Five Big Questions about the Next Generation Science Standards
The first public draft of the new Next Generation Science Standards is now planned to be released in April, with final standards scheduled to be complete by the end of 2012. There’s a lot of excitement around the new standards, but there are some major challenges for translating the Framework for K-12 Science Education into workable standards as well. Here are the biggest questions that I have:
1. Will these standards solve the traditional “mile wide and inch deep” problem of past science standards?
A long-standing complaint about earlier science standards is that they have tried to cover too many topics at each grade level, leaving no time to go into depth on any of them. The Framework for K-12 Science Education covers a lot of ground in the traditional content areas of life, physical, and Earth and space sciences, but also includes a heavy emphasis on engineering, technology, and applications of science as well as practices of science. That’s a lot to get through. Without careful interpretation of the framework, these standards may try to cover more than can reasonably be taught.
2. Will the standards avoid “information overload” for teachers trying to implement them?
Depending on how you interpret the framework, each standard may require teachers to mesh scientific and engineering practices; crosscutting concepts; a core idea from life, physical, or Earth and space science; and cross-alignment to Common Core math and ELA standards. I remember struggling as a classroom teacher just to make sure each lesson was engaging and fully covered a single content standard! Combining all these ideas without becoming overly prescriptive or frustratingly general will be challenging.
3. Will the standards blend science content and practices in a functional way?
I am personally all for integrating science content and practices together. However, I also believe in being clear about what students should be able to do, as well as making sure those skills are explicitly taught. Mixing content and practices together into single standards can muddy the focus of a lesson.
4. Will the standards be able to spur higher-quality science education in the elementary grades?
Some estimates put the amount of classroom time spent on science in early elementary school at less than 5%. A transition toward more rigorous standards in the early grades, building a foundation for more advanced concepts in middle and high school, would be a wonderful thing. The question is: Will schools and districts be willing and able to devote the necessary time and resources to make this shift?
5. What role will engineering, technology, and math play in the new standards?
If the standards follow the framework closely, there will be a separate section of engineering and technology standards. There is also the somewhat odd “waves and their applications in technologies for information transfer” section in physical science. Technology, engineering and math are the “TEM” in STEM, and there is no doubt they have a close connection with science. But drawing these connections should enhance instruction in core scientific concepts, not distract from them. Will these standards get that balance right?
Despite the challenges, I am very hopeful that the Next Generation Science Standards will be a big step forward for science education. Do you feel the same way? What are your concerns about the standards?
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