District 65 begins integrating Next Generation Science Standards

Tanner Maxwell, Reporter

With the release of new national science education standards, Evanston/Skokie District 65 teachers are trying to change their outdated curriculum this fall as state lawmakers aim to do the same for all Illinois schools.

The National Research Council on April 9 released the Next Generation Science Standards, which addresse new scientific discoveries and studies on how children learn, to update educational standards that have not been touched since 1996.

Although Illinois lawmakers have yet to adopt the standards statewide, District 65 teachers and administrators are preparing for the changes, science curriculum coordinator Melanie Mudarth said.

District 65 still plans to use the old curriculum as a guide because it would not be eligible for state funding otherwise, Mudarth said. But because educators know NGSS will likely come to District 65 next fall, they are integrating the new standards into the existing programs, she said. It may take another three to five years to work out the details of the new curriculum after its implementation.

“You can change standards overnight, but you can’t change curriculum overnight,” she said.

Created with the help of educators in 26 states, NGSS will focus on thinking of science as a whole rather than a series of individual facts and processes, said Gil Downey, Illinois State Board of Education consultant. The new standards will also emphasize the scientific process, he said.

Although the standards cover fewer topics, Downey said students explore each subject in depth at much earlier stages in their education.

“Students come to school with a huge curiosity,” he said. “Children are able to do complex things as early as kindergarten.”

Topics such as geologic time and circuits will be cut under the new standards. However, the selected topics will include subjects not yet taught in public schools, such as human impact on climate. The new standards also emphasize teaching evolution to students. In addition, there will be a larger focus on engineering.

“Having science-literate students is very important to our society,” Downey said. “The things we do on a daily basis take a high level of understanding to know how it impacts our world and resources.”

Chris Beck, Washington Elementary School PTA co-president, said as someone who comes from a technical background, he feels positive about D65’s plans to incorporate NGSS into its current curriculum. Teachers at the school already go above and beyond, he said.

“Understanding these (scientific) skills matter as citizens and employees,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t think it should be taught at the expense of subjects like English.”

Mudarth said changing education curricula is common for teachers, but updating 15-year-old science standards provides great benefits for students.

“The standards hold the potential for students having an understanding of scientific work as a whole rather than individual ideas,” she said. “To share this experience is an empowering thing to do as a science educator.”