Thursday, March 26, 2015

Who are the NGSS Experts

Let's be honest, because NGSS is such a HUGE transition from our old standards, districts and schools will likely have to find experts to provide training for their teachers/administrators.  Sure, you can read the standards and the framework, but those alone are merely words on paper.  The actual roll-out...the actual everyday classroom experience is more than words on paper.  It is words put into practice...practice that works and this comes with time, patience, sweat and tears.

So, who are the NGSS experts that will help us get there?  And what makes them experts?  Clearly the writers of the new standards are experts on the content, but what about implementation?  How many of these writers have taught students and currently teach students?  NGSS is so new that few places have actually implemented these standards.  Not only that, there is no actual formative assessment yet; therefore, there is now way to adequately judge the effectiveness of any given NGSS program.  Thus, identifying experts is NOT an easy question to answer and it requires some serious thought.

I put some serious thought into this and I think that there will be three different types of NGSS experts.

Expert #1  THE STANDARDS EXPERT:  These individuals understand how the standards are arranged and unpacked, and they also have a basic understanding of the framework.  These experts would be needed to explain how to read and interpret the standards for teachers and admin.  I believe that these experts will have to be well read and trained on the new standards.  They should have a full breadth of science knowledge needed in K-12, if the district being trained is K-12.  Aside from the original team that assembled the Next Generation Science Standards, I believe the next best expert in this topic would be people trained from the original NGSS group.  These experts are necessary, in my opinion, in order to get people introduced to the new standards.

At my district we have received excellent introductory training on what the standards are, how they are written, and how to read them.  The expert was the science specialist from our county office of education.  He was extremely well versed on the material and delivered an amazing training session.  Districts and teachers should probably look to their county office of ed for this expert.

Expert #2 THE CURRICULUM EXPERT:  These individuals know how to write and deliver curriculum for the standards and framework.  These people would be needed to assist teachers and district curriculum specialists.  These experts would be well versed in the standards, but arguably experts in a specific area, i.e. K-5, middle school, high school.

At this point in time, there are lots of NGSS aligned lessons but there is no actual all encompassing curriculum available.  There are no textbooks, workbooks, lab manuals, etc.  Heck, district are still trying to determine if they will do an individual course approach versus an integrated approach.  The curriculum does NOT exist!

Regardless, unless the person who designing the curriculum is currently working with students, I would be extremely cautious as to whether or not I would consider them an expert in NGSS curriculum. Students have changed a lot and continue to change year to year.   Not only that, but kids vary from class to class and district to district.  This type of curriculum isn't just content, which is what most science teachers are used to.  This curriculum is an experience, and I believe that those people who know how to deliver the experience the best are classroom teachers, not people sitting behind a desk and writing material they will never deliver to a single student themselves.  I always get tickled when someone who isn't a teacher thinks they've got a great lesson...instead what they've got is a snooze fest that the kids won't care about and won't participate in.  True curriculum experts know how the kids learn because they teach the kids every day.  They know what works and what won't work.

I honestly only trust curriculum designed by teachers currently in the classroom, not big companies who claim to have quality material for the students.  I'm not saying these companies don't have great material, but their stuff doesn't come written for ESL, kids with IEPs, students who can barely read, block days, short days, etc.  We teachers know that most lab handouts that come from a kit have to be fully modified before given to students.  I don't even use a textbook anymore because it is not kid friendly. At this point in time, the best NGSS curriculum experts out there, in my humble yet biased opinion, are the teachers that are designing and implementing these lessons right now.

Expert #3 THE ADMINISTRATION EXPERT:  These individuals know what NGSS should look like during an observation.  These experts would be needed for administrators or TOSAs (Teachers on special assignment) as they make formal and informal observations of classroom teachers.  They would provide structure and guidance for quick assessment to ensure that NGSS is being adhered to.

DO THESE CURRENTLY EXPERTS EXIST?

I don't know.

Finding quality NGSS experts will be very challenging.  It's easy for someone to call themselves a science curriculum specialist, or an expert in biology or chemistry.  It's another thing for someone to consider themselves a specialist or expert in NGSS.  These standards are just too new and are so intertwined that a biology expert may no longer be the curriculum expert for a life science NGSS class.  The writers of the standards clearly know the content, which would make them Expert #1, but not necessarily Experts #2 and #3.

I've listened to expert panels, to the writers of NGSS and to many others about the new standards...and even though all of them could provide great insight, none of them could really define what an NGSS class should look like on a day to day basis.  Which means, experts #2 and #3 probably don't exist yet.

So, how does this fix the need for training for teachers?  Maybe the experts needed to train teachers haven't been identified yet, because they are still in the making.  Maybe these are the teachers who are trying stuff out, those that are willing to try something new, to implement a program of their own design.  Because no one knows exactly what this should look like, but we all agree that it will be awesome, the new science teaching experts will be the science teachers who are DOING IT NOW!  AWESOME!

This is somewhat unfortunate as teachers look for training, but in truth, maybe our training is best served by the teacher next door.  Maybe it is time that we start collaborating again, brain storming about best techniques, best practices, new practices, new techniques.  Maybe the expert is you because you are willing to do something new for the sake of the kids.  Maybe the expert will be me because I'm putting NGSS into my classroom currently.  Who knows...but I will say I have found that my lessons have become more powerful and meaningful as I've begun to sprinkle these standards into my class. WOOHOO!


Sunday, March 22, 2015

NGSS is NOT Curriculum

I love, love, love this statement of fact.  NGSS is not curriculum.

I think so many educators are nervous because they might view these new standards as curriculum when they actually are not.  Our curriculum of content isn't exactly changing.  Rather, we are being asked to add a set of skills that kids need to be able to do based off the material that is being learned in class.    These skills should help them apply knowledge:  communicate, argue, use mathematical or computation representation, construct an explanation, develop a model, plan and carry out an experiment, ask questions and define problems.  These are the Scientific and Engineering Practices (SEP), or simply put what scientists and researchers DO!!!!

So, if we are keeping the bulk of the content but just adding new skills, what's the big dang deal?  Good question.  We are also adding linking concepts that run through all topics.  These are also known as the Cross Cutting Concepts (CCC).  It doesn't matter what subject you are teaching, scientists and engineers have to deal with:  patterns, cause and effect, scale/proportion/quantity, systems and system models, energy and matter, structure and function, stability and change.  This is how scientists and engineers THINK!!!!

Ok...so we want to guide kids on how to think about science and how to do science...then what?  Well, that's where the science content comes in.  The Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) is where our content is narrowed down for us on major focus areas.  We, of course, can and probably should teach more than this.  Think about your old standards.  You likely taught more than what was listed there. The DCI is what scientists and engineers should KNOW!!!!

At the end of the day the SEP, CCC and DCI become the scaffold to the building of our classroom curriculum.  It is NOT the curriculum itself.  I am very confident in saying that I am not away of ANY curriculum currently on the market that can do NGSS.  I believe the best curriculum will be developed by teachers because we know our students best. We deliver the amazing learning experiences.  We get to mold great learning opportunities.

I love developing new curriculum and as I look at the task before us I can tell you what I'm going to do...I'm gonna take my current lessons and start tweeking, start sprinkling in the SEPs and the CCC.  We've all got content, so let's just make sure we have the other two present as well!  When you look at it like this, hopefully the task isn't as daunting.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Stubborn Educator

There's one in every crowd...a stubborn educator, that is.

I was sharing out all of the awesome stuff I learned at NSTA to the science department this week.  I brought up some of the key highlights of the conference paying close attention to point out huge factors that we, as a science collective, need to focus on not only for our classes but for the school and district.  I highlighted:

1.  We need to figure out talking points for an integrated pathway vs traditional courses

2.  We need to start discussing how we want to assess learning with NGSS

3.  We need to consider how our role as a teacher/facilitator will change

There were lots of good questions and discussions, but everyone seemed super on board.  And then it happened...the opinion we all know that is out there but hope doesn't speak up.

The statement cam out. "I'm not at all concerned about NGSS.  I'm just gonna keep doing what I want to do."

Now, I could have taken this comment out of context....maybe this person meant he/she is gonna keep designing solid lessons that are inquiry in nature, engaging, rigorous and NGSS aligned...OR...maybe this person meant he/she wasn't going to adapt to the new standards.  I do know that this person does strive to be a great educator.

Regardless of the meaning, this is a tough reality that ALL of us educators will have to face.  We already know there is very little accountability toward teachers which means we should hold ourselves accountable to not only teach the standards but to educate these kids in the best possible way.  

Are you a hold out?  Are you unwilling embrace change?  We all need to reflect and recognize where there are holes in what we do.  NONE of us are  perfect and all of us have areas for growth.  For those of you that are unwilling to flex and change for the sake of the students, please quit.  Please go find a new profession.  Oh, and by the way, if you don't follow the rules of the job, you should be fired.  We teach our students the importance of rules...we should abide by the rules set forth to us, which includes teaching the new standards (if you are an NGSS state).   Let's not let our educational arrogance prevent great opportunities to make science the most amazing subject in school.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

But I don't teach that subject

"But I don't teach that subject."  That is what I heard yesterday.

The staff at my school were all analyzing the up and coming SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consotrium) test.  While looking at the math common core practice test, a fellow coworker stated, "But I don't teach that subject, so I don't know what to look for."  She teaches English.  The test we were looking at math.

Though this lady is very nice and a good educator, her phrase struck me as a bit snobbish.  However, I know that her opinion is a reflection of how many educators feel about their subject matter.  They are an expert in their area and in their area only.  They don't worry about the other courses because other teachers will cover that other material.

I thought about this for awhile...I was trying very hard not to be judgemental.

If you would have asked me my opinion of subject matter competence for teachers ten years ago I would have told you that subject matter competence is a top priority for educators teaching a class.  Nowadays, with the internet at our fingertips, knowledge only a click away.  I am not smarter than Google.  No matter how hard I try, I cannot be smarter than a search engine.  I cannot be faster than a search engine.  I have tried and failed.

Nowadays, I don't believe subject matter competence is a top teacher priority. I'm not saying a teacher shouldn't have a foundational understanding of the content, but let's be honest with ourselves.  How many of us have literally learned something the night before a lesson then attempted to teach it to a class of studnets?  Um, I know I have.

I am now of the belief that we should no longer just be teaching our topic. We should stretch ourselves in order show our students how to make outside connections, how our material links to other topics, to link content to real world applications.

We educators should become a bit versed in all topics, a little bit like an Emergency Room doctor.  How selfish of us to expect our students to be worldly in knowledge, yet we only focus on our small topic.  Yes, I know, we were hired to teach the kids Biology or English...but if that is all we are doing, we just might be doing a disservice to our students.

Science teachers, we have it the easiest! There is NO other topic in which English, History and Math can be combined with content.  Science is the ultimate integrator of knowledge!  Science teachers take note...we are NGSS + Common Core = AWESOME-SAUCE-SCIENCE!!!!!!

We should challenge ourselves to go deeper, to delve into territories we had not considered before because it "wasn't in the standards."  With common core and NGSS on the horizon, the opportunity for true explosion of knowledge is there.  Science teachers, need to facilitate this explosion and not put out that little spark of interest because its, "not our subject."  Let's fan that fire and see where it takes us. We are on the precipice of great things...so lets go do great things.  Let us design lessons that incorporate multiple topics, let us stretch our understanding and PLAY with content.  Let us facilitate learning such that it is an experience that is not forgotten! We cannot expect our students to think outside that metaphorical box if we only choose to hide within our content area box.

Man...now I'm excited!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Student Response to NGSS

I rolled into my class today after having spent the past few days in Chicago at the NSTA conference.  I had stacks of papers to grade.  As we all know, leaving the class for more than 1 day means tons of grading to catch up on. I have to note that my classroom was in well enough order...the sub followed directions.  YES!  I dared to do a lab my first day back...throwing together equipment on lab stations as fast as I could.  The challenge:  Project a real image on a screen using mirrors and lenses THEN make it upright.

My students were curious what I did at the conference, so I informed them that myself and a handful of other teachers were on a fact finding mission for the new science standards coming out.  It was then that it hit me that these students, mostly juniors and seniors, would never get to experience NGSS and it made me a little bit sad.

Anywho, I gave them a quick summary of NGSS....it went something like this.

Me: "Remember in your science classes when your teachers asked you to memorize stuff and match it on a test?"

Them: heads nod in unison

Me:  "Well, that is a thing of the past."

Them: gasp

Me:  "We are going to ask students to do science, to explain science, to apply it not just memorize it.  We want you guys designing experiments, challenging what you hear, building things."

Kid:  "You mean like you already have us do?"

This made me smile, because I truly attempt to provide an environment of application and interconnection.

Me:  "Yes, but more.   We want to see if you guys can link the learning from biology, to chemistry, to physics and beyond."

Kid:  "Like that worksheet you gave us where we looked at the physics of the human ear and the human eye."

Me:  "Yes, similar to that."

Kid: "In all science classes?"

Me:  "Yuppers."

Them:  "Wows, cool, awesome..."  The smiles were hard to miss.  They collectively found this to be good.

The take away was that kids want this.  They can see the benefit, they don't have to be sold on it, like some of us.  Think about it...how many of us took a class and said, "When are we ever going to use this?"  Well, maybe that should be our approach with our teaching.  Maybe we should make sure that the kids can clearly see that this knowledge is useful and practical and can be used daily.  Maybe we should listen to our audience/customer.  I plan on listening to the students as this is developed.  Their voice is important and should be a player in the integration of the new standards.  NGSS might just be the catalyst needed for all of us to remember why science is AWESOME!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

NGSS made me do it

I am 5 hours away from heading out on a plane back to California. I have spent the past 3 days at the NSTA conference in Chicago with over 5000 science teachers from across the US.  My brain is fried, my feet are tired and I am leaving with more questions than when I arrived. Sure, I heard some great speakers, saw some cool sites and got some amazing SWAG from vendors, but I am still at a loss, because NGSS is just around the corner and no one really has any definitive answers.

California has adopted the NGSS.  I love the NGSS.  I can see about 20 different ways to implement NGSS in the classroom.  Heck, I could start implementing NGSS today!  But its not about me.  My district, like many others, is attempting to develop a plan to implement these controversial yet exciting standards.  We are supposed to start rolling out with this plan in 2016, so we are left with what's left of this school year and next school year to get this thing started.


Some major takeaways I have learned from the NSTA conference concerning NGSS:

1.  NGSS is bigger than any one of us, it is more than a pendulum shift...it is arguably a paradigm shift

2.  Some schools are currently doing NGSS, particularly in Illinois.  There are some struggles, but most of them are because teachers are unsure how to assess this type of learning.

3.  There are a lot of non-answers partially because the NRC has not released everything we teachers need.

4.  Most every single teacher I met is excited about NGSS and agree that it is a good thing.

5.  There is a huge debate as to whether to integrate science at the high school or keep teaching it as individual topics.

6.  Many states do not currently teacher earth and space science, or it is treated as a dumping ground for students, or non serious/rigorous course.

7.  NGSS is complicated and will truly require teacher work very hard.  Those teachers that pass out packets and call that learning are in for a HUGE surprise.


I have decided to blog about our transition to NGSS over the next few years, so that others can watch our progress, ask questions, lend advice, etc.  Get ready...it's gonna be a bumpy ride!