Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Call for early childhood educators to guide the direction of the Next Generation Science Standards

Peggy Ashbrook
Preschool science teacher
The Early Years columnist, Science & Children

We all have an opportunity to help shape the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12  by commenting on the first draft. The NGSS divides elementary school into K-2 and 3-5, making it easy to focus on early childhood. The last date to comment on this draft is June 2, just days away.  
You, as an early childhood educator, are in a very powerful position. Imagine who will be providing the majority of responses on the document ... they will come from higher education and high school teachers. Each of you have a voice that will be more significant because there will be fewer of us providing input. Speak up! Help the organization Achieve provide a document that is useful and supportive of our teaching practices.
1. Direct your energies in providing feedback to the areas of the standards most relevant to your work and your experience. The early childhood section is on pages 2-10 (pdf page 11).

2. Also, if you think this document represents a vision you share for science education, include that in your comments. Be sure to say what you like about NGSS! Consider that individuals and groups of all sorts will be providing feedback on this work, and that your comments matter.

I found it easier to have the “How to Read the Next Generation Science Standards” page open while I read through the standards. It also helped me to remember that the standards, called performance expectations, are made of three dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts. These three dimensions are listed in the “Foundation Boxes” below each performance expectation. In my first read I did not read through them but it really helped me when I read them on my second time through the K-2 NGSS.

Click here to go to the Next Generation Science Standards website to see the May 2012 draft. Resources are also available on the NSTA Learning Center website (free registration for all).
Some helpful links:
·         The NGSS Matrix of Standards by Discipline and Grade Level (also available as a separate single-page document at the Learning Center).
·         The “How to Read the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)” document explains the layout.

I love the interconnectedness of the three dimensions, Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts, and the listing of the Common Core State Standards Connections.

One aspect of the NGSS that I am struggling with is the paring down of the Performance Expectations--only 3 subjects each in K, 1,  and 2. Will this lead to PreK-grade 2 teachers discarding useful branches of exploration such as examining bones or rolling objects on ramps? It may be that these 9 performance expectations are what children are expected to know by the end of 2nd grade, so they can be taught anytime in K-grade 2.

I am in favor of learning in depth about a few topics, using inquiry and practices, but I fear that teachers will discourage active inquiry about topics that are not in the NGSS at their grade level. Lilian Katz refers to "uncovering" children's understanding rather than covering all the topics, and I agree. But I don't want to discourage teachers from allowing their kindergarteners to pursue other concepts and topics, such as, rolling objects down ramps or observing the life cycle of a local insect.
Substructures, or parts of a whole, are not addressed until grade 3 but younger children use magnifiers and notice parts of a whole: veins in leaves, legs on insects, pupils in eyes, and bones of vertebrates (and a favorite topic in early childhood, bones in the fossil record).

Take a look, join the discussion on the NSTA Learning Center’s forums and when you are ready, give your feedback using the survey which will go to the state and other teams that will work on the next draft.
Early childhood prepares children for later science learning—what do you see addressed or left out of the Next Generation Science Standards?


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