Earlier this month, President Obama spoke to students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. It was a broad and encouraging talk, lauding the school for its 100% graduation rate, praising teachers for their dedication to their students’ learning, encouraging the students to go on to college, and recounting his administration’s accomplishments in education.
But it was also a cautionary tale. The President warned his student audience, “We live in a global economy. And when you graduate, you’re no longer going to be competing just with somebody here in D.C. for a great job. You’re competing with somebody on the other side of the world, in China or in India, because jobs can go wherever they want because of the Internet and because of technology. And the best jobs are going to go to the people who are the best educated — whether in India or China, or anywhere in the world.”
We once led the world in education, the President told them, but unfortunately other countries have caught up to us.
“It used to be that a high school job might be enough because you could go into a factory or even go into an office and just do some repetitive work, and if you were willing to work hard you could make a decent living. But the problem is repetitive work now is done by machines. And that’s just going to be more and more true. So in order for you to succeed in the marketplace, you’ve got to be able to think creatively; you’ve got to be able to work with a team; you’ve got to be able to work with a machine and figure out how to make it tailored for the specific requirements of your business and your job. All those things require some more sophisticated thinking than just sitting there and just doing the same thing over and over again. And that’s why you’ve got to have more than just a high school education.
In a nutshell, the President was encouraging the Banneker students to be creative, to learn how to work with a team, and to solve engineering problems, all things that require sophisticated thinking, all things that the Next Generation Science Standards promote and expect.
But the NGSS can be a daunting document, and many teachers are unpacking it on their own.
Where to begin?
I’d like to suggest that you begin with the Performance Expectations for your grade level band and the particular Disciplinary Core Strand of Life Science, Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, or Engineering, whichever your unit of instruction will focus on. A Performance Expectation, as defined by NGSS, is nothing other than “a set of expectations for what students should be able to do by the end of instruction (years or grade-bands). So, the performance expectations set the learning goals for students, but do not describe how students get there.” There are anywhere from two to five performance expectations for each grade level/disciplinary core idea band. Getting students there is the creative part of your work as an instructional designer, i.e. teacher. And, incidentally, this is exactly the approach that Finnish teachers take in their own planning. It requires essentially using a backward design process (you can find an example at the bottom of the page) originating in the goals, or performance expectations, those things we hope students will know and be able to do.
So let’s access those Disciplinary Core Strands here:
When you click on the Disciplinary Core Strand and grade level your unit will focus on, you are taken directly to the performance expectations for that grade and strand and find, not only the performance expectations, but suggestions for how to understand it … the different forms a model can take, for example … and vetted suggestions for how you can get your students to successfully achieve those performance expectations through hands-on inquiry-based activities.
Far too often, the textbooks teachers are working with are outdated and are not NGSS aligned. They contain way too much content for any given year. NGSS emphasizes the principle that “less is more,” so you have to significantly streamline to keep to the spirit of the NGSS. As one teacher I spoke with recently noted, “The textbook is no longer the curriculum.” Further, in most of these texts there is no story line threading the Science and Engineering Practices, the Crosscutting Concepts, and the Disciplinary Core Ideas into a comprehensive and engaging whole. So we have to cut ourselves free from those traditional but outdated maps, reserving them to supplement our own planning, and more independently chart a course for our students through these new waters.
And then, if you find that throughway, you get to see these beautiful results of your work in the rapt faces of your young scientists.
This blog post is dedicated to two passionate and wonderful teachers with whom I’ve recently had the pleasure and privilege to work, Lisa Vaughn, 5th grade teacher at Pershing Elementary in Chicago, and Maria Soto, 2nd grade teacher at George Washington Elementary, also in Chicago. Thank you both for your inspriration.
You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here. We are currently seeking partner schools in the Chicagoland area for our 2017 cohort.