Implementation of progressive science standards will shift sequence

Next year, the order in which students take science classes will be completely revamped as Carmel High plans to implement the state-mandated Next Generation Science Standards in both chemistry and physics classes.

“In terms of schedule,” science teacher Steve Nixon says, “the hope is that most students will get a third year of science. The biggest change is that the order is going to change to biology, chemistry, physics, instead of the current way of biology, physics, and chemistry.”

California adopted the standards on Sept. 4, 2013, and California schools have slowly begun replacing the old 1998 standards that went along with the Standardized Testing and Reporting tests. The recent election has made the future uncertain for the Common Core standards, as President-elect Donald Trump has advocated against these standards. With the appointment of anti-Common Core advocate Betsy DeVos as education secretary, Trump has cemented his stance against the national standards.

However, the Common Core curriculum changes will most likely continue due to the fact that most states still support these standards.

CHS science teacher Joseph Mello says that NGSS are currently being taught at CHS in the freshman biology classes, but now it will be expanding to chemistry and physics.

Advanced Placement classes, specifically AP Chemistry, are also going to be affected by this scheduling change. Science teacher Brian Granbery says that the AP Chemistry course will be taught as a second-year course during junior year, taking an introductory chemistry course in sophomore year.

Granbery believes that this change will help not only AP students, but the entire student body.

“The College Board recommends against teaching AP Chemistry as a first-year course,” Granbery says. “We think that this would provide more access to more APs for students. Not only that, but it will also benefit non-AP students. We are changing the content to make it more approachable to students.”

In addition to the traditional teachings of chemistry, physics and biology, the standards will also be implementing earth and space science.

“There is a new emphasis on earth and space science,” Nixon says. “This science will become embedded into all of the other sciences. For example, you would have chemistry and earth science. In physics, we would be looking at more stuff in the solar system.”

Class titles will also be changing to reflect the addition of these contemporary sciences into the traditional curriculum. Mello says, for example, that Honors Chemistry would change to Honors Chemistry and Geology.

The new NGSS are similar to Common Core State Standards for English and math implemented in Carmel High’s 2014-15 school year. The standards rest on the basis of teaching students how to solve scientific questions rather than teaching students information.

“The teachers here have been working on it for the past three years,” Nixon says. “The NGSS standards are more focused on science as a process, rather than a collection of facts.”

Nixon explains that students would be applying Newton’s laws to different scenarios in the world rather than memorizing these laws of motion.

Science teacher Kevin Buran reinforces this idea about NGSS.

“A lot of NGSS is based off of skill sets and learning how to do science,” Buran says, “rather than memorize facts.”

Mello emphasizes the fact that NGSS is about changing science from knowing “stuff” to knowing “how to do stuff.”

“Science is really about being able to ask the right questions and have the skills to answer those questions,” Mello says. “Especially now that everyone has information in their pocket with mobile devices, it’s about how to solve problems.”

The new standards have been separated into three categories.

“The first category is called DCIs or disciplinary core ideas,” Granbery explains. “These are the old facts that we had to know. For example, these include what are the parts of the cell, what is a chemical reaction, those sorts of things.”

Granbery explains that the second area of focus is science and engineering practices. This category focuses on what scientists can do to solve problems. Students will learn how to apply experiments, models and mathematics to solve models.

“The third one is called cross-cutting concepts, also known as CCCs, which are what all science has in common,” Granbery says. “That is where you focus on looking at what chemistry has to do with biology, has to do with physics, and so on. This concept integrates all of the sciences together.”

According to science teacher and NGSS curricular coach Jason Maas-Baldwin, the district has heavily invested in the transition by equipping teachers with resources, support and training. Maas-Baldwin, along with other science teachers, has attended district, county, state and national level training at roll-out events, conferences and workshops.

“The district is giving time and resources to develop new courses and new ways of teaching,” Mello adds. “Anything we need to make sure the transition goes well, they help us with.”

Even though this transition has given teachers more things to do, most teachers believe that this change is a step in the right direction for science education.

“I think that we are all in this get-to-know-you phase,” Buran says, “and, in a short-term basis, it has created a lot of work because it is new stuff. But in a more long-term basis, I am really quite excited.”

Granbery also wants to remind students that the state of California has adopted NGSS, meaning the school district is mandated to teach these standards.

Both chief academic officer Mike Heffner and the Carmel Unified School District board are excited for the NGSS standards and believe that it can better engage students in science.

“I think all of us on the board share the optimism and enthusiasm of our science teachers as they work to implement the state-mandated NGSS,” board president Mark Stilwell says. “We have an outstanding teaching staff at CUSD, and we are very confident in the ability of our science teachers to implement the new science curricula requirements.”

-Ryan Lin