More teachers turning to nonprofits for innovative science lessons

Stoneman Elementary School in Pittsburg, CA, is one of numerous schools throughout the state that are using curriculum provided by science education nonprofits to teach the state’s new Next Generation Science Standards.

Science lessons provided by nonprofits are an attractive option for some teachers, especially as schools roll out the new science standards, said Lisa Hegdahl, president of the California Science Teachers Association and an 8th-grade science teacher in Galt in rural Sacramento County.

The state has not yet adopted textbooks and other instructional materials for the new science standards, so teachers trying to teach the standards “are pretty much on their own,” she said.

“There is nothing right now, so we’re all looking for these gold mines of information we can use in the classroom,” Hegdahl said.

Galt Unified, where Hegdahl teaches, is one of eight districts selected as “early adopters” of the new standards. Hegdahl has used free curriculum material from science education nonprofits such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, NASA, the Exploratorium and other sources, and found it to be “extremely useful,” not just for students but for her.

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the state’s largest providers of free online science lessons. The San Francisco science museum provides dozens of K-12 lesson plans, covering everything from phases of the moon to earthquakes to “the secret lives of sharks.” Field trips, teacher training workshops, online classes, videos, games and “citizen science” toolkits are also among the offerings.

California’s new science standards focus on hands-on projects, rather than rote learning, and core concepts taught through several scientific fields at once, such as how “cause and effect,” applies to physical science, life science, engineering, and earth and space science.

Click here to read the full story in EdSource (June 4, 2017)


Illinois years behind in scoring state science tests; officials blame budget

Three years after Illinois made a bold change in how science would be taught and tested, little is known about how students have performed because neither schools nor families have seen state science exam scores since 2013-14.

But the delay in science scores — blamed largely on state budget woes — is unusual and problematic, given that federal law requires states to administer science exams at least three times from grade school through high school and make the results public.

There were no scores in 2015 because the Illinois State Board of Education didn’t give a state science exam, getting into hot water with the U.S. Department of Education. At the time, the state argued it shouldn’t give an old exam based on outdated standards for what students should know in science. For years, students took the state science exam in 4th, 7th and 11th grade grades.


Without a state science exam in 2015, for example, teachers got the chance to train in the new science standards without the pressure of a statewide exam. And teachers have been incorporating the new standards in their instruction.

The state board of education keeps track of how much instruction time is spent in math, English, science and social sciences in grades 3, 6 and 8, and statewide data in 2016 show science instruction minutes on average rose to the highest in 15 years.

Third grade instruction in science rose to to an average of 34 minutes per day; 6th grade minutes went up to 48, and 8th grade minutes to 50. Science has usually trailed math and English in terms of instruction minutes, and has been about equal to minutes spent on social sciences.

The current Illinois Science Assessment was put together by using test questions from the Washington, D.C., school district, a process that was not ideal because Illinois was under pressure from the federal government to give a science exam in 2016 after missing the science test in 2015.

Click here to read the full story in the Chicago Tribune (June 5, 2017)




Water Filters and Space: A Glimpse Into a Next-Generation Science Classroom

Sometimes showing is easier than telling. That’s certainly the case in trying to capture the Next Generation Science Standards—the K-12 learning benchmarks that 18 states and the District of Columbia have adopted and are now using in classrooms.

Unlike some previous science standards that focused on the facts, these standards emphasize action. They ask students to construct models, interpret data, design structures, and make arguments.

As part of a recent special report on assessment, I wrote a story about where states stand with their NGSS-aligned tests. To give readers a taste of what the science standards look like in the classroom, we sent photographer Andrew Cullen out to Manhattan Beach, Calif., to snap some photos for the story.

The photos are vibrant—and really seize on the hands-on, action-oriented nature of the standards.

Click here to read the full story in Education Week (May 31, 2017)

How Science Standards Went Mainstream Without Common Core’s Drama

Even as the political blowback against the rapid adoption of the Common Core math and English language competency benchmarks during the Obama administration was reaching a crescendo, backers of the national standards movement had shifted their sights to science. To date, 18 states and the District of Columbia have formally agreed to the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which lay out what students should know in which grades to be on track for college and career readiness. Another dozen or so have adopted substantially similar benchmarks that don’t carry the NGSS tag, and still more states may adopt the standards in the coming months and years.

A coalition of major philanthropies, led by the Carnegie Corporation, funded the effort to update science standards nationally. After recruiting the National Research Council, a government-chartered non-profit, to determine what should be included, another constellation of nonprofits, led by Achieve, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and delegations from 26 states adapted the hard science into an actionable package of standards. The process was completed in 2013.

Chad Colby, the vice president of strategic communications and outreach for Achieve, spoke with InsideSources about the processes that led to the creation of the NGSS, and how the groups involved were able to sidestep much of the political controversy that engulfed the Common Core. Colby, a former official at the U.S. Department of Education, is a proponent of the NGSS, which he said takes a more holistic view of the subject and encourages active exploration rather than passive memorization. Though the NGSS were created separately from Common Core, the standards are designed to link up together—should educators decide to take a cross-disciplinary approach to curricular development.

Click here to read the full story in Inside Sources (May 23, 2017)

Next-Generation Science Tests Slowly Take Shape

Around the country, science instruction is changing—students are being asked to make models, analyze data, construct arguments, and design solutions in ways that far exceed schools’ previous goals.

That means science testing, of course, needs to change as well.

Students “have got to show us how they know, not just what they know,” said James Pellegrino, a co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an expert on assessment.

Yet considering federal requirements around science testing, and states’ logistical, technical, and financial limitations, putting a new, performance-heavy state science test in place is no easy task.

Of the 18 states now using the Next Generation Science Standards, which were released in April 2013, only Illinois, Kansas, and Nevada, as well as the District of Columbia, have moved completely from their previous science tests to ones that align to the newer “three-dimensional” benchmarks. Illinois and the District of Columbia were the first to take the leap, putting an operational test in place in spring 2016. Illinois did so especially quickly to comply with federal reporting requirements, designing a new test in just six months—a move some experts have questioned.

Most other states that have adopted the NGSS are taking things a bit more slowly, aiming to start operational tests aligned to the standards in 2019 or later, with a few, including Kentucky, an early adopter, aiming for 2018. About a dozen more states are using standards based on the same framework as the NGSS, and many of those are on similar schedules for implementing large-scale tests.

Click here to read the full story in Education Week (May 24, 2017)



NJ science standards deliver students from textbooks to ‘real-world’ applications

A new wave of teaching science is taking shape at Kittatinny Regional High School and its sending districts, steering students away from learning about facts from a textbook and into learning real-world applications of science, complete with hands-on experiments and big-picture concepts.

Adopted by the New Jersey Board of Education in 2014, the Next Generation Science Standards are state mandated for K-12, and according to the New Jersey Department of Education’s Science Coordinator Michael Heinz, the standards shift a student’s thought process to “how things happen, why things happen and how the world works.”

Without a doubt, students will use science in their everyday lives during their school years and beyond and the standards are a way to break down those stigmas that surround math and science, in hopes to garner more interest and passion in those subjects, according to Heinz.

Kittatinny middle- and high-school science teachers as well as science teachers from the school’s sending districts, Fredon Township School, Stillwater Township School District, Sandyston-Walpack Consolidated School, and McKeown Elementary School in Hampton, attended and focused on how they, as teachers, could create three-dimensional thinking in their students, the basis behind the standards.

Knowing that it will take some time for schools to adjust, the state offered an implementation timeline with grades 6-12 implementing it by the start of 2016-17 school year, with many teachers already slowly introducing new lessons, and grades K-5 by the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

The framework of the standards, consisting of three different dimensions, is a vision of how the National Research Council indicates what it means to be proficient in science. Those three dimensions are practices, where students will behave like scientists, investigating and building models and theories about the natural world; crosscutting techniques, linking different domains of science, such as energy and matter and cause and effect; and disciplinary core ideas.

The Next Generation Science Standards were authored by a consortium of 26 states, including New Jersey, and are a culmination of a three-year, multi-step process undertaken by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, Inc., with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Click here to read the full story in the New Jersey Herald (May 19, 2017)


Achieve Releases NGSS District Implementation Workbook

A new resource by Achieve provides help to district leaders looking to create a comprehensive plan to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  The NGSS District Implementation Workbook addresses the issues and challenges associated with implementation and outlines some key questions, timelines, decisions, and considerations for leaders. It also serves as a set of critical questions and follow-up activities that have been recommended by leaders and practitioners to help their peers around the country.

The District Workbook, along with other district resources from Achieve, will help leaders plan, monitor progress, and track lessons learned.

Click here to Download all three resources.

In Elementary School Science, What’s at Stake When We Call an ‘Argument’ an ‘Opinion’?

As more teachers are using both the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, they will increasingly be confronted with a challenge: The standards in literacy and science—and the research literature in the two fields—disagree about when and how students learn to form arguments.

In a new article for Educational Researcher, Okhee Lee, a professor of education at New York University, suggests that standards writers and researchers need to consider the confusing and mostly unexamined situation teachers are in and figure out how to change it.

Click here to read the article in Education Week (April 25, 2017) registration required

Idaho Releases Revamped Science Standards Proposal

A state committee has made another attempt to break a deadlock over addressing climate change in Idaho classrooms.

But the last word in this controversy belongs to Idaho lawmakers — who removed references to climate change from state science standards earlier this year.

The State Department of Education unveiled five new climate change standards on Friday, with wording designed to address lawmakers’ concerns. The new language “was reworded to place a balanced focus on solutions and problems,” according to an SDE summary released in conjunction with the new standards.


The 2017 Legislature removed five standards that reference climate change and human impact on the environment. Lawmakers suggested that the language did not address both sides of the debate over climate change, and did not consider the possibility that human activity can have a positive effect on global climate.

Lawmakers adopted the remaining science standards earlier this year. They went into effect on a temporary basis, and will be reviewed in full in 2018.

After the legislative session, the SDE solicited public feedback online and held a series of six public meetings across the state, receiving more than 1,000 public comments. Then an SDE committee began working on a rewrite.


The committee tried to respond to lawmakers’ concerns, said committee member Christopher Taylor, the Boise School District’s science, social studies and health coordinator.

“We went through the five that were rejected and we talked a lot about how we want to keep the integrity of the standards,” Taylor said. “But we did look at legislators’ comments and took out words we knew were hot buttons.”

The committee also reviewed public comments before drafting the proposed new standards. Taylor said 98 to 99 percent of all comments supported implementing the science standards in full, including references to climate change and human impact on the environment.

The next step in the process comes in August, when the State Board of Education reviews the new language. The standards then go to the Legislature in 2018.

Click here to review the science standards approved earlier this year. (The standards lawmakers removed are set out in red text.)

Click here to read the full story in Idaho Ed News (May 19, 2017)

Teachers’ concerns lead to changes in California’s testing contract

Teacher complaints have been heard by the vendor that designs some of the California’s academic tests.

Partially in response to concerns raised by educators, the state Board of Education approved a $1.5 million contract amendment with Educational Testing Service that will help pay for teacher training in science.

Nearly $500,000 of the added costs will be spent on three in-person “Science Academies” to be held in the spring of 2018 in Northern, Central and Southern California to help teachers understand the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS.

The academies will train teachers using materials that the state and the vendor are developing for pilot science tests as part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, standardized testing system.

Teachers’ concerns have also prompted the inclusion of more detailed student score reports for optional interim assessments, which some educators administer to students during the school year before the end-of-year tests. Many teachers had complained that the previous reports – which did not include test questions or student responses – were too vague to be useful.


But Board Member Patricia Rucker said “there is a gap in perception about the value of these interim assessments between what we’re expecting and what many people in the field believe is going on.”

She urged Center’s department to “create some kind of messaging to the field” that would clarify how teachers should use them. She also said she wished there was a way to ensure that teachers would actually “read the memo.”

Click here to read the full story in Ed Source (May 10, 2017)