How to bring the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices to life in your STEM classroom

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were developed to prepare students to be leaders in the global economy through careers in STEM-related fields. In order to become these leaders, students must leave school armed with both the content knowledge and the skill base needed for success. As outlined by the Framework for K-12 Science Education, NGSS provides a set of standards that are “rich in content and practice.”

NGSS is comprised of three dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. While the concepts and core ideas of NGSS reflect what many educators are familiar with, the science and engineering practices are new. It is a common misconception that these practices mimic inquiry standards, or should be taught in isolation. That is not the intention. The NGSS Science and Engineering practices are the vehicle in which the concepts and core ideas should be presented. The focus is no longer only understanding the concepts, but how students can use these practices to solve problems.

The Science and Engineering Practices may seem reminiscent of inquiry skills, but the term “practices” is intentional in NGSS. Students should be engaging in investigations, which requires both skill and content knowledge. These practices reflect what is needed to go through the scientific process and understand the work of scientists and engineers. This will help deepen content knowledge with meaningful experiences and learning. In other words, students are actually “doing” science or engineering.

NGSS Practices in Action

There are eight practices of science and engineering outlined in NGSS. Students in all grade levels should engage in all eight practices with varying difficulty and complexity. Rather than teaching methods, they are designed in terms of what students should be doing. There are many overlaps and connections between all aspects of NGSS, which reflects the nature of science.

How do you bring these NGSS practices into the classroom? Check out these ideas to get started in your classroom!

1. Asking questions and defining problems

• Generate as many questions as you can as a class pertaining to the concept you are covering. Write these questions on the board. Determine which questions have an answer that is known, whether through previous knowledge or lessons. Isolate the questions that need to be answered. Brainstorm with the class how you could go about answering these questions. Can an investigation be done? If the question is a problem that needs to be solved, ask additional questions to clarify the problem and what needs to be done to formulate a solution.

• Encourage students to ask questions after each piece of text read or video watched. This can include questions to clarify, or questions that they are curious about. Challenge student to question claims that are made by authors – and by each other.

NGSS2. Developing and using models

• Create pictures or diagrams of the processes or systems being covered in class. Models are a great way to visualize relationships between variables or predict phenomena.

• Challenge students to create models to illustrate phenomena that are not observable.

• Provide opportunities for students to create two or three-dimensional models to test designs and solutions. This will also allow students to identify strengths as well as weaknesses that may exist.

3. Planning and carrying out investigations

• Allow students to not only complete an investigation, but also plan it. This means stepping outside of the “cookbook” type lab activity. Students should be in charge of the planning and design of the investigation either individually or collaboratively. This should include the selection of tools, variables, hypotheses, and data collection.

4. Analyzing and interpreting data

• Present data in a variety of forms, including graphs, charts, tables, graphics, observation, and even raw data. Raw data will challenge students to organize and make sense of what was collected. When multiple forms of data are used, a comparison can be completed to verify consistency.

• Ask students to look for patterns. While many investigations and classroom activities include an analysis of data, patterns are not always at the forefront. By bringing students’ attention to patterns, analysis will take a deeper form.

• Introduce new data after the student have already begun to draw conclusions or examine a concept. Students will then have to verify its validity and meaning in the context of what they already held to be true.

5. Using mathematics and computational thinking

• Apply algebraic and functions to further support or analyze scientific claims. This can include using digital tools to decipher large data sets and identify trends.

• Utilize percentages, ratios, and proportions to express explanations and evidence when supporting claims.

• Encourage unit conversions when using various quantities.

6. Constructing explanations and designing solutions

• Provide opportunities for students to create explanations, whether written or verbal. This includes making claims that are supported by evidence or presenting solutions to previously outlined problems.

• Utilize the Claim Evidence Reasoning (CER) format when asking student to write a traditional conclusion to a lab or investigation. This includes a claim that answers the question, evidence from the data, and reasoning based on scientific principles.

7. Engaging in argument from evidence

• Create opportunities for classroom or small group debates in the classroom to enhance critical thinking skills. This will encourage students to not only create arguments, but also defend their ideas using data or evidence. If their argument is not strong, it may cause them to re-evaluate their reasoning and consider the other side.

• Challenge students to create persuasive speeches. This can focus on classroom investigations or research topics. The process of formulating a persuasive argument will encourage students to present the most convincing pieces of evidence.

8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

• Model a variety of ways for communicating information. This can include communicating orally, in writing, or via tables, graphs, equations, and more.

• Focus on clarity and persuasion when communicating. Group students in peer critique groups to evaluate each other and practice listening skills.

Bringing NGSS Science and Engineering Practices to your classroom is a worthwhile endeavor. Students will be engaged and gain a deeper understanding of the content by putting it into practice. Try a few of these ideas out in your next lesson!

Learn more about NGSS here!

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