The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were developed to improve science learning opportunities for all students. These standards are in place to provide a necessary foundation to start students off on the right foot in early science education and continue to build on their science learning throughout their educational experience. The “standards” refer to the overall collection of information in the NGSS that includes conceptual information, scientific and engineering process skills, and overarching themes that all students should understand as they progress through their K-12 experience. These three dimensions (concepts, processes, overall themes) are specifically referred to in the NGSS as Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts. The standards also include suggested Performance Expectations that provide teachers with ideas about what students should be able to do to demonstrate understanding at different grade levels. All of these aspects of the NGSS work alongside one another to help students build a complete understanding of science over time. The goal of the NGSS is to provide a new and effective way to teach science through enhancing inquiry opportunities. Teaching with inquiry helps students develop the knowledge and practices to effectively learn science concepts. In the next sections, we will explore each aspect of the standards in more detail.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
The Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) are in place to focus K-12 science curriculum on the foundational concepts which are commonly utilized in all of the disciplines (life, earth/space, and physical) of science. These ideas meet at least two of the following:
- Have broad importance across multiple sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing concept of a single discipline;
- Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems;
- Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technological knowledge;
- Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication.
Science and Engineering Practices
The Science and Engineering Practices (SEP) are what students are DOING. With the NGSS, students get to actually be the scientist or be the engineer while participating in hands-on activities. Students learn science by doing science.
The three takeaways from the SEP are:
- The “Why”. Why is it important for K-12 students to learn these practices and why they should reflect what actual scientists and engineers are doing.
- The 8 essential practices for learning science and engineering.
- Acquiring these skills during practice supports a better understanding of scientific knowledge and engineering solutions.
The term “practices” is used to stress that engaging in scientific inquiry requires both knowledge and skill. By engaging in practices, students can DO what scientists do and begin to understand how scientific knowledge is developed. The direct involvement keeps students engaged and helps motivation.
Cross Cutting Concepts
The Cross Cutting Concepts (CCC) are overarching themes that are recognized across all specific content areas in science. There are seven CCC that the NGSS addresses: patterns; cause and effect; scale, proportion, and quantity; systems and system models; energy and matter; structure and function; and stability and change. The Framework for K-12 Science Education emphasizes that these concepts must be made explicit for students because they provide an organizational schema as they make connections from various science fields into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world.
The Performance Expectations (PEs) utilize the three dimensions of the NGSS as a summary of what students should be able to complete if they have mastered the standard. The performance expectations integrate the three-dimensions of the NGSS (DCI, SEP, and CCC); each performance expectation contains at least one disciplinary core idea, science and engineering practice, and cross cutting concept.
Reading and interpreting the Next Generation Science Standards will take time and practice. A great way to begin understanding the new standards is to read the document A Framework for K-12 Science Education (free pdf download at: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts), a text which provides an overview, vision, goals, research base, and further explanation of each of the three dimensions. A Framework to K-12 Science Education provides a solid foundation for the Next Generation Science Standards; it is critical to reading, interpreting, and applying the new standards in elementary science settings.
The NGSS is structured into grade bands that build off of each other. As students progress through each of the grades, the topics continuously advance in complexity. The science concepts start with a basic foundation where students focus on science phenomena that they can interact with using their senses. As students progress through the grade levels the science concepts go deeper to where students are not only using their senses, but also enhancement of their senses to explain science phenomena. If you look at the grade bands you are able to see this progression through the grades. It is important to look at the standards in all grades to help you build content for your students in your classroom grade level, and to prepare the students to learn beyond your classroom in other grade levels. The teacher talk boxes throughout the book will allow you to gain understanding of the NGSS progression through biology and chemistry content.
(Next Generation Science Standards, 2021)