Slated NGSS Biology necessary innovation




My preference for sciences with the word “social” in front of them became a defining part of my personality long before I stepped foot on a high school campus, and likely no course or teacher, no matter how extraordinary, could ever change that. However, while attentively taking notes at the February 13 school board meeting, I found it took a conscious effort to remind my fingers to continue their heedless typing when Next Generation Science Standards lead teacher Mike Purvines began pitching the NGSS Biology course.

I can’t quite place what piqued my interest, but somehow my attention became more and more rapt as he detailed the curriculum. I could picture each project he described (likely because I have an overactive imagination, but still) – applying class material to create a functioning ecosystem in a bottle, spending my time trying to crack the cases actual scientists might face.
Needless to say, I was not in the least surprised when the proposed course passed, replacing CP Biology for students next year.

The class, while covering the same general material found in the typical CP course, finds its spotlight in its hands-on nature, encouraging application and invention. Essentially it addresses the main issue in its predecessor, where the notes and worksheets generally culminated in a multiple choice final exam; the most application I did usually revolved around writing a limited number of CER’s.
True understanding does not lie in regurgitating facts, a relatively formulaic – if occasionally difficult – task. While students will sometimes stumble across the rare ability of understanding in the process, most of the time they won’t need it to pass, and if it does come to them, it goes out their minds with only a little separation from the material. Those CER’s, few as they might be, left me with some sense of gratification, and I walked away each time realizing that what I thought was a comprehensive knowledge of the principles only skimmed the surface of the connections I could form when attempting to apply what I’d learned.

And that’s with an assignment that does most of the set up itself. To conduct my own investigation, to learn through trial and error those ideas usually displayed on the whiteboard of a classroom, to have that legendary “Eureka!” moment when all the pieces fall into place and that lightbulb above my head shines so bright I’m blinded by heavenly light – well, that almost sounds like the real process of science. And though the likelihood of those concepts escaping my head soon afterwards seems miniscule after so much work, even if they did, I would be one step closer to a more effective mode of thought.

That system elicits more pride than memorizing pre-written answers from a Powerpoint presentation, which in turn serves as a strong motivator for students.

Memorization has its place, but that’s to give each student the tools to apply to real-life scenarios, and help them when they hit a roadblock. This balance is where the new class finds its potential, and if it can live up to it, students will leave it with a nice toolbelt of those “critical thinking” skills that each class hopes to provide.

If anything, the NGSS Biology course bodes well for where we can go in the coming years, where exams and classes that claim difficulty based on convoluted wording and excessive content are cast behind in favor of the difficulty of independent thought.

It’s a gradual process, but breaking the mold of complacency which dictated the a comfortable but ineffective system in the past will move us forward in preparing people for their future.