the highest levels of instruction to help our students reach their greatest potential.