Yesterday, I attended the 1st of 2 sessions on the Next Generation Science Standards. These K-12 science standards ask educators to reframe how the approach instruction in the classroom. Before you tune out non-science teachers, don't. When I think about my classroom my units are framed around the units learning outcomes the drive everything that is done in the unit. Although I have done some redesign last summer, the outcomes are pretty much set per unit and we progress to meet those outcomes through the course of the unit.
The NGSS framework has 3 main sets of standards: 1) Disciplinary Core Ideas (these are your traditional content specific outcomes) 2) Science & Engineering Practices (this are skills that are used in all disciplines) 3) Cross Cutting Concepts (these are big ideas that can be seen across all science disciplines). The NGSS are really powerful in their goal to have students learn about the core ideas through the practices. Also, connect their learning in one class to the nature of science via cross cutting concepts.
What's really ground breaking is the idea of how "units" are designed. Rather than start with a science topic, we start with a phenomenon. This is a powerful hook into engaging students into the questioning process. The goal isn't to have students come up with a correct answer on day one. By allowing students to ask questions about the phenomena they can begin to design investigations or begin designing models to test. This questioning and redesigning of the model will drive to understanding of core ideas by applying the science practices.
What I like about the goal of these standards is that they emphasize the process as much (if not more) than the content. But even more so, they allow for the why of learning to be clear. There is a clear connection between what is being learned and why. The why is the phenomenon, the what is the core ideas, and the how is through the science practices. What's great is that these core ideas can be brought in as the address to a specific phenomenon. We don't have to wait until I get to "that unit" to cover it. Content ideas become teachable when they are we find more natural connections between the ideas. We blow away the idea of traditional units of instruction as we design around real world phenomenon.
I love that these phenomenon will become more than simply solving a magic trick. There are deeper laws to be discovered that apply to life beyond that single phenomenon. I look forward to digging into these standards more as we continue our NGSS design and implementation.
How do you frame your content? Do you have a hook that drives learning and construction of units?