Curriculum experts including Smithsonian re-envisioned science class and created phenomena-based science programs for California’s Next Generation Science Standards
SACRAMENTO, CA, July 17, 2018 – California science classes are about to get a surge of new resources to support an energetic, student-driven, hands-on, and phenomena-based vision of the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). The state is reviewing new science instructional materials for the first time in 12 years to help science teachers succeed in teaching students the latest standards. The California Department of Education (CDE) accepted submissions for science material adoption for grades K-8 this spring and will make recommendations for materials adoptions this month for formal adoption in the fall. Teachers have been working hard to adapt to positive, but major changes in science education as the state took a leadership role two years ago when it created its own new “Science Framework.” Many teachers have older books that were not written to the standards and therefore don’t cover the new content. Schools need new high-quality materials to address the new forward-thinking standards that now require phenomena-driven three-dimensional learning, instruction across the curriculum, and learning that is relevant to students’ lives.
Almost 20 expert science publishers, including leading school science supplier Carolina Biological Supply Company working together with expert curriculum developers from the Smithsonian Science Education Center, welcomed the challenge. They have submitted new print and digital science materials that were written specifically to align with the state’s new standards. Both Carolina’s and Smithsonian’s three-dimensional science investigation-based programs turn students into scientists during short 30-minute (grades K-5) or 45-minute (grades 6-8) investigations that easily fit into the school day. Phenomena-rich investigations and meaningful engineering design challenges put the experience in students’ hands. Carolina’s Building Blocks of Science|3D (K-5) and Smithsonian Science and Technology Concepts Middle School (opens in new tab)™ (STCMS™) make science engaging as students work in groups to drive their own investigations of science phenomena and learn through hands-on physical experiments and digital simulations.
Adoption recommendations will be made in July and finalized in November by a special committee, appointed by the CDE. The full list of potential new programs is posted on its website. Schools do not have to buy state-adopted resources, but if they choose to, the process is a lot faster and easier.
“Elementary teachers have been especially challenged for the first time to fit science instruction into their day,” said Kristen Mayfield-Evanishyn, Marketing Manager at Carolina. “Investigations that can be completed in 30 minutes give teachers an immediate and manageable take away. Carolina’s Building Blocks of Science|3D was designed to meet the full intent of California’s Science Framework and reflect its vision and philosophy. We digested the information and worked the criteria into our program. We were careful to meet every facet of CA NGSS.”
The California State Board of Education adopted its Science Framework for California Public Schools in Nov. 2016 to address NGSS, but implementation at the school level has taken time. With the review process for science instructional materials to help teachers finally under way, implementation is another step closer.
“NGSS asks students to focus on the process of learning, not just the product,” said Dr. Brian Mandell, Division Director of Curriculum and Communications at the Smithsonian. “NGSS asks students to plan and conduct their own investigations, look for patterns in data they collect, and arrive at an understanding of the content based on their own evidence the way a real scientist or engineer would. NGSS represents an extraordinary challenge for curriculum providers and I believe STCMS, and the research grounding its development, meet that challenge head on.”
With instruction that goes beyond meeting the CA NGSS, Smithsonian developed STCMS and partnered with Carolina to publish and distribute it to schools. STCMS steps up to the challenge of meeting the full intent of the standards: 1. Three-dimensional learning; 2. Coherent learning progressions; 3. Students making sense of phenomena and designing solutions; 4. Science content aligned with English language arts and mathematics; and 5. All standards, all students. The program is in use at schools throughout the country and teachers at schools such as Westmore Oaks K-8 Elementary School in West Sacramento, Calif., have reported positive impact on their classes.
“I was observed by my principal last month for a formal evaluation,” said Jennifer Garcia, a teacher at Westmore Oaks K–8 Elementary School. “I had her come into the 7th grade class. The curriculum I am using with my students, Smithsonian Science and Technology Concepts Middle School, really helped me do a lesson that addressed all areas of good teaching, all aligned to NGSS and Common Core State Standards! I had an amazing lesson 2.1 and amazing observation.”
The Smithsonian also demonstrated through a five-year study funded by a US Dept. of Education Investing in Innovation grant (U396B100097), that its curriculum is successful in improving students’ performance in science, math, and language arts. The evaluation was conducted by the Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREP) at the University of Memphis. In a control trial with 60,000 students using the Smithsonian curriculum in several states, reading, math, and science test scores increased for all students. Students in the most underserved subgroups in science, such as English Learners, students receiving free-and-reduced-price lunch, and girls showed both statistically significant and educationally meaningful test results, even in the middle school where test-score increases are the most challenging.
Three-dimensional learning is the critical innovation and heart of the NGSS. Developed in collaboration with the science experts at Smithsonian Science Education Center, STCMS is research-based and supports teachers and students by weaving together the three dimensions: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts to address Performance Expectations over time.
An enormous part of CA NGSS calls for phenomena-based, hands-on science investigations by students. It is not possible to teach the new standards without investigations going on. Students are actively engaged in hands-on activities and note-booking throughout Carolina’s programs in every lesson.
Science content overall was shifted and assigned to different grades. There are new topics, such as waves, and a change in topics that are covered. Engineering is a requirement of the new standards, with engineering-specific core ideas. To fully address these standards, engineering and science concepts should be taught together, not separately. The Smithsonian Science Education Center and Carolina integrated engineering into lessons together with science topics into both of their programs.
Gone are quiet science classes. There is a shift from teacher-led to student-led learning that increases students’ responsibility as they advance in grade levels. It is ideal to hear kids talking and buzz in the classroom. Teachers now want to see groups of kids all on task talking, engaged in diK-5)scourse, working, engaged in what they are doing. They can float around their room and talk with a group, knowing others are still on task. Teachers seat kids together to work in pairs or fours and facilitate and encourage collaboration and discourse among students.
Building Blocks of Science|3D (K-5)
Carolina’s new Building Blocks of Science|3D hands-on unit kits are for students in grades K to 5. This complete, phenomena-based program integrates engineering into every grade and includes everything teachers need for their entire class for every lesson with hands-on materials, print, and digital simulations and components for one all-inclusive price. The program is a core curriculum that combines interactive investigations, literacy components, and digital resources to teach students science content and investigative skills. The program’s 99 digital simulations give a straightforward and quick way for teachers to assess student understanding. The custom-created simulations are directly tied to the phenomena in the units.
Students investigate real-world science phenomena. They need to be able to explain phenomena. They are given opportunities to understand and explain. Providing explanations shows teachers their level of understanding.
Leaders in the Field
Both the Smithsonian Science Education Center and Carolina programs support teachers with everything they need to teach all students. Clear directions for each activity help teachers who are teaching new topics to quickly get started. Guiding questions are provided to help move through investigations. Tips, different ways to teach, addressing misconceptions, and differentiation strategies are also provided.