In today’s world of information overload, it can be difficult to determine fact from fiction. That’s why we’re teaching critical thinking skills and scientific literacy–to prepare students to think like scientists and engineers, from kindergarten on.

This year, we’re rolling out new science standards — and the lessons that helps students learn those standards — across all of our elementary schools.

SFUSD began rolling out the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in secondary schools in 2017.

A very different world

We already know that if our students are to thrive in the global economy and be eligible for jobs in the ever-expanding fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), they need a solid science education as a foundation.

We have seen a lot of major advances in science. We also know a lot more about how students actually learn, and we’ve incorporated both in our curriculum.

Science education should reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world. It should also exist as a subject that is connected to what students are learning in English language arts and mathematics as well.

Who made the new science standards?

NGSS was developed by a consortium of 26 states and by the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Research Council among others. It was reviewed by the public and the California Science Teachers Association.

Our own SFUSD science teachers looked at the standards and helped select instructional materials that would best support science learning in our elementary classrooms.

Learning subjects together like in ‘real life’

For a long time, most subjects in school were taught in separate classes. For instance, math teachers didn’t coordinate with engineering teachers on their lesson plans.

But that’s not how it works in the work world — or most projects would fail.

We’ve consulted with biotech industry leaders, engineering executives, and university professors, among others regarding what they are looking for in future employees.

You know what they said? They want staff who can look at a problem together and come up with creative solutions. They need people who can apply concepts in new ways.

Memorizing facts and working independently is just not enough. They also need people who can explain their new solutions well to others.

For this reason, the new SFUSD K-5 Science Core Curriculum is problem based, providing students the opportunity to embody the roles of scientists and engineers as they work to explain scientific phenomena.

For example, fourth grade students learn in depth about electrical energy systems as they argue for different solutions to the frequent blackouts occurring in the made up city of “Ergstown”.

Depth over breadth

Have you ever tried to memorize the encyclopedia? I know some people can do this and enjoy it. But, most of us develop understanding of subject matter through exploration, doing and seeing.

The Next Generation Science Standards focus on a limited number of core ideas in science and engineering. This is in order to avoid the shallow coverage of a large number of topics and to allow more time for teachers and students to explore each idea in greater depth.

This was done with the intention to give time for students to engage in scientific investigations and argumentation and to achieve depth of understanding of the core ideas presented.

Learn more about NGSS in SFUSD online at sfusdscience.org

Vincent Matthews
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Vincent Matthews

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