Saturday, December 6, 2014

Trouble with the NGSS

Today I was training the school technology leads in my district and toward the end of the time we had a chat about what kind of support they needed and what they felt were the needs of their teachers and their schools.  Near the end a teacher mentioned frustration he was having with the NGSS and I haven't been able to let it go.  This teacher wanted to know when science teachers would be getting more  concrete NGSS lessons.  He felt that he had been told what lessons were and were not supposed to look like and what components they were supposed to have, but that he wanted to be given some true NGSS lessons.

I think what troubled me about that conversation was the authenticity of the lessons he wanted.  Sure there are things cross cutting concepts, STEM concepts, science standards, and real life connections that need to be made with the common core and NGSS; but only incorporating those pieces is missing the point.  This teacher wanted a script of how to run the class, step-by-step methodology rather than best practice, pre-scripted examples rather than examples and ideas that organically flow out of conversations with students about the content.  That bugs me.

Is there such a focus on standards that we are missing the point that many of the standards open up the chance to talk about the connections that science has in the real world.  Even more importantly, it affords teachers the opportunity to inspire students to derive connections to their lives that we may not have seen.  It is hard for teachers to take more of a guide role and less of a teach role.  Guiding requires responding to what students say and their interests that day.  The role of the teachers is now to steer student interest and challenging students' preconceived ideas toward scientifically accepted theories and logical connections.  Yes, teachers can do this with a scripted lesson, but a scripted lesson loses the quality of being driven by student interest and engagement, rather it is driven by teacher agenda.  There is less of an organic flow to the learning and the conversation and topics are less authentic to the students.

That being said, there are excellent lessons out there that are amazing, but are they considered Common Core or NGSS lessons?  That all depends on the teacher.  The same lesson given in two different classes, by two different teachers may look very different as teachers know.  Are students organized in rows, listening, following directions, and completing work when told, or are they working in groups, working with the teacher to come to class-wide theories and shared understandings, rationalizing their theories with logic and content knowledge, and having thought provoking conversations with the ability to extend their learning and naturally differentiate instruction based on the interest they have in the subject.  Yes the latter is messy, pseudo-chaotic, and slightly more unpredictable.  I guess that is why we tend to focus more on what a NGSS lesson is and what it isn't, rather than some lessons that fit NGSS.

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