Science education


Wondering what your pre-scientist pen pal is learning in their science class?

Unfortunately, the answer is not so straightforward, and varies by state.

Some of our LPS teachers are transitioning from teaching state created science standards to adopting the new, national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS standards, which were released in 2013, are similar to the more familiar Common Core English/language arts and math standards in two main ways:

  • Both standards focus on building college and career readiness skills, commonly referred to as 21st century skills.
  • Both have been developed for national implementation. Previously, individual states created science standards that applied only to their state, which resulted in national discrepancies in rigor as well as content covered.

Our CEO and former teacher Lucy Madden wrote a blog post explaining how the NGSS were applied in her 6th grade classroom. Here is a short fact sheet about NGSS.

Here’s where it gets complicated. The Next Generation Science Standards have not been adopted by all states, nor is there a firm implementation plan set to ensure they will be by a certain year. For the 2017-18 school year, we have teachers in California, Indiana, Ohio, Colorado, and Illinois. Click on the state to read the science standards they teach. We currently have teachers in California and Illinois that have adopted the NGSS. Our other teachers are teaching their state’s science standards, which may or may not have been influenced by the NGSS.

An Explanation of the NGSS

The NGSS teach the core concepts of Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering, and focus on connecting concepts that span these branches of science.

For example, an Energy and Matter unit in middle school could teach the crosscutting concept that energy is conserved and can be tracked through a system using Earth and Life science disciplines. More specifically, students could use the practice of developing and using models to describe phenomena to describe how food is rearranged through chemical reactions that release energy as the matter moves through an organism. They could then connect this system to a model showing the cycling of water through the Earth’s system driven by energy from the sun.

Without NGSS, it is unlikely that life science and earth science would have been explicitly taught in the same unit; these new standards prioritize understanding foundational concept building skills that can be applied from one discipline to another. The NGSS calls for students to be much more actively engaged in building their knowledge of science.

Each year, students being taught the NGSS build on what they learned previously so that they will end up with a comprehensive understanding of different scientific fields and how they interact with one another. To see what middle school students might be learning in their science class, click here and click on middle school, then find your field of interest in the drop-down menu.

Important things to keep in mind

Additionally, it is important to note that:

  • Our pre-scientists have not always been taught science following the NGSS standards (they were just developed a few years ago)
  • They may not have ever had a science class at all before middle school.
  • We serve students from schools that often lack resources to appropriately teach science
  • Many of our pre-scientists read below grade level.

You should not expect your pre-scientist to be familiar with everything outlined in the NGSS for their grade level. You should:

  • Take guidance from the level of science they are able to explain in their letters to you when deciding how much detail to use in your explanations.
  • Ask them about what they are learning about during science class!