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What Do The Next Generation Science Standards and NRC Framework Mean for Teaching and Curriculum Materials?


Brian Reiser

The session will discuss how the NRC Science Education Framework and Next Generation Science Standards call for changes in science teaching and curriculum materials. The Framework and NGSS present two major evolutions in standards that challenge current widely used curriculum materials and the way science is often taught in classrooms: (1) organizing learning around core explanatory ideas; and (2) engaging students in scientific and engineering practices to develop and apply these explanatory ideas.

Brian J. Reiser is a member of the panel that developed the National Research Council 2011 Framework for New Science Education Standards being used to guide the design of The Next Generation Science Standards. Reiser’s research projects examine how to support teachers and students in scientific practices such as argumentation, explanation, and modeling meaningful and effective for science classrooms. This work has involved the development of curriculum materials that support teachers in leading students through a trajectory of investigations to develop explanations, arguments and models that lead to constructing the core explanatory ideas, and research studies documenting the teacher and student learning through this approach.

The Scientific Practices project is developing an empirically-based learning progression for scientific practices that specifies how learners can engage in constructing, applying, and refining scientific knowledge with increasing sophistication from elementary to middle school. Reiser, in collaboration with University of Michigan researchers, has developed IQWST (Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology), a middle school project-based science curriculum that supports the development of classroom argumentation leading to construction and refinement of the explanatory models reflecting the core ideas in science.

Documented Results
Analyses of classroom interactions and student learning across grades 5-8 have shown the feasibility of involving students in constructing, applying, and refining explanatory models. Upper elementary students have developed models of evaporation and condensation that account that can explain at the particle level why evaporation and condensation occur, and reflect the types of explanations targeted in the NRC framework and NGSS performance expectations, and middle school students have developed deeper models of the nature of matter they use to explanation a wide range of phenomena, including phase change, conservation of mass. Students’ can explain why it must be that all matter, whether in solid, liquid, or gas form, must be made of particles that are actually moving with empty space between them, citing evidence from experiments and everyday phenomena to support their arguments. The utility of developing explanatory models and engaging in argumentation to evaluate and refine those models has been shown across scientific disciplines in middle school, including explaining cases of population change using natural selection in biology; explaining color, filter, and shadow phenomena with a model of how light interacts with matter in physics; and explaining how a storm arises using a model of flow of matter and energy through atmospheric systems in earth science. The focus on more explanatory models leads to effective learning gains as assessed through typical state assessment items as well as more practice-focused assessment items.

The examples in the session demonstrate the feasibility of the scientific practices called for by the NRC framework and NGSS standards as vehicles for science learning across thousands of students and dozens of teachers. The embodiment of the teaching approach, educative support for teachers, and supports for students have been demonstrated in a full three year program of curriculum materials for grades 6-8, that can be used as a scalable model for curriculum materials and professional development aligned with the NGSS standards.

For More Information
Research on scientific practices: (in development for May 2012)
Published version of these NSF-funded curriculum materials: