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A Professional Development Approach to the NGSS

By Eric Brunsell

Posted on 2014-06-04

Today’s Guest Blogger is author Eric Brunsell, an Associate Professor of Science Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Coordinator of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS book coverRecently I was thinking about my first experience with e-mail (in 1992) and how much communication has changed since then. Teaching, too, has gone through similar dramatic changes. In 1992, Project 2061’s Science for All Americans was three years’ old and the National Science Education Standards (NSES) were still a few years away from being published. These documents codified what the science education community knew about “best practices” at that time.  Over the past two decades we have learned a lot about how people learn science. We have used this knowledge to change the way we craft investigations, and how we assess our students and help them make sense of information.  It wasn’t a short process—the NSES didn’t transform science teaching overnight and changes have been far from universal. Instead, it is a process of gradual change over time—an evolution of how we teach science.
The ideas in the Framework for K–12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) didn’t just appear a year or two ago. These documents bring together what we’ve learned and what we now know about how best to teach science.  The writing teams labored to create a framework to point all of us in the right direction as our teaching of science continues to evolve. This is why the NGSS is so important for the future of science education in the U.S., even for teachers and administrators in states that do not adopt. The Next Generation Science Standards provide a rich, complex, and exciting vision for what science could look like in our schools. Some aspects will feel familiar, others will not. The realization of this vision will not happen overnight or even over the course of a year.  However, we owe it to our students and to our profession to have a sense of urgency as we move toward that vision.
Over the past few years, Deb Kneser, Kevin Niemi, and I (along with many other colleagues) have worked with hundreds of teachers and administrators to understand the “shifts” in the NGSS and Framework—an integration of three dimensions of science (core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices) and how those shifts can be translated into instruction.  Deb has extensive experience working with districts on curriculum issues, including Common Core State Standards implementation and is the Chair of the Institute for Professional Development at Marian University. Kevin is a biologist, actively provides professional development related to teaching science, and is the Director of Outreach for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Biology Education. I am a science teacher educator at the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh and have lead a variety of professional development projects over the past 15 years.
During these workshops, we quickly realized that the vision of the NGSS resonated with teachers. There was a sense that the integration of these three dimensions of science had the potential to bring science “to life” and move students beyond knowing science content to being able to do things with the science that they are learning. Many teachers found comfort in realizing that they were doing some of the things described in the practices (e.g. questioning, modeling, etc.), but also found that they could deepen their understanding of how to engage students in these practices. However, there was also a high level of anxiety as to what the NGSS looked like in the classroom, and how implementation would impact the scope and sequence of an individual class, and the science curriculum within a district. We found that this anxiety often served as an obstacle to digging into other aspects of the NGSS. As a result, our professional development work often included a balance between developing an understanding of the three dimensions of science, while also providing teachers and administrators with tools and processes to begin discussing curricular issues.
Our book, Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS: A Professional Development Facilitator’s Guide, describes more than 20 activities that we have used early in the process to introduce and develop understanding of the Framework and the NGSS.  We have also included chapters on practical ways to facilitate professional development and address common sticking points that arise during workshops, and also included helpful tips for administrators as they engage in implementation.
Check out this free chapter (Introducing the NGSS) to see the first four activities. These four activities are intended to be used early in professional development efforts as you build awareness and understanding of the vision and structure of the NGSS. Participants dig into a standards progression as they explore how the “pieces” of a standards page fit together, define vocabulary related to NGSS, and develop an understanding of why the “shifts” in the NGSS are important. The remaining 20 activities provide structured experiences to help teachers and administrators begin to understand the curricular and pedagogical issues related to the standards. These activities include:

  • Model activities and protocols to deepen understanding of all three dimensions of the NGSS;
  • Processes for using “backwards design” principles for developing rich instructional units using the NGSS;
  • Protocols for facilitating discussions about curriculum scope and sequence at the classroom and district levels; and
  • Opportunities to explore connections to the Common Core State Standards and strategies for supporting all students’ science learning.

If you are in a state or district that has adopted the NGSS, we hope this book will provide you with practical guidance about how to begin implementation. If you are in a state that has not (or will not) adopt the NGSS, our hope is that the activities in this book can deepen your understanding of the vision for the Framework and the NGSS that will guide the continual improvement of science education for at least the next decade.
Editor’s Note: Visit the NGSS@NSTA Hub to access NSTA’s growing collection of NGSS resources.  If you are an NSTA member, you can engage with other educators on the NGSS listserve and access NGSS video sessions from the recent NSTA national conference. Not an NSTA member? Join us!

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