8 Reasons Why NGSS Will Transform Your Science Classroom

Direct from the science teaching laboratory – HolaTutorMatt is here with an outline as to why the NGSS science teaching standards are good news for students, teachers and parents.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are being adopted by science classrooms across the USA and globally. As a science teacher with 15 years experience I have spent 4 years exploring, preparing and teaching the standards in an American international school in Europe. Parents may be wondering how these standards affect the way their children are being taught in a modern 21st century science classroom.  Here’s my take on these new NGSS standards and the most obvious ways that teachers are using them to transform their teaching:

NGSS Transformation Tip 1. The NGSS finally allows students to learn like a professional scientist does.

Scientists are always pushing themselves to improve their understanding. NGSS students are no different. The NGSS curriculum turns its back on some of the typical ways of learning that take place in a science classroom. Teachers are not longer under pressure to deliver random lessons, often out of context. Lessons are planned with clear objectives – within the context of a phenomenon.

Real learning taking place without a textbook in sight.

Students learn with a clear aim in mind and attempt to explain a phenomenon using 8 well defined ‘practices’. These practises enable to the student to pursue a clear goal of understanding  – all within context.

NGSS Transformation Tip 2. The NGSS allows students to collect their own evidence and answer their own questions.

A common pitfall for any well-meaning teacher is to set up a lesson with one main question to which there is only really one correct answer.  This is poor preparation for students if we’re serious about training our next generation to be thinking, effective scientists. The NGSS is set up to give students space to conduct their own investigations, collect their own data and draw their own, more memorable and meaningful conclusions.

NGSS Transformation Tip 3. The NGSS creates a ‘lab’ environment and atmosphere – students work in small groups to find evidence for multiple questions.

Laboratories are rarely full of scientists  working to the exact same goal. Research scientists don’t work in teams of hundreds, trying to solve the same research question. This should be reflected in a science classroom. The NGSS places emphasis on small teams of students working to understand the small ‘cogs’ found in the mechanism of a large complex question.

Following their research the students collaborate to share this information with an aim to finally understand the larger issue in question. This is a realistic reflection of how the real world works and it’s great that the NGSS give us space for this.

NGSS Transformation Tip 4. The NGSS makes it far easier for science teachers to differentiate.

Differentiation can become a bogey word for many teachers. We understand what it is and what it isn’t. We all do it. Good teachers do it naturally. Directors of schools send us on endless differentiation courses, we know it’s importance, there is no doubt. But does the curriculum support differentiation – most don’t -there’s simply too little space.  Enter the NGSS. The NGSS enables differentiation by shifting the position of the teacher from the front of the room to the side of each table, working one-on-one with small groups.  When students are working in small teams to meet a overarching goal there is more space for science teachers to operate.

small group of students.
Working in small groups enables natural differenciation in the NGSS program.
Time and Space in the Classroom

Teachers can supply the support that underachieving students need. Equally the teacher has more time are able to lead higher achieving students to new areas. This logistics of doing this in a non-NGSS teaching environment are, well, highly challenging to say the least. The NGSS purposefully frees up space for differentiation  and this is a welcome add-on for science teachers.

NGSS Transformation Tip 5. The NGSS promotes creativity and effective communication, recreating the challenges that real scientists face on a daily basis.

No one receives a single textbook that details how to research and explore new topics. Scientists use multiple sources and express themselves using many different way of communication. Students following an NGSS science course are challenged to use and evaluate various forms of communication – as any scientist would when working in the lab, field or workspace.

NGSS Transformation Tip 6.  The NGSS takes a refreshing step away from dusty textbooks and tired worksheets.

Worksheets and textbooks can be useful. But not all the time and they really shouldn’t become the fulcrum or pivot point around which learning takes place. If students are leading their own learning and pushing into areas they are interested in, then the role of a textbook almost becomes defunct. Most schools now offer a 1:1 scheme for laptop use in schools  – the resources at students’ fingertips are more current than ever before.

Textbooks in Moderation

The NGSS allows teachers to close the old textbook and transfer the time saved to student-driven inquiry. With careful support from ‘CRAPP’ tested resources the students will still have the same access to knowledge support that textbooks used to offer them (just not every class, all the time).

NGSS Transformation Tip 7. The NGSS encourages ‘sticky’ learning experiences giving students the space to reach their own conclusions.

If you’re beyond school leaving age, what do you remember from your science classes at school? The answer is too often ‘precious little’. How do we make learning at school memorable or… ‘sticky’ ?   If all the class follow the same pre-planned lab experience, then we’ll all make the same conclusions and the chance for collaborative, expansive learning has been lost.

empty classroom
Any ‘sticky’ learning opportunities here?

The NGSS enables the science classroom to be a hub of multiple streams of inquiry. Student form their own conclusions based on their own learning, with guidance by the teacher when needed. This helps the students have great learning experiences. Maybe even delivering more of those elusive but persistent, ‘sticky’, learning experiences that teachers love to deliver.

NGSS Transformation Tip 8. Finally…and this is huge: the NGSS doesn’t require rote learning of facts.

In an NGSS classroom facts are learnt by students as a by-product of pursuing the answer to a research question.

Learning – Keep it Real

Here’s an example –  today in my middle school classroom a student worked out that the (tidal) volume of his lungs was approximately 2800cm3.  Instantly he wondered out loud ‘is this correct?‘ and ‘what is the average tidal volume of a human lung?‘ Within seconds he was confirming his findings online, comparing his results with several online studies and journals as well as with other groups in the class.  Was his result realistic? How did it compare with other humans? with other athletes?with patients suffering from lung diseases? Now there was no stopping him and he carried his learning naturally. When I returned to his work space ten minutes later he was making notes and updating a diagram he had drawn of the lungs. No need for me to spend time teaching him this – he had learnt it organically. Of course teachers will need to ‘sweep up’ at the end of a unit or topic to check that the relevant facts have been covered by the class as a whole.

The act of investigating will have taken care of most of the ”fact delivery work’ for us teachers.

…So there you are. This article is a short introductory guide to the basics on how the NGSS is affecting science education. As a science teacher myself I can say that I am a fan of the NGSS and I think it’s moving us all in the correct direction.

Time to move to a new 21st century learning space – can the NGSS provide this?

The NGSS is a vast topic and I will be adding to this series of articles on education with more in-depth guides from the science teaching lab. Come back soon.


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Check out my article for prospective students:  Guidance: Holatutor’s guide to the IB Diploma Sciences

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