What are the Next Generation Science Standards?

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In the United States, each state is in charge of setting its own standards for what students are expected to learn and be able to do at each grade level, and for assessing students' level of achievement against those standards. Standards typically cover content in English/language arts, math, and science. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were released in 2011 and were designed to reflect advances in education research as well as new material generated since the previous standards were established. As of July, 2014, twelve states and the District of Columbia had adopted the NGSS and begun implementing them in their school systems.

In 2009, the National Research Council (NRC) initiated the process of developing a new set of national science standards, which could be adopted by states if they chose to do so. They began by assembling a group of content experts who worked together to produce a framework of science and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas that went out for public review before its final release in 2011. Based on the framework, a team from twenty-six lead states developed the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which consist of a coherent set of performance expectations that combine disciplinary core ideas with science and engineering practices and are tied to other disciplines through cross-cutting concepts.

The Earth science community was active in the development of the NGSS, led by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT). NAGT provided webinars and a forum for review and discussion, submitting comments to the development team, and ultimately the endorsement of the new standards. The development of the NGSS followed close on the heels of the development of several community-generated Earth literacy documents, so the two poducts are closely aligned.

What Do the Standards Do?

The Earth and space science standards in the NGSS emphasize Earth's place in the universe, Earth's systems, and Earth and human activity. There is far more emphasis on students being able to use Earth science data to do things like make predictions, interpret the distribution of fossils and rocks, assess hazards, and develop models than was present in previous standards. This new emphasis marks a large shift away from previous standards that emphasized classification, and encourages the development of expert thinking skills within the context of sustainability and how humans interact with Earth and Earth processes.

In addition, the core ideas and skills in the NGSS differ significantly from the content covered in a traditional introductory physical geology course. If future teachers make up a large percentage of the students enrolled in your introductory courses, you might consider developing your syllabus to address the new expectations.

What Do They Look Like?

Here's an example of the performance expectations for 4th-grade students in the disciplinary core idea of Earth and Human Activity:

At first glance, this looks very complicated, but the structure of the graphic is meant to reflect the ideas behind the standards:

  • The box at the top contains the performance expectations, which are similar to learning outcomes. These are the things that students should be able to do by the end of 4th grade. In red, following the statement of the performance outcome, is some text that defines the boundaries of what should be expected based on age-group cognitive abilities and what they've learned in previous grades.
  • Each performance expectation draws from three strands, that appear in the three columns below the performance expectations:
    • Science and Engineering Practices (in blue): These are the skills and processes used across scientific disciplines, including things like analyzing and interpreting data, and making arguments based on evidence.
    • Disciplinary Core Ideas (in orange): These are the content items, the main pieces of knowledge within a discipline that students should know.
    • Cross-cutting Concepts (in green): These are overarching ideas that connect across disciplines, like patterns, stability and change, and cause and effect.
  • A single performance expectation combines a science and engineering practice with a disciplinary core idea and ties it to a cross-cutting concept, all within a task that can be assessed.
  • Beneath the three columns are two additional white boxes:
    • The first makes connections to NGSS performance expectations in other disciplines
    • The second makes connections to the Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.

InTeGrate and the NGSS

InTeGrate-developed courses and modules, by design, offer an active learning and interdisciplinary approach to teaching and most activities have been aligned with the NGSS. Learn more about how they are aligned and search the collection to find materials that meet your needs. You can also explore strategies for addressing performance expectations

Additional Resources

Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards »

This collaboration between NAGT and AGI focuses on providing support for teachers and faculty to implement the NGSS well. The collaboration features a series of webinars on important NGSS topics as well as other resources.

From NextGenScience.org:

Washington State Teacher Preparation Program:

  • See how a consortium of 12 representatives from Washington State came together to create and implement a shared vision for their STEM teacher preparation program, from the Washington State Implementation Program.
  • You can also learn more from this November 2016 webinar: Introduction and Overview of the Next Generation of STEM Teacher Preparation in Washington State (NextGen-WA) project, which includes slides and a screencast recording from the webinar.