Science and innovation has been central to human progress since times immemorial. The invention of the wheel, the industrial revolution and even the recent IT boom are the direct results of scientific innovation leading economic expansion. So it stands to reason that if we are to prepare students to lead the global economy and pursue the diverse employment opportunities out there, we must equip them with a good K–12 science education. There is, however, a discrepancy in science as it is taught in the classroom and science as it is practised in the real world. Up until now, American schools had been following the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council (NRC) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to teach science in the classroom.
The only problem with this scenario is that despite being fairly comprehensive, both of these frameworks were formulated 15 years ago. Our world is developing at an unprecedented rate, and yet we are currently teaching students lessons based on an outdated framework. A further issue at hand is that the application of science in the real world works through evidence-based thinking, which is the opposite of how students are currently being taught. At present, students are learning theory without understanding the underlying principles that make that theory work. Research shows that high school education does not provide students with important skills such as communication and critical thinking. These skills are crucial for both a successful career and for becoming a responsible and informed citizen.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) fills in this demand in education that until now had been left unaddressed. The NGSS framework is based on three components of science learning, all of which weld practice to theory. In short, NGSS focuses on developing the habits and skills that scientists and engineers use in day-to-day life. Teachers are no longer the sage on the stage; instead, they guide students to draw their own conclusions based on evidence and reasoning.
As the old adage goes: give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you teach him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime. The NGSS content is formulated to help students learn how to think rather than telling them what to think. It provides students with the space and encouragement to question, investigate and draw their own inferences based on evidence. Through NGSS, we are preparing future generations to be independent, responsible and proactive before they go out into the world. And no doubt, many of them will change it.