The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) encourage K-12 teachers to facilitate science and engineering instruction that is three-dimensional in nature, motivating students to develop knowledge building practices. The dimensions are based on crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and science and engineering practices (SEPs). This study focuses on the eight SEPs, which were developed for students to use science inquiry and engineering design to solve meaningful problems.
These practices move beyond traditional science instruction and into engineering, which involves content that teachers were not asked to cover prior to the implementation of the NGSS. Because of this, teachers have begun to seek out support in free, online curricular materials to meet the demands of the NGSS, despite budget restrictions or support from administration. This means that we must hold high standards to the curriculum that is provided online to teachers. In this study, the research team examined 40 lesson activities from a website that provides teachers with over one thousand free activities. This website was chosen because it is NSF-funded, a collaborative effort from several well-respected universities, and a top hit when searching for “K-12 Engineering Activities” on Google. It is also one of the only sites that provides complete units, as opposed to stand-alone activities, at no cost.
A search was conducted within the website to limit the focus of this research, which included looking at complete units under “Science and Technology” that cover the Engineering Design Standards for grades 3-5. All lesson activities were coded by two of the researchers, using a codebook that was developed with the “practices matrix” in the NGSS. The codebook included themes and subthemes from the matrix with examples of each code. Intercoder agreement statistics were calculated using MAXQDA software and averaged a correlation of 97.3%.
The findings indicate an emphasis on the following SEPs: (1) planning and carrying out investigations (2) developing and using models and (3) analyzing and interpreting data. For planning and carrying out investigations, the coded segments encouraged students to make observations to be used later for analysis. A few segments related to making predictions but none that asked students to plan an investigation or evaluate data collection methods. Another common practice that appeared in engineering-specific units was developing and using models. For this practice, students were asked to build and test prototypes. Students were not asked to develop a design plan, optimize a solution, or refine ideas based on the performance of a prototype. Instead, students would use teacher-directed models to test solutions and communicate design features.
The practices with little to no coded segments - (1) asking questions and defining problems (2) constructing explanations and designing solutions and (3) engaging in argument from evidence - are critical to the success of these standards. Implications of this research should encourage curriculum developers to re-evaluate the ways in which curricula are aligned to the practices listed in the NGSS. Additionally, websites and curricular resources need to specifically identify the claim that their resources are “NGSS-aligned.”
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