When implementing NGSS in your science classroom, there are some changes in thinking that you have to embrace. You have to move away from ideas you gained from more traditional learning approaches, rethink your role as a teacher, and value the skills students gain. I, and other science teachers have all had to go through it, in order to make 3-D instruction work. It may seem difficult at first, but making these 3 mindset shifts has helped me, and can help you be a more effective science teacher.
Shift #1 Move Away from Content Focus When Implementing NGSS
Typically in education, knowledge is the end goal. We want to be able to look at standards, find out what our students need to know, and then teach that content. So, when I first starting using NGSS standards, I began by looking for that familiar piece. What content do I need to be teaching my students? I personally went to the DCI when I began implementing NGSS, and found out what content to teach. I could tell them about that topic, and be done. This is a mistake that a lot of teachers make when beginning to use NGSS.
However, the more I think about this, I begin to wonder why? Why is the content we teach the end goal for students? Will the content be useful to our students who don’t enter a science field? I highly doubt that most people will have to draw a diagram of the rock cycle, or explain the differences between the types of rocks after leaving our science classrooms. As teachers, we stay so focused on getting them to the knowledge, when in reality, it might not be important to them long-term.
Instead, we should think about what we want students to be able to do with their knowledge. We should be giving them the tools, creativity, and critical thinking skills they need to be able to do something more than just memorize content. Essentially, we want students to be able to be problem solvers when they grow up, not encyclopedias. While it is necessary to expose our students to science content, it is important to remember that the life skills developed will be more useful to them long-term.
Shift #2 Rethink the Role of the Teacher
There are so many ways that students have access to knowledge. In a time when Google is so readily available, students can get knowledge about any topic at any time. Scientific documentaries and videos can cover just about any concept you could want students to remember. I, for one, know that there are documentaries that can explain a lot of science concepts a lot better than I can. Thinking about this helps us to realize that giving knowledge isn’t really an important role for us to have as science teachers. Instead, we are there to frame learning experiences, activities and explorations for our students.
Before implementing NGSS correctly, I got in the habit of thinking, “If I don’t tell my student’s this, then how are they going to know it?” But, they can. Obviously, this isn’t going to happen all on it’s own. You can’t just send your students out and expect them to figure it out. However, what you can do is be there to guide them, and facilitate their learning.
In the beginning especially, this requires a lot of trust from us as teachers. Many times, I hear science teachers telling me that their students are not ready. It is important to remember that our students are capable of a lot of things, if given the opportunity. What I typically see with students, especially ELL and those receiving special education services, is that the pressures of memorizing content, and scientific definitions fade away. What students are left with is a drive that will keep them engaged in the process of learning.
When implementing NGSS, you have to let go of the idea that your job is to give students content, and embrace your role as a facilitator of their learning experiences.
Shift #3 Value Curiosity Over Completion When Implementing NGSS
The last mindset shift you have to make when implementing NGSS is that curiosity is far more important than getting everything done. As teachers, I know we want to squeeze in as much content as possible within a single school year. However, what is more important is for students to become curious about the content. It is important to acknowledge (and come to terms with) that curiosity may take extra time. With that being said, you also go through the content a bit slower. As a result, you don’t get to quite as much content.
Of course, I can’t tell science teachers certain topics to throw out. What I can tell you is to take several things into consideration when planning your year. Think about if certain topics are really vital. Ask yourself if there is a way to expose them to the content without taking up as much of your time. There will be somewhat of a tradeoff between the less essential topics, and the areas where you really want to focus and grow your students’ curiosity.
Overall, putting your students’ curiosity first will be better for your classroom culture, and for your students’ learning. They will be more active learners, and take more ownership of their learning. All of those things are far more important for us than having a completed checklist at the end of the year.
While some of these changes in thinking may seem difficult, making these mindset shifts when implementing NGSS will only help your students. Students truly do thrive when changing the teaching model to student led and curiosity driven. Not only will they take control of their learning, but when the focus is taken off of content memorization, they will gain important life-skills that will extend far beyond the science classroom.
Find Out More
Listen to the full podcast episode below or by clicking here to go to Apple Podcasts.
You can also find out more about all things science instruction and NGSS by joining my Be Curious Community Cohort this fall.