At the heart of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the new nationwide benchmarks for K-12 education, is the philosophy that successful science education will be an interdisciplinary approach that bridges content and practice . In other words, students should be learning a wide range of concepts while acting as scientists and engineers, and that these two dimensions are as inseparable in the classroom as they are in the larger world. As with any new educational initiative, questions about how these standards can be best understood and implemented by educators surround the NGSS introduction. Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) has long stood by the importance of multidimensional, hands-on experience for science education, and our program serves as an example of how teachers have provided and can continue to provide conceptual information while engaging students as science practitioners.
The origin of the NGSS lies in the “Framework for K-12 Science Education” and its three dimensions: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. The term “practices” describes task-specific skills that scientists use to ask questions and that engineers use to solve problems. These practices are described as learning goals in their own right, rather than simply an attention grabber or a means of understanding a larger concept. In the EPS restoration process, students inquire as scientists about the ecosystem, topography, and natural and cultural history of their schoolyard, while also engaging as engineers by brainstorming, designing, and implementing a restoration. This in itself is a demonstration of “crosscutting concepts”, as students synthesize their life science investigations with physical science, while also developing their skills in language, art, and social studies. Ecology is an excellent starting point for this approach, as many of the crosscutting concepts defined by NGSS – such as scale, systems and systems models, structure and function, stability and change – are terms commonly used by ecologists, demonstrating how apt this study of relationships is for the NGSS teaching mode. Also, when students are engaged in a multi-faceted, participatory model such as EPS, they internalize a broad range of important “core ideas” that may form a lifelong knowledge base, enabling them to seek out and understand new scientific information throughout their lives.
NGSS states that the chief innovation of the standards developed in accordance with these dimensions is the requirement that students “operate at the intersection of practice, content, and connection.” The EPS program is guided by a Ten Step Restoration Model that similarly incorporates instruction and practical training with inquiry and monitoring, not in a linear progression but in a continuous cycle that acknowledges the connections between these often simultaneous learning experiences. Importantly, an EPS restoration can supply an entire school with varied lessons and activities for students of all grades, adhering to the NGSS principle of sustained instruction across age and level of depth. EPS also encourages learning through collaboration, and often students will work alongside teachers and family members, fulfilling the NGSS goal that students appreciate the “range of cognitive, social, and physical practices that [inquiry] requires.” While ecological restoration is not specified as an NGSS disciplinary core idea, it is an application that unquestionably supports NGSS learning goals, and many of the performance standards. NGSS firmly states that they encourage autonomy in deciding how performance standards are learned in the classroom and avoid limiting what teachers teach their students. For an in-depth case study of how a longstanding EPS unit fulfilled a new performance standard, please see this article written by an EPS teacher and published by the NGSS: http://www.nextgenscience.org/sites/ngss/fil es/%285%29%20Case%20Study%20Girls%206-14-13.pdf
EPS is one of many educational approaches that has a longstanding interest in interdisciplinary, hands-on science education, and we have seen many other educators who share this philosophy of making connections and learning through action. It is our hope that the NGSS encourages the continuation and growth of these educational approaches, emphasizing both inquiry and experience in the practice of science. Educators and other interested individuals can learn more about the EPS approach and how to implement it in their schools and communities by attending one of our summer institutes, or by visiting our website for more information: http://uwarboretum.org/eps/
Claire Shaller, 11 September 2013
SOURCE: NGSS Release (June 2013). Framework for K-12 science education dimensions. Available at: http://www.nextgenscience.org/sites/ngss/fil es/Final%20Release%20NGSS%20Front%20Matter%20-%206.17.13%20Update_0.pdf