Thursday, October 24, 2013

CIRM’s high school stem cell curriculum now reflects the new Next Generation Science Standards that ask students to ask questions


screenshot from CIRM's education web portal with the new NGSS stem cell curriculum
Around 4:00 on September 4 the California Board of Education voted unanimously to accept the Next Generation Science Standards set by a national coalition. Five weeks later, around noon on October 10 we posted two new units to our stem cell high school curriculum that reflect the new standards.

To be honest, we are not quite that speedy. We had been working on the new units since the new standards were adopted nationally in April. I had been monitoring the process of creating the new standards for the past two years and as the changes started to trickle out in various drafts it became clear that our old curriculum, while perhaps not flunking out, would certainly not get an “A” under the new guidelines.

The Next Generation standards live up to their name. They turn traditional science education 180 degrees. They demand inquiry-based lesson plans that instead of teaching facts directs students to ask the right questions to get to the facts—a process much more like how science is done. They represent the first significant changes to the national standards in 17 years.

They are the joint effort of the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the Association for the Advancement of Science. Forty-one educators from 26 states took part in the revisions.

Our team was a little smaller. I asked Laurel Barchas, who managed the initial curriculum project for me, to step in and expand my initial analysis of the new standards and think about ways we could adopt the robust materials we already had for this new style of teaching. She in turn consulted with an education professor at the University of California, Davis, and for a reality check, her former high school biology teacher. They both joined me in reviewing and editing the two new units Laurel developed.

Those new units offer a radical new way to approach the material, but draw heavily from materials in our existing curriculum. Those existing materials were developed by a small village. Laurel enlisted University of California stem cell students, scientists, educators and local high school teachers. Since they are freely available on our web site, they have been used by hundreds of teachers around the state and around the world.

I will be debuting the new units at the California Science Teachers’ Association annual conference this weekend. But my workshop there will also walk teachers through the five older units, which we first posted in 2010 and revised this past spring. We expect teachers to mix and match for the next couple years because the California state board does not expect to mandate the new standards before the 2015/2016 school year.

Don Gibbons

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