The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have brought many U.S. classrooms into the 21st century. In a world increasingly ruled by computers and robotics, this knowledge and these skills will be instrumental to the success of tomorrow’s workforce.
NGSS has brought something else to the classroom—inquiry-based learning. Gone are the days when a science teacher would write facts on a board and explain topics to a classroom. The NGSS expects students to participate in their own learning. The standards call for students to form hypotheses, test theories, and analyze data for themselves. Students are active learners. Thus, the NGSS guidelines have changed the methods used to teach science. This presents challenges to teachers. So how to implement these standards in today’s classroom? Here are five challenges teachers face.
The Challenges in Implementing
1: Restricted Resources
Because these are only guidelines, not curricula, the implementation of the NGSS is dependent on school systems and educators creating or obtaining the necessary materials. Classrooms will need new lesson plans, new homework assignments, new assessments—not to mention new physical equipment for hands-on activities. Since the standards can be quite different from what individual teachers have been teaching, this can be a time-consuming and costly undertaking. As a result, many schools that have adopted the new standards are still in the process of creating or obtaining these materials.
2: Being on the Same Page
Seeing the standards for the first time can be daunting for teachers. How exactly does one help a third-grader “Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost”? Is the standard about defining the problems, or about determining the constraints? And what does a third-grader know about these issues?
3: Do As I Say…
Further complicating matters, the standards focus on students “doing” science rather than just reading about it. However, many elementary school science teachers have never performed laboratory research themselves or conducted more complex experiments. It’s hard to teach something you are not comfortable with. So some teachers will need professional development before implementing the NGSS.
4: Where Did the Time Go?
With so much time spent around having students act as researchers—assessing a scientific concept, discussing their questions about it, creating a plan, performing an activity to inform their knowledge about the concept, interpreting results—it is easy to see that time is not on the teacher’s side. Teachers need to lead students, rather than tell students how to proceed, which can be especially time-consuming in a classroom setting.
5: No Wrong Answers
When the goal is to teach students to hypothesize, test theories, and interpret data for themselves, sometimes students will struggle with a concept or task. While it might be tempting for teachers to provide quick answers when students are struggling, the NGSS is based on the idea that the struggle itself is an important part of learning. Unfortunately, this not only makes learning more time-consuming, but it also means that sometimes the students will go home without a definitive answer to their questions. This may be counterintuitive not only to teachers, but to students as well.
So What’s the Solution?
The fact is, these challenges can all be overcome…in time. It will take time for classrooms and teachers to adjust to the new teaching method and to acquire the resources needed. And it will take students time to adjust to the new teaching methods too. After all, the average high school student has been taught via the “chalk and talk” method for more than 65 percent of his or her life.
Don’t panic. Help is out there. There are several free online tools that educators can use to get help today. The National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) has a page dedicated to NGSS classroom resources that educators may find helpful, including lesson plans. PBS has a page on its website dedicated to “Teaching NGSS Engineering Design Through Media.” NASA devotes a page to “NGSS Engineering in the Classroom,” while NOAA features lists of resources for teaching to new science standards. Several websites also have state-specific NGSS resources for educators.
Also, given the complexity of the NGSS and the changes in methodology that the new standards bring, many states and districts are there to help too. They’re providing workshops, webinars, professional development, and transition trainings to their educators to prepare them for these challenges.
As with all new things there will be some growing pains. But once the resources are created, and the teachers and students have adjusted to the new teaching methods, the future implementation of the NGSS should be worry-free.
How is your state or district helping educators implement the NGSS? We’d love to hear from you via the Comments below or join the conversation on twitter with #victoryNGSS.
If you want to get an overview of NGSS, read the first blog in our series, “Impact of NGSS.”