Friday, August 16, 2013

Next Generation Science Standards: Building the Next Generation

The following is a guest post by Mike Fumagalli (@mfumagalliELHS), science teacher and wrestling coach at East Leyden High School: 

NGSS : Building the Next Generation
Why we and our kids needed new standards
Mike Fumagalli, Science Teacher, Franklin Park, IL

Have you seen the new e-card post on Facebook?  It reads: “Thank goodness we have new science standards so I can put in endless hours of work overhauling curriculum!......said no science teacher ever.”  The reality exists no matter how thrilled we are as science educators there finally seems to be a coherent set of standards aligning well with the Common Core and providing the flexibility we have so desperately begged for, deep down we know what lies ahead.  We jump on board, support national adoption, and then let out a big sigh because we know what is beyond the horizon - work, and lots of it.
The days of old are gone and a new dawn is breaking.  It’s enlightening and refreshing yet brings anxiety.  HOW exactly do you go about implementing the standards?  What do they look like in the classroom?  What happens to the last 20 years of lesson plans I have carefully and meticulously thought out to meet this standard or that standard?  Was it all for nothing?  

I can’t seem to tell you I know any more than the next person.  What I can assure you of, as someone on the front lines, is this: WE NEED IT.  We need it as much as our kids do.  And we all know how much they need it!  Being like-minded people in a constant endeavor of empirical evidence, there are 3 key pieces to this puzzle we have ignored for long enough:

(1) In 2009, high school students in the United States ranked 17th in science on the PISA (an international achievement measure).
(2) Over ⅓ of 8th graders in the U.S. scored below “BASIC” on the 2009 NAEP Assessment.

(3) In 2010, 78% of high school graduates in the U.S. did not meet readiness benchmarks for 1 or more college-level entry courses in math, reading, English, and science.
(Campbell, N., 2013)  

This isn’t ground for playing the blame game.  And to be entirely honest, it really isn’t anyone’s fault.  What it is, however, is a challenge.  It’s a challenge for us to do our craft better than we ever have before.  It is a challenge to embark on a new frontier of building scientifically literate students that are going to pursue genetic engineering, tissue regeneration, RNA therapies, and alternative sources of power all while leaving a less significant carbon imprint.  But amidst the challenge, we find little relief from the whirlwind of expectations school, district, state, and nation-wide.  Just HOW do I do this?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve already put the pedal on the floor.  You’ve agitated every veteran teacher within a 30 mile radius because they feel put off by your newfound invigoration to rethink, reorder, revise, revert, and retract any shred of their contribution to science education over the last couple decades.  You’ve challenged yourself to rethink how you approach the classroom, and in the process have created a “junk” folder on your desktop housing any “cookie cutter” lab from the last 10 years.  May I advise for just a moment?  Ease off the gas just a hair.  You’ll need those people and they’ll need you.  None of us can change the face of science education in a country of 314 million people by ourselves.  And if you’re trying to do it solo, you are in the wrong profession.  

Like I said before, it isn’t that anybody has done anything wrong.  We just haven’t been doing it well enough; me included.  And so we find ourselves needing the NGSS as much as our students do.  Is it the “holy grail” of science education?  Certainly not.  Is it the final missing link that will instantly surge the United States past China, Japan, and India in academic achievement?  I highly doubt it.  What it does provide us is a window into what our students expect of us.  Rest assured, I walk into my classroom every single day expecting my students’ best.  Even if their best is not the top of their game that day, I want their best.  I have come to appreciate over the course of the last 6 months in working with the new standards, re-writing curriculum, modifying, and re-configuring lessons to enhance rigor, a renewed spirit.  That renewed spirit assures my kids are getting my best.  They are just that, aren’t they?  They are OUR kids.  The workshops, seminars, meetings, and conversations I have engaged in revert back to one simple educational principle.  They are OUR children, entrusted to us by their parents and guardians to provide the highest level of safety and intellectual stimulation they can withstand.  Why not give them the tools to be the pinnacle of the NEXT GENERATION?   


  1. I am right there with you! While the task of completely resetting our minds, reworking the curriculum, throwing away old tests and starting fresh seems quite daunting, I am excited about the opportunity to better serve our kids and hopefully bring the relevance of science into their lives in a way that seemed nearly impossible with the old standards.

    -J. Litzhoff (Physcial Science Teacher @ WLHS)

  2. I am one of the old school teachers and I am totally open to the changes we need to do in order to move our students up the ladder to success. In the "short" 20 years I have been teaching there has been many thoughts and recommendations, theories that have come and gone. The ONLY way these standards will work is to stick with them, and make the changes we need to and then hope the teachers leading our students to us are on board and are willing to help us help our kids. It will be a long struggle but we need to make sure the changes we make help the students of all levels to their future. Colleges want students who can critically think but many are still teaching with overheads and powerpoints and rote memorization. We need a system to prepare those going to college as well as those who just need to survive the cruel world out there. We can use all sorts of statistics to say how poorly our kids are performing but we all know as teachers that the landscape of students is different than any of us grew up with no matter the age we are. I think the NGSS and Common Core are steps in the right direction but we have to get to the matter of getting kids back to wanting to "KNOW". If we can get there, the students will get why we are doing what we are doing to help them. Changes are necessary and we are heading in the right direction. Are we all on board?

    Rob Paczkowski (West Leyden HS)

  3. Mike you raise an important point about HOW to implement the standards. That work has to come for teachers like you, Jamie, Rob, and others. Standards don't DO anything. Teachers and students DO the work. You nicely frame the need for the work and how the standards provide a framework.

  4. The HOW is the biggest piece. We are definitely heading in the right direction but have a long way to go. Fortunately, the standards are clear and concise lending themselves to clear performance assessments that can actually measure how students are achieving in certain areas compared to others. The cohesion is imperative from elementary to middle and up to high school. Thus, articulation time is an integral component in the success of our kids.