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by David Ross

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Topic tags: what is PBL, common core


July 9, 2012
Have you seen the NexGen Science Standards?

PBL friendlies are excited about the obvious connections between the Common Core (the “what”) and PBL (the “how”).  The Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS), released in mid-May, are a whole lot more of the “what.” They lend themselves nicely to the “how.”

We are in the middle of a public comment period for the NGSS. That’s good because these are overly complex documents. That doesn’t’ diminish their power - it just makes them hard to read. There were a lot of cooks (National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Achieve) in this kitchen.



Each page of the lengthy document is divided into four major sections. One displays a crosswalk to the Math and E/LA Common Core Standards. One displays the content under study.

I want to focus on the other two sections.

The top of each page lists between four and nine performance expectations, which are developed using elements from the National Research Council document A Framework for K-12 Science Education.

Check out this list of verbs. Students who demonstrate understanding must “investigate,” “communicate,” “construct,” “design,” “develop,” “analyze,” “simulate,” “build” and “generate.”

The performance expectations will move teachers toward Project Based Learning. How else will they create a learning environment that encourages students to demonstrate mastery in such fashion?

Using the language of BIE’s Essential Elements, the NGSS content is significant. Good. The alignment to important 21st century skills is even better. Sample this nugget from the NGSS FAQ:


“It is important to understand that the scientific practices defined by the NRC include the critical thinking and communication skills that students need for postsecondary success and citizenship in a world fueled by innovations in science and technology. These science practices encompass the habits and skills that scientists and engineers use day in and day out. In the Next Generation Science Standards these practices will be wedded to content. In other words, content and practice will be intertwined in the standards, just as they are in the NRC Framework and in today’s workplace.”

Let’s look at the Science and Engineering Practices, another key section of the NGSS standards document.

The descriptors in this section are heavily laced with the terminology (analyze, synthesize, compare, evaluate, etc.) of Bloom. Here is a short list of the power practices. They appear in the NGSS from kindergarten onward:


  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  • Developing and Using Models
  • Planning and Carrying out Investigations
  • Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Students are asked to do much of this work collaboratively. Students are asked to communicate their findings both orally and in written form.  Sounds like good science. Sounds like good PBL.

The organizations that created the NGSS do not promote a teaching methodology. We can do that for them.

Say it loudly. The Next Generation Science Standards is the “what.” PBL is the “how.”



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