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Education Trends

Coming Soon to a School Near You: New Science Standards

A new framework for high quality science instruction.

November 9, 2011
Photo credit: Thinkstock

As school districts across the country are working diligently to unpack and implement the Common Core Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts, another initiative has been steadily progressing. The initial public draft of the Next Generation Science Education Standards will be released in a few months.

Just as the 1996 National Science Education Standards set the direction for science education over the last 15 years, these new standards will plot a course for high quality science instruction for decades to come.

What's in a Name?

Shakespeare's Juliet asked, "What's in a name?" to show that names are often meaningless and artificial. But, that isn't always the case. These new science standards are called the Next Generation Science Education Standards not Common Core science. Common Core represents a developmental process, initiated and led by a broad consortium of states, specific to English language arts and mathematics. Like the Common Core, the new science standards were not federally initiated and Achieve is managing the writing process. However, the development process is very different. The Next Generation Science Standards process was initiated and led by a consortium, including The National Research Council, The National Science Teachers Association, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve. The development process includes two steps.

The first step, led by the National Research Council, was to "get the science right." The NRC convened expert writing panels composed of scientists, engineers, and science educators to identify a vision of what students should know and be able to do at the end of twelfth grade. This vision also included a map (or progression) of how these knowledge and skills should be introduced and built over the course of a student's K-12 educational experience. After extensive public review, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas was released in July 2011.

The second step, led by Achieve and 20 states, is currently underway. Using the framework as a basis, teams of experts are writing the initial draft of the Next Generation of Science Education Standards. This draft will be released early in the Spring of 2012 for public comment. The writing teams will then use this public input to revise the standards with a final product due in early fall 2012.

The National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are playing a crucial role in engaging the scientific and education community throughout this process by conducting outreach efforts and organizing focus groups during the public comment stages of the development of the framework and standards.

The Framework

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core ideas presents a giant leap forward in terms of understanding what a quality K-12 science education should look like. The document builds off of what we have learned over the past 20 years about how students learn. Therefore, it does not represent a stark departure from current reform efforts, but instead presents a framework for science education that has evolved from those previous efforts. This does not mean that the framework advocates for the status quo. By clearly defining a set of practices, identifying constructs that cut across science disciplines, providing a coherent set of core disciplinary ideas that span K-12, and elevating the visibility of engineering, the framework sets out a bold and ambitious vision for what science education should look like in the US.

Practices: The framework defines eight scientific and engineering practices that students should engage in throughout their K-12 education. These practices represent the skills that scientists and engineers use "on the job." The framework describes twelfth grade outcomes for each practice and a progression for developing these practices. The framework also recognizes the importance of literacy to scientists and engineers and embeds reading, writing and other communications skills into the practices. This emphasis on literacy should overlap very nicely with the Common Core English and Language Arts Literacy Standards for Science and Technical Fields. The practices include:

1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
2. Developing and Using Models
3. Planning and Carrying out Investigations
4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data
5. Using Mathematics, Information and Computer Technology, and Computational Thinking
6. Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
7. Engaging in Argument from Evidence
8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting Elements: The framework identifies seven crosscutting concepts. These are "concepts that bridge disciplinary boundaries, having explanatory value throughout much of science and engineering... These concepts help provide students with an organizational framework for connecting knowledge from the various disciplines into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world" (pg 4-1). The crosscutting concepts include: Patterns; Cause and Effect; Scale, Proportion, and Quantity; Systems and System Models; Energy and Matter -- flows, cycles, and conservation; Structure and Function; and Stability and Change.

Core Ideas: The framework defines a small number of core ideas for each of four disciplines -- physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering, technology, and applications of science. These 13 core ideas stretch across K-12 and are central to understanding each discipline. The framework identifies multiple "component ideas" for each core idea and clearly describes a progression for learning the component ideas. Just as importantly, the progressions provide boundaries that identify what concepts are not developmentally appropriate in specific grade bands. By describing when concepts are developmentally appropriate for introduction, these progressions provide a coherence to the framework that is missing in many standards documents. The Core Ideas include:

Physical Science
1. Matter and Its Interactions
2. Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
3. Energy
4. Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer

Life Science
1. From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
2. Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
3. Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
4. Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

Earth / Space Science
1. Earth's Place in the Universe
2. Earth's Systems
3. Earth and Human Activity

Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science
1. Engineering Design
2. Links Among Engineering, Technology, Science and Society

Keeping Current

You can follow the development of the Next Generation Science Standards at

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