ngss-logoI am super excited as the Next Generation Science Standards roll out for the public. The NGSS document was officially released on Tuesday — you can read about it in this Education Week story. Here’s how EdWeek reporter Erik Robelen summarized:

More than three years in the making, the Next Generation Science Standards are designed to provide a greater emphasis on depth over breadth in studying the subject. They seek not only to provide students with a foundation of essential knowledge, but also to lead young people to apply their learning through scientific inquiry and the engineering-design process to deepen understanding.

I’ve been a part of an amazing process to help write, revise and edit these standards as the National Research Council‘s 18 expert writers and the Achieve organization have circulated draft after draft to get to this point. My state’s efforts have been headed up by Matt Krehbiel, the Science Program Consultant from the Kansas State Department of Education, who assembled a group of Kansas teachers and industry leaders to review, comment and recommend changes throughout the process.

Let me tell you, Matt Krehbiel rocked this! It was an outstanding experience — one of the best I’ve witnessed, and I’ve been on a lot of these kinds of committees.

Two years this process has been going on

ngss-girl-w-glassSimply: What happened was that the writers would create a set of standards they thought would help K12 develop proficient science students, prepare them to go to college and be successful in careers. Those draft standards would be sent out to the lead states for their review and comment. That’s where the committee I was on would go to work.

We had teachers, representatives from business and industry, and higher education people on the committee. It was really a diverse set of interests, expertise and geography. (There were about 50+ people on the committee so it was big.) Our group would break down the standards, work through and read everything, and then decide where we could make suggestions, improvements, point out holes/omissions or identify where clarification would be needed.

The collaborative process

Sometimes I worked with middle school science standards, which makes sense because I have almost 20 years of middle school science teaching experience. Other times I worked with the engineering standards because I have also taught mathematics and computer technology.

3-prong-NGSSThe exciting part of working on the engineering standards was the chance to collaborate with real world engineers and high school teachers. I can tell you that as we thought about the biology standards, for example, it was wonderful fun to consider how to best incorporate biotech with a biotech company representative right in the room. We’d craft something and then could bounce it off her industry expertise — a real collaboration between education and industry.

Somehow KSDE’s Matt Krehbiel would summarize all this input. That is no small task because this Kansas group was very vocal, extremely passionate about what they felt was best for kids, and determined to support whatever they believed would promote the highest levels of learning. Matt went above and beyond to find a concise way to bring together the diversity of ideas bubbling through this large group in a format that could help Achieve and the standards authors.

Back and forth the drafts and reviews would go. With each iteration, you could see the impact that the teachers’ voices were having on the standards. I think that was probably the most gratifying thing about this work. So often things  happen to me, as a down-in-the-trenches-teacher, and I have no voice, no input, no way to influence the process. Here I was listened to, and my ideas and experience became part of the final product.

NGSS connected and cross-referenced to Common Core for ELA and Math

I also really like how the NGSS standards cross-reference back to ELA and Math Common Core standards. It makes the actual document a little complicated, but I welcome that degree of complexity if it takes the guesswork out of where, how and why NGSS connects back to the skills and processes of Common Core. (Click to enlarge)

MS-PS4-NGSciStands

You’ll also see that each page of standards actually “houses” the science concepts, the cross-cutting concepts (things I think we used to call the Big Ideas of Science) and the Practices.  Again, it makes each page jam-packed and a little overwhelming to look at, but soon enough I adapted to the format and now have grown to appreciate how clever and convenient the format can be for a teacher who is doing planning and lesson design and wants to create a well integrated result.

Energized and elevated with teacher voice

One of the complaints I’ve often heard about the Common Core State Standards was that there was not enough teacher input into the development process. With the Next Generation Science Standards, I can tell you first-hand that there has been lots of teacher voice, at least in Kansas. Kansas was only 1 of the 22 states that chose to participate in NGSS development. True,  I can’t tell you what went on in those states, but if it was anything like what I witnessed here, it all represents a HUGE amount of teacher input into these standards. In fact, I can point to multiple places where I can see changes were made in response to feedback that I personally helped provide.

Thank goodness our State Board of Education voted to let us participate as a lead state. It’s been an enormously satisfying experience for me and other teachers who took part. When we begin to implement these meaningful and challenging standards, the process won’t feel like something that Washington DC did to us. It’s our document. We share in the ownership.

Exciting-ScienceIn my state, the standards will come up for review by the State Board of Education. I feel that the standards represent the best we and all the experts and consultants and state committees could write. Are they perfect?  Probably not. But I feel like they are pretty darn good and will elevate the “bar” for science teaching in our state and likely in any state that chooses to adopt them.

Wrapping up

Take a look at the Next Generation Science Standards. Read through them. Imagine where our students will be after they’ve had the chance to examine science-related problems, use scientific argumentation, model different phenomenon, investigate, compare the pros/cons of these approaches, design a tool to do this or that.

I think these standards are highly credible and will excite and energize our students and our profession.

Marsha Ratzel’s book for Powerful Learning Press — describing her shift from traditional science teaching to an inquiry-based, student-driven, connected classroom — will be published in June 2013.

About the author
Marsha Ratzel is a National Board-certified teacher in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, where she teaches middle school math, science, and sometimes social studies. To read more of her writing about her teaching practice, visit her blog Reflections of a Techie.