When school started this fall, thousands of teachers in states that have adopted Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) still lacked curriculum materials that are aligned to the new guidelines. Five years after the release of NGSS, this situation leaves “both students and teachers in a tough spot as they try to put standards into action,” says Education Week reporter Stephen Sawchuk (2018). In fact, having high-quality materials that reflect the vision of the new standards—and professional development for teachers that is embedded within the materials—is essential to the success of NGSS, according to a report from the Carnegie Corporation of New York (2017).
AAAS’s Project 2061 is responding to these urgent needs with the publication of Toward High School Biology, an eight-week middle school unit published in 2017, and Matter and Energy for Growth and Activity, a high school unit slated for publication in 2019. The student and teacher editions of both units are designed to support the goals of NGSS. Together, the units help students build their understanding of matter and energy changes in living and nonliving systems, which are essential topics in every secondary school physical and life sciences curriculum.
Both units also serve as a context for professional development that can help teachers develop a more in-depth and practical understanding of NGSS. Over the past year, the AAAS team has designed a one-day workshop that draws on examples from the two units to demonstrate what it means for students to use NGSS’s three dimensions of science learning—disciplinary core ideas, science practices, and crosscutting concepts—to make sense of a wide range of phenomena occurring in the world around them. The team has carried out the workshop with teachers and science curriculum leaders in Austin, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Washington, DC and is planning additional workshops for other areas in 2019.
Support for 3D Teaching and Learning
So far, teachers have been enthusiastic about the workshop. Many reported that after participating, they had a deeper understanding of NGSS’s vision of three-dimensional teaching and learning and felt the materials could help them implement the vision in their classrooms. “Phenomena-based learning makes 3D learning much more feasible and clearly enhances student understanding,” said one teacher who attended the Washington, DC workshop. “It’s a brilliant way to unify several concepts in science and is phenomena-driven—all about discovering rather than memorization,” said another.
One of the strengths of the workshop—and a feature that sets it apart from other NGSS-focused professional development—is its focus on materials that were designed from the start to support NGSS. Both the THSB and MEGA units have been extensively tested in classrooms, and each activity has been refined by feedback from teachers and students. During the workshop, participants work through a set of example activities from the middle school THSB unit and the high school MEGA unit. In the process, they are able to see how each component of an activity—from the phenomena that students are asked to investigate to the data they analyze, to the scaffolded question sequences they respond to—fits into the overall storyline for the unit and brings together relevant disciplinary core ideas, science practices, and crosscutting concepts. Teachers were particularly interested in how both units involve students in the practices of modeling and data analysis and how the units brought together several conceptual threads from physical and life sciences and mathematics to tell a coherent story about matter and energy changes. One teacher noted that the workshop reinforced the idea that in science “silos no longer suffice.”
“Choosing the best phenomena to help students generate and use appropriate science ideas and practices is extremely challenging, whether you’re designing curriculum materials or planning tomorrow’s lesson,” said Jo Ellen Roseman, director of AAAS’s Project 2061 and leader of the research team that developed the two units. “Our workshop aims to share with teachers what we’ve learned about selecting, sequencing, and guiding students’ sensemaking of phenomena to achieve the NGSS vision.”
Much of the support for NGSS’s three-dimensional approach is built into the student materials for each unit. For example, scaffolding provided in the student edition of the THSB unit helps students construct scientific explanations and, at the same time, illustrates for teachers how the three dimensions can work together to promote understanding. An article in the Journal of Science Teacher Education describes and illustrates how the THSB unit is designed to be educative for teachers. Another article published in CBE-Life Sciences Education reports on results from field tests of the THSB unit that provide evidence for its promise in improving student learning outcomes.
Research has demonstrated that teacher learning is most likely to take place when it occurs in the context of actual curriculum materials or, as Ball and Cohen described it, “the stuff of lessons and units, of what teachers and students do” (1996). Roseman wants to provide that kind of powerful experience for Project 2061 workshop participants. “We want to give teachers practical but also proven examples of how NGSS can really transform their classrooms,” she said.
Organizations and institutions interested in co-hosting a AAAS Project 2061 workshop for teachers in their area should contact Mary Koppal, AAAS Project 2061 Communications Director, firstname.lastname@example.org or 301 717 3359.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (in press). Matter and energy for growth and activity. NSTA Press: Arlington, VA.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2017). Toward high school biology: Understanding growth in living things. NSTA Press: Arlington, VA.
Ball, D. L., & Cohen, D. K. (1996). Reform by the book: What is—or might be—the role of curriculum materials in teacher learning and instructional reform? Educational Researcher, 25(9), 6–8, 14.
Bybee, R., & Chopyak, C. (2017). Instructional materials and implementation of next generation science standards: Demand, supply, and strategic opportunities. Carnegie Corporation of New York: New York, NY.