That was my response this week at our middle school science staff meeting. We’ve spent the last two school years exploring the new Michigan standards (which are identical to NGSS) and trying out units from different curriculum programs. While the pace has seemed excruciatingly slow at times, it’s been necessary to allow everyone to learn, grow, and come to consensus. Which is where we were at this week – we’ve all agreed to pilot the two finalists in the first semester next school year, and then go back to our old curriculum while we prepare for full launch of the selected NGSS curriculum in the fall of 2019.
But I can’t do it. I can’t ever go back.
For the past two years, I’ve been pilot-teaching the Mi-STAR (mi-star.mtu.edu) NGSS-aligned curriculum – in a 5E structure, with phenomena, modeling, arguing from evidence, and coming to consensus to evaluate and solve local problems, with engineering integrated in every unit – and it has become my joy. While the teaching world reels with pay cuts and privatization and standardized testing and teacher shortages, making me frustrated and worried for our profession – I can still close my door, and have my joy.
I am joyful about the potential for NGSS curricula to change the world for our kids. The ever elusive goals of leveling the playing field, closing the achievement gap, reaching all learners, is happening, right now, in my classroom.
My school is economically and racially diverse. Located in an affluent community that borders one of the highest poverty neighborhoods in the country, we are a rich mixture. Our lower income, minority kids, like their peers in every state, have often been “left behind.” Until now. And I’m positively joyful about it.
An NGSS-aligned curriculum like Mi-STAR starts each unit with a real-life, locally relevant problem, and none of my kids know the answer. It doesn’t matter if they’ve traveled the world and can master college texts, or if they rarely leave their block and struggle to read at grade level. Even learning disabilities aren’t barriers any more, because all of my kids can problem-solve in this unit structure. All of my kids can ask good questions for our bubble maps. All of them can uncover concepts in labs and activities, share their findings, connect them to the problem, and then apply their new skills and knowledge in another context. All of them can use criteria and constraints, and optimize, and reason like engineers. Even my cognitively impaired kids are learning with a little scaffolding from our incredible special ed teachers. The typical compliance behaviors, like turning in homework on time, outlining chapters, and memorizing flashcards for tests, are no longer the focus of our classroom. And my kids are thriving.
I’ve done a little action research, and here’s what I see: while my at-risk kids’ pre-test scores are very low, their post-test scores are well within the range of the class average. The minority kids in my heterogeneous classes have post-test scores nearly equal to my homogeneous honors class. We’re literally leveling the playing field and closing the gap. This works! NGSS really works!
Which is why I can’t ever go back. In an academic world full of stress, teaching NGSS has become my joy.
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