On October 10, 2016, the Board of Education held a special workshop on the new science standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Similar to Common Core Math, the NGSS emphasize reasoning, critical thinking, and the skills to demonstrate and explain scientific principles, rather than memorization of facts and formulas. The NGSS also emphasize concepts that cut across all areas of scientific study, and interrelationships among the sciences and other disciplines. For more information about the NGSS, click here. For additional resources discussed at the Board Workshop, click here.
Piedmont Unified is implementing the NGSS at all levels and has already introduced new NGSS-aligned, hands-on lessons in many classes. During the October 10 workshop, which was open to the public, science teachers led Board members, school administrators, and members of the public through a science lesson to demonstrate the new standards in a hands-on lesson in physical science.
Participants were divided into groups and given the challenge of investigating, designing, building, testing, and redesigning a windmill to make it as energy-efficient as possible. This exercise in scientific practice required the participants to theorize, build models, perform tests, collect data, think critically, and then refine their theories and modify their models. In addition, the groups had to present their findings and make an argument, based on scientific evidence, in support of their windmill design.
The workshop was planned by Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Cheryl Wozniak, MHS Principal Sati Shah, and science teachers Marna Chamberlain, Dan Kessler, Logan Medina, and Shelley Seto-Rosen. There is no published curriculum for NGSS so Piedmont Unified’s teachers are creating their own lessons (including this windmill lesson) during their collaboration time and prep periods, and on their own time after school and on weekends. Published instructional materials are likely to be available starting in 2019, but the teachers are not waiting until then to implement the new standards and create engaging, hands-on lessons.
The windmill lesson provides a good example of the NGSS shift to incorporate engineering practices at each grade level. Other examples of new engineering-based lessons developed by the middle school science teachers include: designing a shelter for “ice cube” penguins after studying heat transfer; designing a cold pack based on chemistry; 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. The teachers are finding many exciting opportunities for students to think about and solve real-world problems with scientific principles and practices.
Piedmont Unified is very excited about the NGSS and the opportunities they provide for students to develop critical thinking, scientific practices, and the ability to use scientific evidence to support and defend their reasoning. These skills will serve students well, regardless of their future studies and career paths.