Ambika Kapur: Teaching Science to Higher Standards

Grantees in this story

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It’s the largest gathering of its type in the country. More than 11,000 teachers met in Boston, April 3 through 6, for the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) 2014 conference on science education. Ambika Kapur, The Corporation’s Officer of Special Projects, National Program, was there to check out the latest on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) including new resources for teachers. Here she answers a few questions about how the Corporation is helping science teachers get acquainted with the new standards.

The attendance was several thousand more than initially expected. What was the big draw?

Coincidentally, the conference took place right as NGSS turned one—meaning states started to adopt the standards only a year ago—and science teachers are very excited to learn more. They came to attend workshops and find out what the standards look like, the cross-cutting concepts we keep hearing about, how that translates in the classroom, and what they might need to do differently as a teacher.

You were in the workshops — can you tell us what makes NGSS more effective than the standards most schools are currently using?

First, you have to remember that these are standards, not curricula, although teachers are asked to try new approaches to learning. For example, I went to a session on how to teach fourth graders about buoyancy. In the past, students might memorize a definition, see a few examples, and do a worksheet. With NGSS, you look for ways to explore the concept. So, students might be asked to design boats out of paper, float them on water, and then see how many pennies the boat can hold before it begins to sink. They are given a challenge and in the process, the students learn about displacement and volume. The cross-cutting concepts would be scale, proportion and quantity.

Meet Debbie Murphy and Nancy Pesante from a University of Rhode Island program that offers professional development to grade school teachers; they attended a workshop on integrating NGSS standards into classroom instruction with activities such as making paper airplanes to explore motion and energy:

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The NSTA used the convention to introduce a new resource center for teachers. What can teachers can find through this NGSS Hub?

NSTA and Achieve, which are both Corporation grantees, asked us to support the creation of an online teacher tool kit called the NGSS@NSTA Hub, which NSTA then built on its website. It breaks down the standards at each grade level in terms of performance expectations — what students should know in a particular subject starting in kindergarten and all the way through high school. The Hub is also designed to be an interactive online learning community where teachers can share their curriculum ideas and what they are doing in the classroom to make sure that their teaching is aligned with the standards.

Stephen Pruitt is the Senior Vice President of Achieve, a Corporation grantee. Steve is a leading voice for the college- and career-ready agenda including NGSS; As of the NSTA conference, ten states and the District of Columbia had adopted the standards:

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Who decides which resources will be available through the NGSS@NSTA Hub?

Roughly 650 science educators applied for a chance to serve on the NSTA team, and from this pool, 55 experts were selected from more than two dozen states. They are reviewing the materials that are currently being used and, at the same time, giving people suggestions and ideas that can be shared on the Hub. Those resources will all be available later this year.

How do teachers get access to the Hub?

You just go the website to get these free resources. Any science teacher in the country is welcome to look at the standards and the curriculum resources. This is science education for all!