Opportunities for Growth: Integrating NGSS's Earth Science and Sustainability StandardsAlicia McGraw, Springfield High School
In the science department at Springfield High School, Earth science and sustainability have primarily been addressed in two courses, both of which I teach: Biology, which all students take, typically their sophomore year, and Environmental Science, which is a one semester, standalone, elective course offered at the junior/senior level (taken by about 20% of the student body). I am also aware of a junior/senior social studies course, Global Realities, which addresses the topic of sustainability from several directions. As I understand it, about half of the juniors and seniors take this elective social studies course.
When the NGSS was adopted in Oregon several years ago, my first move was to compare it to the Oregon State Science Standards (our previous teaching standards) and look for areas of overlap. What components was I already teaching or practicing that I could keep and what areas needed an upgrade? What I learned was that the NGSS is organized in three ways: Conceptually – the disciplinary core ideas, which I found I was mostly on target with; through "Practices" – science and engineering, of which I addressed science practices very well and found engineering practices completely missing (have since learned and integrated teaching engineering practices too); and through cross cutting concepts – organizational strategies which I was aware of superficially, such as the idea of cause and effect, but which I am only now learning to tune into, identify, and integrate into my teaching. I have the more gain in learning how to help my students become aware of and begin to regularly take note of these organizational helpers.
Within my two courses, integrating much of what I felt was my NGSS conceptual territory (the biology and environmental science disciplinary core topics) and adding in those components I saw were missing, seemed relatively straight forward. Within my school district however, which includes three high schools, integration has been much more complicated and continues to be in development. The biggest challenge is that the NGSS emphasizes four areas of study: Biology (Life Science), Physics, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering, while our high schools have traditionally emphasized taking three years of science (as required by the state) among three subject areas: Biology, Physics, and Chemistry (with an introductory year of physics and chemistry for the majority of freshmen). Neither Engineering nor Earth and Space Science courses have been taught directly for many years (if ever) in my district. It has taken the entire year (four half day meetings) for our districts' science teachers to agree on how to distribute most of the new Earth and Space Science and Engineering topics. Some topics are still in contention.
From an opportunities perspective, working together as a district of science teachers to dig through the NGSS standards and trying to find their rightful course homes within our district's preferred course scheme has been difficult but team building overall. The three biology teachers at my high school are beginning to work together with a renewed focus, tasked with concentrating and consolidating those Life Science ideas we can, to accommodate the new Earth and Space Science Standards and then to find/develop lessons we can teach. Personally, I'm seeing the potential for interdisciplinary collaboration with a social studies teacher at my school who also strongly emphasizes sustainability (what can I take from this course which I can share there?). I'm also excited about the prospect of gaining new curriculum, approaches, and resources over time to improve both the quality of the data sets I'm using (real world, concrete data) and its personal/social relevance to my students (local where possible).