“Mom, what’s the point of taking biology if I’m not going to use anything I learn? I’m not going to be a scientist. I’m going to be a reporter.”
Many of your children may ask similar questions when they come home from school. Unable to make a direct connection between their core subjects (science, math, English, history, etc.) and their future career, they find little value in their classes. Sure, students who study hard may be able to regurgitate scientific facts such as “The three stages of the water cycle are evaporation, condensation, and precipitation,” but teaching methods such as memorization do not prepare them with the skills they’ll need for college and beyond. More importantly, they often see their schooling as irrelevant to real life.
California schools are taking a new approach to teaching and learning science by implementing Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These new standards are designed to make science more relevant and engaging to help students develop the critical thinking skills they’ll need for any field – not just science! Cultivating a love for learning and discovery will also enable them to be more active in pursuing their passions and understanding their unique interests.
What is NGSS?
NGSS implements “phenomenon-based” learning techniques for students in grades K-12. Rather than just memorizing facts, this approach encourages students to ask “Why?” questions and explore answers to those questions through cross-cutting concepts such as patterns, cause & effect, structure & function, and systems & system models.
For example, a kindergartener, instead of observing insects on the playground, may identify patterns in the life cycles of beetles, butterflies, and pea plants to discover what all living things have in common. An elementary schooler, instead of learning about the different types of earthquakes, may use a cause and effect process by examining data trends to brainstorm ways to keep buildings from collapsing during an earthquake. A middle schooler, instead of building a model of a cell and labeling its parts, may design a new cell with a structure that functions to optimize energy production. A high schooler, instead of memorizing the periodic table, may use a system model analysis to explain and predict the properties of different elements.
How does NGSS make science more relevant?
These cross-cutting concepts apply across ALL areas of science, including physical, life, earth/space, and engineering (which is often left out of elementary, middle, and high school curriculums). Teaching these standards through inquiry-based lessons, critical thinking activities, and hands-on problem solving allows students to develop skills applicable not only to areas of scientific inquiry, but also to any other field.
For example, an inquiry-based mindset is important for a reporter in deciding which topics and issues should be covered and which angle to take; critical thinking is important for an entrepreneur as they seek ways to improve their marketing strategy; problem-solving skills are important for a graphic designer as they grapple with creative concepts and overlapping deadlines; and a passion for learning and discovery is an essential characteristic for a math teacher or a history professor.
How does NGSS prepare my child for their academic future?
In a PTA-sponsored survey of parents throughout California, 9 out of 10 agreed that learning science is equally important as reading, writing and math. According to a study by the Amgen Foundation, their children share the same sentiment – 81% of students say that science is interesting. However, only 37% of students say they like science class; they wish their science classes were more engaging, preferring hands-on lab experiences to reading textbooks.
If students do not enjoy science classes, they are less motivated to learn and less likely to discover areas they might have aptitude in. Furthermore, many schools do not even offer subjects such as engineering, so students may never get the chance to be inspired by those topics before college. By focusing on phenomenon-based experiments and incorporating more specific areas of science, NGSS enables students to be more engaged in their classrooms and use those experiences to make informed choices when they transition to college.
Without opportunities to get to know and even love science before applying for college, students may be cutting themselves off from dozens of majors that could offer them challenging and satisfying career paths. By aligning teaching styles with how kids learn best, the new science standards will ignite curiosity and interest in science and engineering, especially among students who don’t think of themselves as “science kids.”
How can PTA leaders and parents support NGSS?
- Use communication channels such as social media and newsletters to introduce the latest science standards and encourage parents to get involved.
- Find out how schools in your area are implementing NGSS by interviewing teachers and educators. Urge parents in your area to engage with schools about how science is being taught at their school site.
- Empower parents to support their child’s science learning at home using resources from the PTA Resource Library
- Ask your child’s principal and teacher(s) about how they are implementing the NGSS science standards at your school site.
- Ask your child what they are learning about in science class. Invite them to ask “Why?” questions about their observations of the natural world, and explore answers with them.
- Visit the California State PTA website and browse the Resource Library for ideas on how you can integrate science into the home via exciting science experiments and virtual field trips:
This blog post was written by Rebekah Tom while she was a student intern at California State PTA in early 2020. Although she studies Marketing and English, she enjoyed the science classes she took for General Education and in high school, where she found an appreciation for the phenomena of our world and a drive to seek answers to her questions. She continues to use these critical thinking skills in her academic and occupational pursuits.
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