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April 2018

Embracing the New Science Standards

Superintendent Dr. Marty Semmel

(This article comes to us from Jen Parsons, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Plymouth Public Schools.)
Have you ever observed a scientific phenomenon that sparked your interest in learning more about why or how this occurred? Maybe the solar eclipse this past summer or a cool contraption like a self driving car? Phenomenon like these are being used to develop science units for our students around the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Connecticut adopted these standards in November of 2015 and starting this spring students will pilot a statewide science assessment based on the NGSS in grades five, eight and eleven. The standards themselves are “three-dimensional.” This means there are three different aspects of the standards: the science and engineering practices, the crosscutting concepts, and the disciplinary core ideas. The disciplinary core ideas are the traditional science content in the areas of physical, earth and life sciences as well as engineering. The crosscutting concepts are big ideas that help students make connections across the disciplinary core ideas such as patterns, cause and effect, and structure and function. The science and engineering practices are what students DO as scientists such as ask questions, interpret data, and communicate ideas.
Here in Plymouth we have introduced all teachers to NGSS and have started implementing units based on these standards this year in grades K-3, 6 and 9. One of the regional education centers, CREC, has gathered teachers from around the state to write units based on these standards and have offered their work for a very reasonable cost so we purchased into these units. Efforts like these greatly help our small district and prevent us from pulling teachers out of the classroom to write curriculum. These units give us a starting point to start customizing the work for the needs of our students.
In grades K-8, students will experience science across the disciplinary areas and may have units throughout the year that touch upon life science, physical science and earth science. In high school we need to expose all students to the total range of standards before spring of their junior year. The ninth grade course, Integrated Earth and Physical Science, focuses in on the earth sciences and the physical sciences related to force and motion. This course was implemented this year. The tenth grade course will resemble traditional biology and dive into the life sciences and the eleventh grade course will tackle chemistry which falls under the physical science realm with chemical reactions and energy transfer. This year’s freshman class of 2021 will be the first to follow this three year sequence. Additional elective sciences will be offered for senior year or for students to “doubleup” on science junior year
The engineering standards and practices are woven through the units. You may remember the traditional scientific method in which you ask a question, create and test a hypothesis, carry out an experiment and report out on your finds. The engineering process is similar but instead of asking a question, you begin by focusing on a problem or identified need and then come up with possible solutions. You then build prototypes of the solutions, test then make adjustments, and refine your ideas until you come to proposed solution that is shared out. Some of our greatest inventions have been created through this process!
While these standards are new for the entire state, we are excited about the opportunities and challenges they offer our students.

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