Monday, February 15, 2016

What will be different this time? Thoughts on NGSS implementation Part 2

A brief recap:

This is the second post in a series of posts on The Next Generation Science Standards. See Part 1 here. This series of posts is intended to raise issues of national importance related to the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and to dig into the question in the post's title. Part 1 ends with some discussion of how the now 20-year-old The National Science Education Standards (NSES) was a good document that envisioned sweeping change to how K-12 science is taught. That description fits the NGSS as well. I argue that the NSES didn't drive much change in actual teaching practice, and worry that the current efforts won't either.

I received a fair amount of engaging feedback. Some responses to that feedback is included within the post, but I also included a bulleted list (below the questionnaire) with some of those issues, in bold, with a bit of elaboration from me.

Part 3 will focus on responses to the premortem exercise included in this post.  

    And onto why this time will be different:

    You. Us. I hope. We're what's different. I hope. But for us to be different, we actually need to do things differently this time around. If we keep doing what we're doing, well, we'll keep doing what we're doing.

    I am saying some things that plenty of people want to hear - that I think the NGSS have the potential to transform K-12 science education (and maybe K-12 education more broadly), I'm also saying something that many people don't want to hear. We're not on track to reach that potential. Part of what I'm up to here is prodding you to convince me I'm wrong. By doing so, I may be also prodding you to more action than you otherwise would. 

    Go Fever

    The Freakonomics Podcast episode, "Failure is Your Friend" includes a good discussion of "Go Fever." That's a term from NASA that was used in diagnosing what went wrong to cause the Challenger explosion. Engineers knew that the O-rings weren't designed for the cold temperatures experienced on the morning of the launch, but those engineers were over-ridden by bureaucrats with Go Fever.  Wikipedia nicely describes it:
    In the US space industry, "go fever" is an informal term used to refer to the overall attitude of being in a rush or hurry to get a project or task done while overlooking potential problems or mistakes. "Go fever" results from both individual and collective aspects of human behavior. It is due to the tendency as individuals to be overly committed to a previously chosen course of action based on time and resources already expended (sunk costs) despite reduced or insufficient future benefits, or even considerable risks. It is also due to general budget concerns and due to the desire of members of a team not to be seen as the one who is not equally committed to the team's goals or to be the one interfering with the team's progress or success. The term was coined after the Apollo 1 fire in 1967 and has been referred to in subsequent NASA incidents such as the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.[citation needed] "Go fever" can also be similar to the groupthink phenomenon, where a group may end up making a bad decision for the sake of cordiality and maintaining the group's atmosphere; coined by the social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972.[1][2]
    It's worth pondering: Do we have Go Fever about the NGSS? Are we making catastrophic mistakes because we feel a strong need to get going already?

    I'll confess that I worry both about going to slow and going to fast. Can we figure out how to hit just the right speed? Clearly, we need to move forward, and, there is a sense of urgency. It's also fairly clear to me that, at least in some states (including my own state of New York), the Common Core was rolled out too fast and that caused substantial problems. Can we learn lessons from that experience and avoid repeating the same mistakes?

    Doing a "premortem" on the NGSS

    Gary Klein developed a process for predicting and preventing project failures he dubbed a "premortem." Klein's article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), "Performing a Project Premortem" offers a concise description of the process that is also discussed in that same Freakonomics Podcast episode mentioned above, "Failure is Your Friend." I highly recommend giving it a listen after you've finished reading (and responding!) to this post.

    I'm asking you to participate in an online version of premortem on the NGSS. Here's a long quote from the HBR article on premortems:
    "A premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem. A postmortem in a medical setting allows health professionals and the family to learn what caused a patient’s death. Everyone benefits except, of course, the patient. A premortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied. Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the premortem operates on the assumption that the “patient” has died, and so asks what did go wrong. The team members’ task is to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure.
    A typical premortem begins after the team has been briefed on the plan. The leader starts the exercise by informing everyone that the project has failed spectacularly. Over the next few minutes those in the room independently write down every reason they can think of for the failure—especially the kinds of things they ordinarily wouldn’t mention as potential problems, for fear of being impolitic. For example, in a session held at one Fortune 50–size company, an executive suggested that a billion-dollar environmental sustainability project had “failed” because interest waned when the CEO retired. Another pinned the failure on a dilution of the business case after a government agency revised its policies.
    So, imagine that it's 2026. School science teaching and learning looks much as it did in 2016. Maybe some of the vocabulary has changed, but what kids and teachers are actually doing in most classrooms is largely the same, and the outcomes are largely the same. Collaborations across grade levels remain uncommon, as is interdisciplinary teaching. The focus of instruction and assessment is largely at the knowledge level of Bloom's Taxonomy (but, of course, things are different in your classroom). Why didn't NGSS change things? What went wrong? What did we fail to do or do badly? Or was it just a big and complicated bad idea to begin with?

    Think about those questions as you read on. In just a couple of paragraphs time, you'll have an opportunity to share answers to those questions, and a couple more in Google Form, and you'll be able to see what others are saying. I was pleased by how many folks sent me emails after Part 1. Some of you may be able to cut and paste from those emails into the form.

    Below the form are some ideas that came from readers of Part 1 along with my thoughts on those comments. You might wish to read that before completing the premortem. You may also wish to look at "Putting a hyper-dimensional peg in a round hole: Addressing the mismatch of NGSS and the structure of schooling", a Prezi that's included in the Additional Resources section at the end of the post. But you can dig right in without looking at that stuff.  



    Feedback on Feedback on Part 1

    General ideas that I received through email, Facebook, or comments on Part 1 are in bold with my comments following. I'm delighted at the volume of feedback I received and regret that I can't address every last bit of it. The below teases out some of what I thought were the big ideas. 
    • Schools didn't create poverty and it's unrealistic that they fix poverty. True that. But schools, I hope, are an integral part of the solution, and integral is italicized on purpose. The structure of middle and high schools, and of undergraduate college instruction, is generally poorly integrated within itself let alone within its community. Interdisciplinary connections within the school need fortification. Connection of school content to the world outside of school also needs fortification. I recognize that and (obviously) can't do it justice in a paragraph, but it does deserve acknowledgment. 
    • Claims of "We're already doing this!" are probably mostly exaggerations. One important piece of why it's unlikely that you're already teaching in ways that satisfy NGSS expectations is it's not something that one teacher can do alone, unless they're really alone, like in a one-room schoolhouse. That's probably not you. Of course, "you" can be singular or plural. If you think you, in the collective sense of the term are already doing it, that makes it more likely that you are. But if you think that you means a really big you, as in most of the teachers who attend the state science teachers conference, or most of the teachers in a district with more than a dozen teachers teaching science, then you are probably wrong. We're just not there yet. Here's another take on I already do NGSS... No You Don't (suggested by a reader of Part 1).
    • Facts are essential, and, darn it, I'm focused on teaching facts.  Of course facts are essential, but the facts have been the heart of instruction for years - centuries, even. And those practices have consistently yielded (mostly) scientifically illiterate graduates. Biology is the high school science course that very nearly every high school student in the United States takes. That too has been true for decades. And, it's been true for decades that the typical high school biology text has more new vocabulary than the typical first year foreign language text. And, I think you'll agree, that most high school graduates have a very weak grasp on the basics of biology. Those folks that have a good grasp of facts within a discipline have a conceptual framework that pays attention to the important connections amongst the facts. I argue that those connections are as important as the facts themselves. This idea is backed up by solid research on How Students Learn Science. (At least check out the introductory chapter. Please.)
    • Starting with A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas makes sense. Yep. I should have said so more clearly. 
    • What gets tested (or otherwise assessed) is what gets taught, though clearly there are many teachers who go above and beyond (or go different from...) what's assessed on the state test, or whatever test your students may be subjected to. The clauses in parentheses are important. Assessments don't have to be tests, though it's difficult to move away from that simple and comparatively inexpensive approach. For a lot of reasons, we need to figure out how to make that move. Digging into that will have to wait for another post. The parenthetic "or go different from..." is important because going above and beyond what's assessed might imply doing more - implying a change in quantity of content rather than a change in quality or nature of content. You will find some insights into this in the Classroom Sample Tasks found on the Resources page of the NGSS website.


    Additional Resources + Don's Bona Fides

    A subset of the Additional Resources repeated from Part 1

    NGSS & the New York State Science Strategic Plan: Implications for Teachers

    Putting a hyper-dimensional peg in a round hole: Addressing the mismatch of NGSS and the structure of schooling



    Don's bona fides

    I am amongst the cast of thousands who have contributed to these standards, both at national and state levels. I was a member of the Earth and Space Science Design Team for A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideasthe document that serves as the foundation for NGSS, and I served on the New York State Statewide Leadership Team for Next Generation Science Standards Development, and was part of STANYS's Earth science group that provided feedback to the New York State Education Department on the standards. I have also led or been a leader for a number of workshops and presentations on the NGSS. Two of those are included in the Additional Resources section at the end of this post. And, I've got nine years of experience in the high school classroom, mostly teaching Regents Earth Science, and eight years of experience as a professor of science education at Kalamazoo College, Cornell University and Colgate University. For the last eight years, I've worked for the Paleontological Research Institution, its Museum of the Earth and its Cayuga Nature Center where my current position is Director of Teacher Programs. This month marks my 30th year as a professional educator. In other words, I've been thinking this stuff for a long time.

    While I have been involved enough to have good knowledge of the standards, my role is admittedly small compared to many, many others.

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