Better Understanding the Conceptual Shifts Behing the NGSS

This past weekend was spent connecting with some of the most passionate science educators across the country at the NSTA Regional Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. But as the conference wrapped up for most participants our work was only getting started. Joe Krajcik, science education professor at Michigan State University and a major architect of the NGSS helped the 50 or so science teachers, coaches, and informal educators on hand to develop a consensus for the overarching goals of the NGSS and how to identify the resources available on the web that best aligned with its intent.

The interwoven scientific themes of NGSS

The biggest conceptual shift from previous standards to the NGSS is the focus on three interwoven scientific themes that students are expected to master over their K-12 careers. Those themes are the “Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Practices of Science and Engineering.

Krajcik first touched on the Disciplinary Core Ideas, or ‘DCIs.’ To quote Krajcik, “they are the explanatory power, generative in nature (as a key tool for understanding a wide range of natural phenomena), and significant to our culture and society.” DCIs stem from the NGSS writers’ goal to move science instruction away from disconnected facts and twoard ideas which learners can use to explain a variety of natural phenomena and solve problems. A key point stressed by Krajcik in effort to assuage fears of a “watering down of science education” was the fact that the DCIs were to provide “the floor” for what science curriculum should be rather than a ceiling. This “narrowed” vision toward the core ideas is meant to provide teachers with greater opportunity for deeper investigation of the core ideas and increased practice as scientists and engineers.

Crosscutting concepts were less widely understood by those on hand and deliberated over to some length. To a large extent it was agreed these concepts were previously things teachers expected students to “learn along the way” and explicit attention to each was rarely provided. Krajcik emphasized that NGSS encourages more explicit exploration of these concepts (patterns, energy flow and conservation, cause and effect are just a few of these.) An idea that seemed to stick with many of us I shared in the tweet below:

Krajcik recommended that crosscutting concepts might be a powerful tool of scientific exploration when used as a framing question at the beginning of a unit.

Finally the practices were explored. To which the emphasis was made that:

Practices are, as Krajcik put it, “… a shift from learning about science in the science classroom to where students explore, examine, and use science ideas to explain natural phenomena.”

With these fundamental ideas understood we were then charged with exploring our favorite resource pages, respected colleagues, and science ed institutions for lessons, professional learning pages, and other resources of value that encourage students to use practices that explore a disciplinary core idea via a crosscutting concept. Credence will also be paid to those lessons that appropriately align with common core standards in ELA and math as well. The fruits of our labor are intended to be shared via the NSTA’s professional learning portal as NGSS aligned resources and the foundation of a larger collection of resources built into the future.

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About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
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