Two years ago, a group of North Hills School District teachers and I began the needs assessment portion of our curriculum review cycle for science. We entered the process with confidence in our core curriculum, as we’ve been partnering with ASSET and implementing “hands-on, minds-on” FOSS (Full Option Science System) programming for over 20 years. Furthermore, for the five years prior, the district was averaging 93 percent advanced or proficient on the fourth grade science state assessment tests in all four of our elementary buildings. Given Pennsylvania’s continued use of unchanged science standards, we didn’t think we’d need to make many tweaks to our curriculum. We soon would realize, however, that if we were to going to continue to offer the most meaningful science experiences to our students, we would have to take a much deeper dive into Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) materials than we had ever intended.
North Hills students observe crayfish structures and behaviors from Structures of Life Next Gen.
We first looked at the NGSS science standards through the lens of best practice. According to Best Practice, Fourth Edition: Bringing Standards to Life in America's Classrooms (Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde, 2012), one of the qualities of best practice in teaching science is to “integrate engineering and science so that students have experience with the knowledge and practices of both areas.” We felt comfortable our students were asking science questions, but were we certain they were truly defining problems? We knew the second-edition FOSS materials provided students with ample practice in constructing explanations, but were they truly designing and engineering solutions? By understanding the quality of experiences required for students to truly succeed in the fields of both science and engineering, it became clear that we would need to be committed to examining NGSS science materials much more closely.
Our next task was an exercise in logistics. Was it possible to reorganize our curriculum to better fit the recommendations for curriculum implementation of FOSS Next Gen editions while still satisfying the requirements of the current PA science standards? To answer this question, we sat down with the PA standards, the NGSS standards, the newly released PA science framework, and both the second and Next Gen editions of each FOSS module for side-by-side comparison of objectives. It was at this point in the process that we recognized the true value in our partnership with ASSET. Not only did they provide the necessary materials and space for our group to work, but their input regarding module content and professional development expertise was invaluable.
First graders participate in Investigation 1 Part 4: Construct with Solids of Solids and Liquids Next Gen.
What may have at one point felt like an insurmountable task is now a fully standards-aligned curriculum framework that also allows students to engage in meaningful instruction on both science and engineering practices. Disciplinary core ideas are being covered at the grade levels suggested by the NGSS standards with the addition of nine updated or brand new modules across the K-6 curriculum. Along with these changes, we can be assured students comprehend the crosscutting concepts connect their learning experiences with multiple disciplines and are fully prepared to meet the performance expectations of the future with regard to both science and engineering.
If you have questions about our district process, the specific modules and materials being used at each grade level, or the professional development module used for implementation of our curricular changes, please don’t hesitate to contact me for further information.