NGSS: Making Your Life Easier
By Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many.
In the rollout lesson, chromatography is treated as an engineering challenge. After observing how a substance separates on napkins and reading an article on how chromatography works, students are given some materials to choose from- cups, different types of paper, different liquids to use. The students are challenged to come up with the best way to separate the substances. The amount of prep time and direct teaching for the teacher is MUCH less.
What about student learning and engagement?
In the first example, the students are mostly pretty bored, as they try to follow a complicated procedure exactly. Many aren’t really sure what they are doing and why. Mostly the students get the “correct” results, but without really thinking about what is going on and why.
In the second example, students are deeply interested in figuring out how the get the best separation. Groups start to get competitive about getting the best results. They can discuss what works well and what doesn’t and are deeply engaged in the process. They get different results, which are a great start to a discussion about why the results differ. They even come up with methods that are simpler and more effective than my painfully detailed step-by-step cookbook, and with much less work on the teacher’s end.
NGSS done right ultimately puts the workload on the student, where it belongs, and makes life easier for the teacher. In the short term, there will be more work as new units and lessons are built. We also need to make sure our science knowledge is robust and current, so we can be ready for where the students’ explorations take us. But this should be easy, most of us science teachers got into this work because we love science and love learning anyway. Time to get our students to the same place.