New Science Standards for The Next Generation of Learners

Science Teacher and student
Curiosity is King With the NGSS. :PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini, Courtesy of Getty Images

If you are still getting used to the new Common Core State Standards, then you are probably ready to scream at the idea of new science standards as well.  Districts and school across the nation are still figuring out the best ways to implement new standards for reading and math, those basic three r's of learning that most other subjects rely on.  

Yet this really is a great time for new science standards.

 It is hard for a parent to turn around these days without being told how important science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM for short) are for their children's future.  Here are some quick facts to help parents get an idea of what NGSS (Next Generation Science Standard) is and why it is a good thing, even in the midst of the change already occurring in US public education.

The Next Generation Science Standards Are Standards

A standard in education is a standard is a particular skill or concept that is to be mastered at a particular grade level.  It is not a set way of teaching, or a particular textbook, or even a set answer for rote memorization questions.  Standards let teachers know what to teach and when, but do not tell teachers how to teach or what materials they must use.  This is important in American education.  The US is the only developed nation that has an educational system that is really based at the local level.

 In the US, we began with the local neighborhood schools when school attendance was required for children.  Other countries started with a  nationwide mandate, and created a school system from the top down.  

Historically local control has been one of the US greatest strengths in our education system.

 Local school districts have been able to tailor learning and skills to their own communities.  

There has been a downside, though.  Some states have had much more rigorous expectations than others, leaving students in some states very strong in school subjects while students in other states fall behind, creating a nationwide system with bright spots and areas that need improvement to be competitive.  This problem becomes a nightmare for children who move between states - and many families do relocate while their children are growing up.

Creating a set of standards for use across the nation should lead to children in each grade in every state learning the same skills, while they can be taught in a way that is most suited to the local community.  

The Next Generation Science Standards Are Current

Many states haven't updated their science standards in over 20 years.  In the last twenty years there have been massive science discoveries.  Updating the standards now means that teachers will be teaching more current science information.

 New teaching methods and discoveries about how to best teach science and other STEM subjects have also been developed in the last twenty years.  Getting new standards now means that particular skills can be taught at more age appropriate times with newer methods and materials of local choice - it gives schools the opportunity to take advantage of the new teaching developments, without forcing schools to pick one.

NGSS work with the Common Core State Standards(CCS), not along side it or against it.  This is important because the switch to Common Core has been such large shift in many of our schools that adding additional changes that do not complement one another could be disastrous.  The science standards that were being used in many states would also work against, rather than with, CCS.  Updating science standards now will give schools the chance to integrate the new standards, rather than having multiple systems that don't work together.

The Next Generation Science Standards Were Developed With and By Science Teachers

The standards were developed between three organizations, one of which is the NSTA, or National Science Teachers Association, the professional development organization for science teachers in the United States. Teachers were included in the development of these new science standards from the very beginning of the process.  This gave teachers, the very people who know what works in the classroom and what good teaching looks like a voice to get the standards right from the beginning.  Since the standards are developed by teachers, they are useful and meaningful to classroom teachers. 

The Next Generation Science Standards Are Benchmarked Against Other Successful Nations

How many times have you heard on the news some depressing statistic claiming that US students are falling behind other developed nations in math and science?  The US has historically been an educational leader, and many economists believe this is what has given us our edge in the global marketplace.  To maintain and improve our edge into the future, we need to have a competitive workforce made up of people with strong skills.

The NGSS were benchmarked against other countries who are economically and educationally strong in STEm.  These countries included Finland, China, Singapore, England, Canada and Korea.  The US looked to what other countries are doing right to see what we could do better.

The Next Generation Science Standards Strengthen STEM In The Younger Grades

The NGSS introduce important scientific concepts at a younger age, when children are still curious about how the world around them works.  By giving the building blocks of science at a younger age, children can build a strong foundation in science.  The classes and topics that seemed so challenging to our generation will be met with acceptance and perhaps even excitement by children who are not intimidated by science.  

The Next Generation Science Standards Are Designed To Encourage Thinking Skills

Science teaching and education has been shifting away from memorizing loads of trivia to understanding process and concepts.  Today it is easy to look up a small fact or piece of data.  Knowing how to use that data is the big challenge.  There is greater emphasis on how to use scientific knowledge to solve real-world problems.  

The goal of the new NGSS standards is to prepare today's youth for a future in which they will need strong STEM skills in their daily lives.

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