I’ve been reasonably(?) skeptical of the Next Generation Science Standards: how they were developed, the kind of people writing them, the kind of students they are targeted to, and how they will be used in the future. I decided to get over (around?) all my NGSS angst and just dive in to see if they are useful for how I structure my Standards for my science classes.
Like most lists of standards, the NGSS are too bloated with content knowledge factoids for my taste, so I focused instead on the list of Science and Engineering Practices, which turns out to be a list of practices that I think a lot of science educators can get behind. In fact, they already have. There are a lot of parallels between the NGSS Practices and the AP Biology Process Skills from the recent course revision. There is even a lot of overlap with the list of 9 major Skill Standards (based on Colorado Community College Course Student Learning Outcomes) that my students have been working on for the last few years.
Long story short, since there was so much overlap between NGSS, AP Biology, and my standards, I thought that a mashup of all three (or four, if you count ISTE NETS, or five with ACT thrown in) was in order. This ended up generating the Standards that we’ll use this year for my students’ portfolios in Anatomy, Biology, and Chemistry:
1. Learn and Understand Content-Related Terminology, Concepts, Representations, and Models. (Varies by Content Area)
2. Plan and Carry Out Scientific Investigations: Ask scientific questions and define problems, implement data collection strategies, and demonstrate laboratory skills appropriate to a particular scientific question.
3. Analyze and Interpret Experimental Data: Manipulate and interpret data in a variety of formats, such as tables, charts, and graphs, to analyze results, construct explanations, and defend conclusions.
4. Use Technology to Explore, Learn, Analyze, and Communicate Information: Demonstrate the ability to select and apply contemporary forms of technology to compile information, solve problems, and communicate with a global audience.
5. Engage in Argument from Evidence: Justify claims with evidence and evaluate alternative scientific explanations.
6. Demonstrate Self-Analysis/Metacognition: Demonstrate the ability to evaluate your own learning, recognizing areas of strength and weakness, and be able to describe the next steps for improvement.
7. Contribute to the Learning Community: Demonstrate the ability to contribute to the learning environment of the community through effective participation in group work, modeling of good work habits, putting forth your best effort, and helping others learn.
In the process of this mashup, my list of Skill Standards dropped down from 9 to 7, which suits my increasingly minimalist approach to standards pretty well. I think the standards are tighter now, having combined several and mashed others. Only one brand new one makes an appearance (#5), and it really needed to be there since every reputable set of standards (NGSS, AP/College Board, and ACT) recognizes the need to intentionally train kids to argue from evidence. In other words, critical thinking, or scientific thinking, if you prefer, now gets its rightful place in my list of standards.
There you have it, the 7 standards that become the 7 entries per student in my gradebook: no more, no less. BlueHarvest will still do the heavy lifting of formative assessment for me and I’ll still be using assessment portfolios with students, but they might just have an easier time of it with fewer portfolio pages to update.