Fall conferences are in full swing for educators, and Measured Progress recently attended two regional science conferences: the California Science Education Conference (CSTA) in Palm Springs, and the first regional NSTA conference of 2016 in Minneapolis. It was incredibly energizing to meet so many science educators, and we came away from both conferences very impressed by the dedication of K–12 educators in the science community. Attendees described their shared mission to educate today’s students to know, think, and act like scientists and engineers, in line with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)*, and they offered numerous ideas about how to best fulfill that mission.
At CSTA, we led a workshop about how to engage students with NGSS, and attended a number of additional sessions where we:
- practiced doing claim, evidence, and reasoning statements with Sacramento City science coaches,
- understood more about the SNAP program from Stanford, and how our STEM Gauge® compares with SNAP,
- learned how the Monterey Bay Aquarium helps elementary school students identify patterns for ocean animal habitats, and
- saw how the San Diego Zoo supports science teachers through field trips and teacher workshops, as well as with an innovative master’s program called Project Dragonfly.
At NSTA Regional 1 in Minneapolis, we led a workshop on formative assessment strategies to engage students with NGSS. We also:
- played with a digital dissection app,
- learned about a video to help teach the importance of bee pollinators for kindergartners, and
- heard more about planned science standards in Minnesota.
Many individual teachers we talked with expressed the desire to adopt NGSS in their classroom¾even if their state, like Minnesota, wasn’t quite ready for statewide adoption. We were pleased to hear that teachers want to move forward and adjust instruction to encompass the 3 dimensions of the NGSS Performance Expectations (PEs), because STEM Gauge can help in exactly that situation.
Here are 3 quick reflections about what we heard and saw at the conferences:
- Teachers need NGSS-built formative assessment tools.
Teachers were thinking that they had to write their own NGSS assessments for classroom use. It was a revelation when they saw that expert science content specialists had already written questions for K–8 that elicit evidence of understanding across the 3 dimensions for all the PEs in those grades, and they look forward to high school questions being available. Assessment Insights readers know that STEM Gauge supports strong formative assessment practices, and teachers use it during instruction to support ongoing teaching moves and learning tactics. The district science coaches we talked with reiterated the need to adopt new curricula, but also to gauge progress toward mastery of the PEs with a standards-based approach. They want students to be ready for state accountability assessments for science, once they’re in place.
- Supporting the transition to NGSS is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
The NGSS transition needs of elementary teachers are not the same as those of middle or high school teachers¾each group may need some different tools. The elementary teachers want to make connections with ELA (English language arts) in order to maximize limited time for instruction, and they frequently mentioned concerns about colleagues with limited science backgrounds. Many high school teachers are still considering the best way to integrate the NGSS into their daily activities. This led us to the idea that district leaders planning NGSS adoption might consider a phased transition, based on grade level.
- Students also need support for the transition.
The transition to NGSS represents a shift for pedagogy. But NGSS also represents a major shift for how students are expected to learn. For example, students will be challenged to do claim, evidence, and reasoning statements. Engaging in argumentation from evidence, if the practice hasn’t been previously encouraged, may feel awkward at first. The very students who excel in a content-centric approach may flounder initially when asked to form questions instead of to simply receive new information. At times like these, it’s good to remember the transition to NGSS is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you attended one of these conferences, what were your takeaways? We look forward to learning from even more science and engineering educators at NSTA Portland and Columbus.
*NGSS is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.