Oregon adopts new science curriculum

Next Generation Science Standards emphasize inquiry

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

Published Mar 21, 2014 at 12:01AM

Three local educators were involved in Oregon’s adoption earlier this month of the Next Generation Science Standards, a K-12 science curriculum adopted by nine other states.

The final draft of the standards, which were developed as part of a national effort led by educators and researchers, was released in April. The three Central Oregonians on the state’s science content and assessment panel, which recommended to the State Board of Education that the standards be adopted, span the range of local institutions: Michael Giamellaro is an assistant professor of science and math education at Oregon State University-Cascades Campus; Silas Towne works as a Central Oregon Community College chemistry instructor and tutor supervisor; and Benjamin Iverson is a science teacher at High Desert Middle School.

“The standards represent a move away from just a list of facts students need to master before graduation,” Giamellaro said this week. “The vision is that as students move up, they are not just progressing from topic to topic, but seeing connections across core ideas. Standards are also tied to performance expectations, where knowledge and skills are applied.”

Cheryl Kleckner, an Oregon Department of Education science education specialist, said, “Content will now be embedded within scientific practices.

“The research over the last 10 to 15 years points to the fact that the way people learn science best is by doing science while learning the content,” Kleckner added.

Of course, scientific facts will still be important, but core knowledge is balanced by an equal focus on both the methods of scientific inquiry and “cross-cutting concepts,” which, according to the NGSS, “unify the study of science and engineering through their common application across field.” Examples of such concepts include “cause and effect” and “stability and change.”

“The big difference with these standards is there’s a big shift toward the interpretation and analysis of information,” Iverson said. “We’re going from more of a conceptual based approach, where the concern is, ‘Do you understand that the moon affects the ocean,’ to a comprehensive understanding, where the challenge is, ‘Can you find the information that would support an understanding of what happens between the moon and Earth systems?’”

Oregon last adopted a new set of science standards in 2009. While those standards began to incorporate more engineering content, the Next Generation Science Standards, adopted March 6, push that even further, according to Kleckner. However, Giamellaro said the challenge isn’t over what to include, but what to leave out, given how much could be included in a science curriculum.

“In past national efforts on standards, by the time everything that should be there is in, it’s an overwhelming collection of ideas that’s impossible to get to,” Giamellaro said. “Our big focus is on getting to the most important things people will need in a future, as we interact with technology and engineering more.”

The science content and assessment panel’s next challenge is deciding how to implement the standards and bring teachers up to speed on the state’s new expectations for science education.

“Depending on how you taught before, these standards could be quite daunting,” said Towne, the COCC instructor. “If you just did one or two inquiry-based labs before and mostly relied on lectures, then you’re going to have to do a lot of changing.”

Kleckner said the panel will be tasked with developing recommendations for professional development to ease the adoption of NGSS.

“We will take the recommendations and develop a work plan and move to fund that,” Kleckner said. “I’m not sure what it will look like, but I imagine it will involve regional collaborations and involve the newly funded STEM hubs, which I believe can provide great support.”

Central Oregon is home to one of the new science, technology, engineering and math hubs. The region’s hub is led by the High Desert Museum, Bend Science Station and Oregon State University-Cascades Campus. The group has received $25,000 to conduct an education needs assessment in the region, and in six months, the group anticipates receiving about $125,000 from the state to integrate regional STEM programs and fill in any holes they find.

The adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards coincides with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a set of math and English education goals Oregon and most other states will implement in the 2014-15 school year. The Common Core is intended to emphasize critical thinking and has been characterized as more rigorous than current Oregon standards by the state Education Department.

“The two standards are tightly aligned,” Kleckner said. “On every page of the NGSS document itself, they list at the bottom direct connections to Common Core math and (English) standards.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com