SFUSD’S Next Generation Science Standards encourage collaboration across disciplines to teach students communication, collaboration and problem solving. (Courtesy photo)

Science lessons cook up collaboration

Remember a few weeks ago when I shared how we changed our approach to teaching math — and that, as a result, more of our students are now showing improved mastery in math?

Today I’m going to fill you in on what’s starting to happen as we change how we teach science.

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 field of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, they need a solid science education that prepares them.

But we haven’t really changed how we teach science as rapidly as our world has changed.

We have seen a lot of major advances in science. We also know a lot more about how students actually learn.

So, this year we are teaching the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

MAKING CLASSES MORE LIKE ‘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.

At SFUSD we developed our Vision 2025 plan and our Next Generation Science Standards curriculum with biotech industry leaders, engineering executives and university professors, among others.

You know what they said? They want employees 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 are just not enough. They also need people who can explain their new solutions well to others.

SOLAR ECLIPSE DONE THE NGSS WAY

There I was, on the first day of school, at Buena Vista Horace Mann with dozens of students approaching the eclipse with art, measurements and pin holes. Everywhere students were marveling at the moon covering the sun — sharing with others what they saw happening, and why.

This is how we approach science education. Communication, collaboration, inquiry, problem solving and flexibility — these skills will serve them well throughout their lives.

WHO MADE THE NEW SCIENCE STANDARDS?

The NGSS standards were developed by a consortium of 26 states and by the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council, and Achieve, a nonprofit organization that was also involved in developing math and English standards. It
was reviewed by the public, and the California Science Teachers Association.

Our own SFUSD science teachers looked at the standards and helped to develop the best ways to teach them to our students here in San Francisco.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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