Teachers plan to shift curriculum to satisfy new science standards

April 26, 2019 — by Andrew Li and Oliver Ye

Starting next year, the science department will be implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), issued by the National Science Teachers Association, but the details of how to make this transition are still being worked out.

NGSS is a set of standards that focuses more on the application of concepts rather than the memorization of equations and formulas.

Since NGSS involves different standards and concepts than what is currently taught today, the science department has been looking to “completely revamp the curriculum,” AP Physics teacher Kirk Davis said.

“Instead of punching in numbers on your calculator for physics tests, you are more likely to get writer's cramp from an essay response,” Davis said.

Students will take the CAST (California Science Test), a 1.5-hour test during the May of their senior year to check their proficiency in the NGSS standards.

Since the CAST test includes topics from earth science, a class not generally taken by all students at the school, science teachers are debating between teaching earth science topics within existing courses or making all freshmen take earth science course as a standalone class someday.

For now, Davis said, the science department is already attempting to put earth science topics in existing science courses.

“We are modifying what we do to make sure that we cover everything,” said Davis. “We know that not everybody takes earth science here so the last time that you get earth science would be Redwood [Middle School]. That’s why we are trying to incorporate some earth science topics to each of the classes.”

For example, Davis tries to connect the idea of energy transfer to tectonic plates. In Biology, teacher Kellyann Nicholson relates the idea of tectonic drift and convergent boundaries to evolution and genetic drift.

The alternative to inserting earth science requirements in other courses is requiring all freshmen to take earth science. Science teacher Kellyann Nicholson said that the department may require all freshmen to take earth science because of the new requirements from the NGSS. These changes, if approved, will take more than three or four years to implement.

However, Nicholson sees a large problem with the transition to the NGSS.

In order to teach earth science, a specific credential is needed. Only Earth Science and Chemistry teacher Jill McCrystal and Earth Science and Biology teacher Lisa Cochrum have that credential currently, Nicholson said.

According to Davis, another problem brought up with adding a required earth science course is that fewer students would end up taking some form of physics in high school. Since physics is an important course for aspiring STEM majors, the curriculum shift could be quite problematic for some.

Ultimately, next year will be the first in which the new NGSS standards will be tested and applied since the science department is still deciding on structural changes.

Since ‘19-’20 will be the first year that seniors will be required to take the CAST test, the department does not know what to expect in terms of questions and impact on the students — or whether seniors will be able to recall information they may last learned in seventh grade.

All public schools in the nation are undergoing these changes The federal government creates the standards and each state adopts the changes, sending out specific standards to each school and district.

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