Appendix: The Teacher-Friendly Guides, Virtual Fieldwork, and the NGSS's Three-Dimensional Science

The Next Generation Science Standards contain a set of learning goals that define and describe the ideas and practices that we need in order to think scientifically. The NGSS are not a curriculum. They tell teachers not how to teach, but rather, are tools to show what to teach. They also help families know what children are expected to learn, and help schools and teachers know what to assess. So, how do you teach in ways that align with NGSS, if NGSS itself doesn’t tell you? The strategies, tools and resources associated with the ReaL Earth Inquiry project, like this Teacher-Friendly Guide™, are intended to offer a partial answer to that question.

Acronyms frequently used in The Next Genertion Science Standards (NGSS):
  • PE: Performance Expectation
  • DCI: Disciplinary Core Idea
  • CC: Crosscutting Concept
  • SEP: Scientific and Engineering Practice
  • PS: Physical Sciences
  • LS: Life Sciences
  • ESS: Earth & Space Sciences
  • ETS: Engineering,Technology, and the Applications of Science

The vision of NGSS differs in a number of important ways from current common practice in schools and classrooms across the country. Teaching about local and regional Earth and environmental science can and has worked well for many teachers under more traditional standards, but by attending to the three dimensions of the NGSS (see below), we believe it can work even better. Deep understandings of why your local environment looks the way it does requires understanding the local environment from multiple disciplinary perspectives, and understanding the connections amongst these different disciplinary ideas. That is, to understand your local environment, a systems perspective is needed. Scientifically accurate meaningful understanding can and does come out of single lessons, single units, and single courses, but these understandings become richer, deeper, and more durable if they are connected across courses. The NGSS vision includes recognition that building a deep understanding of big ideas is both very important and a process that takes years of coordinated effort. Fortunately, the many processes that shape the local environment are part and parcel of existing curricula, and especially for Earth science, biology, and environmental science courses, nearly every unit has central aspects that play out on a human scale just outside the school door. A coordinated approach to the study of the local environment across units within a single course and across grade levels and courses can be a fairly subtle change in each teacher’s daily routines, but it has the potential for big returns in terms of the depth of student understanding. This deeper understanding pertains not only to the local environment and the way course topics are represented within it, but also to systems more generally, to the nature and importance of scale, and to much, much more.

NGSS builds upon the earlier work in the National Science Education Standards (NSES), but brings more of a systems approach not only to its representation of science, but to the standards themselves. NSES defined science not just as a body of ideas, but an evolving body of ideas extended by inquiry. NGSS continues this work by clarifying inquiry and the sciences as a set of relationships amongst three dimensions: Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Scientific and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts. Each of the three dimensions is judged to be of roughly equal importance and they are seen as interdependent. To truly, deeply, understand science and how scientific understandings develop, learners must not only understand each dimension, but how the dimensions are related to one another—the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. By coming to understand these interconnections, teachers and students will also come to better understand the nature of both scientific inquiry and of complex systems.