After my initial read of the Next Generation Science Standards, I decided to dive in deep into the elementary standards and treat the draft standards as though I was going to have to teach them next year. The result was less than inspiring… Although I am a firm supporter of the intentions of NGSS as I wrote earlier, there are a lot off issues that need to be addressed in this draft. Because it’s an overwhelmingly large document to break down (even when just focusing on elementary), here’s a visual version “for dummies” of my NGSS criticism:
Here’s a key to my icons:
- Tacked on: these topics have performance expectations do not fit well with the central idea of the topic and in my opinion they add unnecessary breadth to the standards. Unfortunately, this “tacking-on” seems to be rampant in the standards, and I’d love to be able take a red pen to them. Example: The 1st grade Structure and Function topic focuses on… structure and function of plants and animals (duh) until it starts tacking on random expectations about heredity, parent behaviors, and communities.
- Bloated: these topics have so many big ideas slapped together that in my opinion it would impossible to address them together in any meaningful depth (without taking an impossible amount of time). For some reason is a problem in with 4th grade: Life cycles, Earth processes, and Energy are in need of some serious editing. Example: the 4th grade Earth Processes unit tries to combine weathering and erosion, fossils, and geological hazards all under one topic- yikes!
- Disastrous: these topics are a complete mess of barely related performance expectations, and contain no clear central idea as far as I can see. All 3 “disaster” topics are in Earth Science, so they’d better find a new team of geologists to fix these! Example: The 5th grade Earth Systems topic is all over the map including the different earth “spheres”, the workings of climate, the importance of the ocean, the water cycle without the cycling, and environmental conservation without climate change.
- Repetitive: these topics contain central ideas that are already addressed in an earlier grade’s topic, and without enough additional depth to justify further study. This could be cleaned up easily by combing some of these topics for more depth in one grade level. Example: In 2nd grade there is a Pushes and Pulls topic which overlaps a lot with the 3rd grade Interactions of Forces- why teach similar forces units two years in a row?
- Not age appropriate: these topics should be moved up to a higher grade level because it would be more fruitful to be able to investigate them in more depth with older students. Example: The Kg Weather topic would not include any quantitative data collecting like temperature and rainfall. Why not wait until students are ready to use meteorological tools to analyze the weather?
- Very good: these topics are clearly focused around a central idea and would allow for rich, inquiry-based learning. If only there were more of them!
Overall, I believe the NGSS draft still has a long way to go to achieve its stated goal of more depth and less breadth in US science education, balancing emphasis on content with skills and cross-cutting concepts. The structure of the standards with 4 topics per grade level after 1st grade is a simple barrier in itself- it seems to imply that 4 science units would need to be taught each year, and many of these topical units are very broad in content as currently written.
I would love to discuss the topics in more detail, and hear others’ takes on the standards. If you’re interested, check out the #NGSSChat on Twitter this Thursday at 8pm Eastern being organized by @FredEnde. That will be 3 in the morning for me in Qatar, but I think I’m actually nerdy enough to wake up for it!