How much does science really change?

Susan Berg, assessment lead at NWEA, loves science. Although she found it intimidating as a young girl, it won her over in high school. She went on to study biology in college before teaching K­–12 science herself. We sat down with her to understand more about MAP® Science for use with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)* and how science instruction is changing. Here’s what she had to say, edited for clarity and length.

First things first: what are the Next Generation Science Standards?

The Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, were released in 2013 and describe examples of how K–12 students should be engaging in three dimensions of science to make sense of phenomena and solve problems. Almost all current or in-process state science standards are now based on the same framework and dimensions that guided the development of NGSS, even if those states haven’t adopted NGSS in its entirety.

In the 15–20 years before the release of NGSS, most state standards were based on Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Science Education Standards. The laws of nature didn’t change in that time, but our understanding and application of them certainly did.

Can you give us some examples of what those changes in our understanding and application of the laws of nature led to?

Yes! Our changes in thinking led to things like the spread of Wi-Fi, finding evidence of water on Mars, and the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet. They’ve been instrumental in advanced artificial intelligence, robotics, and smart machines, including robots that can search rubble for survivors, perform surgery, and even clean your home. And they helped accomplish massive engineering feats, such as Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest power station, located in China; the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which, at 2,722′, is the tallest building in the world; and the world’s tallest bridge, the Millau Viaduct in France.

Science classes should no longer focus on isolated facts and rote procedures without deeper engagement.”

How has all of this affected your job?

An essential part of my job is to stay current on science and engineering developments. My colleagues and I do this to ensure MAP Science continues to be accurate and that our item bank is of the highest quality. We’ve been actively working to update our items and tests to attend not only to content shifts, but also to even deeper shifts in science standards.

Tell us about the recent shifts in science standards.

The most significant shift is the emphasis on multidimensional teaching, learning, and assessment. The implication of this shift is that science classes should no longer focus on isolated facts and rote procedures without deeper engagement. Instead, these standards encourage teachers to help their students think like scientists and do science in an authentic way.

What shifts have you seen in disciplines?

The NGSS recognize engineering, technology, and applications of science as one content area. It’s placed on the same level as life science, earth and space science, and physical science. The NGSS and most new state standards include engineering-specific standards. They also embed engineering language and practices into the other content areas and dimensions.

The science education community recommends slow, thoughtful, deliberate implementation of NGSS or similar multidimensional standards.”

How about shifts in curriculum and assessment?

The science education community recommends slow, thoughtful, deliberate implementation of NGSS or similar multidimensional standards. The community recognizes that responding to the shifts will take significant time, professional development, and engaged support from curriculum and assessment providers. The science assessment industry is still in a time of transition and development.

How has MAP Science changed as a result of these changes?

Tweet: How Much Does Science Really Change? #edchat #education #NGSS

In response to the shift in science standards, NWEA has been working with experts in the field—including Stephen Pruitt, who helped develop the framework document for the NGSS, and Aneesha Badrinarayan, Achieve’s director of special projects and initiatives—to improve our multidimensional items and item sets to allow students to demonstrate their abilities to think like a scientist when facing real-world phenomena and problems.

To address the shift in disciplines, we’ve been adding more and more engineering and technology items to the MAP Science pool.

On the curriculum and assessment front, we continue to take part in regular conversations with partners and potential partners to understand how schools across the country and internationally are progressing in the implementation of these new modes of instruction. This helps us understand the emerging needs of science educators and apply this knowledge to new item content and features.

As a woman in science, do you have any advice for young girls interested in it, too?

Be curious. Ask questions—and then see how far you can get in answering them yourself. Observe everything you can. Take things apart and try to put them back together.

Science and engineering can start at home or in your neighborhood by simply wondering how something works and then making observations and basic investigations to try to figure it out. You don’t have to succeed and you don’t even have to follow a particular method.

I’d also encourage our readers to revisit the 2018 Teach. Learn. Grow. post “5 ways to support girls in STEM.”

Who is one of your favorite scientists?

I’ve recently been reading about Fei-Fei Li, codirector of the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. She combines a deep understanding of computer science and neuroscience to develop AI technologies that have a positive impact on the world. She’s even cofounded an organization called AI4ALL, which provides education and mentoring in AI to people of diverse backgrounds.

*Next Generation Science Standards is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.

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