NGSS – Science Standards: The Next Generation

NASA Exploration

A Guide to the NGSS Education System

Science Officer’s Log, Stardate 2316.41. After a transport issue during an Ion Storm, myself and Acting Captain Curry find ourselves stranded in what seems to be a more primitive version of our Earth. Based on rising carbon dioxide level readings by my tricorder, I estimate the time to be Stardate 2016.41. I will use this experience to study our species’s evolving science education. I also note that this point in history is pivotal for the future of our development.

We have just adopted what is referred to in 2316 as the primary doctrine of education: The Next Generation Science Standards. It is from these Standards that we begin to foster a generation of critical thinkers and problem solvers. Young minds that can lead the way in unifying the earth in 2150 and soon after creating a United Coalition of Planets. What follows is a direct study of the account of those Standards and why they change the way we as a species understand science.

“Where No One Has Gone Before”

I hope everyone enjoyed the intro. As a Trekkie, I thought nothing says the future of mankind better than a little Star Trek Log. At…Least I…..wasn’t…writing…like… Captain Kirk. Seriously though, I want to take this opportunity, while Trifecta Ecosystems, Inc. discusses education in our society, to understand this major shift in how we teach science education.

I previously spent two years as a scientist teaching a variety of students from 4th grade to college level. I have developed a unique point of view regarding our education system. This has allowed me to compare the pros and cons of the traditional style of education (memorization and testings) versus this innovative new technique designed specifically by a council of teachers and not a group of Lawmakers.

During this time, I focused on working with teachers across the country to design unique curricula using the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core Standards Initiative. The NGSS is built around a common-sense and researched based model by the National Research Council: Framework for K-12 Science Education. This model is regarded as the skeleton and basis of the Next Generation Science Standard. It is the foundation for teaching the way scientists work and think, instead of lectures and memorizing the periodic table.

“Coming of Age”

At Trifecta Ecosystems, we are a data driven company, fueled by passion. This kind of sentiment is really common in the scientific community. We are passionate about our research and that fuels our drive to produce quality evidence. Then we use that data to provide sound explanations for phenomena around the world. Unlike the current state of our education, focused on testing and memorization, there are very few hard truths in the world of science.

New research that is considered “fact” by the general public is still constantly being questioned, reevaluated and reinterpreted as new information comes to light throughout science. Take the very popular example of Pluto. Growing up, it was regarded as fact that Pluto was a planet. However, multiple studies over the past decade have led us to question Pluto’s status among the stars. This has resulted in scientists downgrading Pluto to an object known as a plutoid, basically a dwarf planet. Poor Pluto.

This is something that is fundamental to science; we question everything. Nothing in moving frontiers is too large or too grandiose an idea that it is untouchable in the world of science. This ideal typically goes without the general public noticing and is not a core part of science curricula. This is where the Next Generation Science Standards come into play. They are focusing students to think and question the universe around them.

Students are no longer need to listen to long lectures of how a cell uses mitochondria ‘the powerhouse’ to generate a majority of its ATP. Instead, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)  provide a framework for teachers that allows students the ability to craft and manipulate their studies by encouraging critical thinking and problem solving. Now instead of showing that a cell generates energy, The students can ask the question, what caused the cell to evolve into incorporating the mitochondria? From there they will research and formulate their own testable hypothesis. Teachers often work their lesson plan around answering these questions using experiments and hands-on learning. 

Scientists focus on questioning and explanation. This is the basis of any scientific study. Crafting a question that needs explanation; creating a hypothesis to explain this question; testing this hypothesis, and revising until you have finally understand the phenomena you are questioning. This process is not one to be taught through the memorization of facts or the constant testing of students, but rather has to be fostered in the students themselves.

The NGSS stresses critical thinking and problem solving through experience based learning. The NGSS does not regulate the material you teach in your classroom. Rather it provides an overview of what students should know and be able to do. This shift is a big challenge; with so much information a Google search away, we need to teach students how to comprehend and evaluate the information they find. Not just be able to regurgitate and summarize the facts they read every day.


A major issue I took growing up in the age of testing was the incorporation of cookie cutter labs. These activities are a joke. They are basically just a tool to rehash the facts from your lecture.Klingon

I remember an “experiment” we did in my freshman year of high school chemistry: Does water boil at 100 degrees Celsius. It was similar to this Boiling Water Activity. This is what we called an objective truth. Something that requires no further testing by scientists because we know that at standard atmospheric pressure, pure water does indeed boil at 100 degrees Celsius.

A cookie cutter lab is an activity that has a set of known parameters. Typically it will involve a pre-defined question and hypothesis, and a well-tested hashed out objective truth guiding it.

In other words, it’s a safe bet for the teacher.

A student goes through the activity with the intent of showcasing this truth. No discovery, questioning or independent critical thinking is required. There is no benefit to this type of experimentation.

This situation NEVER happens in science. No scientist would ever need to duplicate the procedure of a well-accepted and pre-defined experiment that has a known outcome. You will never see a scientist try to disprove that the earth is round, because that is an objective truth. There was a time when the earth being round was a newly discovered truth. It was during this time multiple scientists tested and mimicked the results asserted by the original hypothesis.

This is the great thing about science.

It is self-regulating.

Scientists question everything new that is brought to their attention. They don’t want anything to slip through the cracks. Check out this article from Neil Degrasse Tyson on what science represents . A quote from this article sums this up very well:

Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality, such as the value of pi; E= m c 2; Earth’s rate of rotation; and that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them.”

Well… I say no more to cookie cutter labs laying out all the information and a known solution at the student’s fingertips. The NGSS requires the students to question the data they receive. Then discuss their findings with fellow students. Finally, they develop a testable hypothesis that will fuel their engagement and ability to adapt to incoming data. We are entering a new age of learning.

This new paradigm of students guiding the lesson through question and discussion is an example of experiential learning. The students learn through the experience of doing. They are now an active participant in their classroom, rather than a watcher…..because who watches the watchers, am I right?

An interesting case study regarding the Next Generation Science Standards is that the traditional method of memorization and testing has led to lagging achievements in the STEM fields from the United States. In 2012, 54% of high school graduates did not meet the ACT’s college readiness benchmark levels in math, and 69% of graduates failed to meet the readiness benchmark levels in science according to ACT National Readiness Report.

Mr. Spock Sums up the portion of this article very nicely “Change is the essential process of all existence.”

“A Matter of Perspective”

This is where Trifecta Ecosystems comes into play. By utilizing the Next Generation Science Standards we have developed a curriculum that fosters questions and experimentation. We are currently focusing on the Life Science Standards in the NGSS as that has the clearest parallel to Aquaponics. However, we are branching into other disciplines. Aquaponics is an entire ecosystem in a box. Students can research, study, and question anything from nematodes to plant biology, to microbiology. Check out our article on why your classroom needs aquaponics.

ngss curriculum with aquaponics
enthusiastic student asks a question about aquaponics

As a scientist, one of the most notable issues in my profession, is a lack of interdisciplinary work.  Unfortunately, scientists tend to be very guarded and introverted in their work. Often forgetting that there is a broader scope of work that can include a multitude of disciplines.

Both Aquaponics and the NGSS share this goal of cross-cutting the sciences. Students learn that there are more scientific fields than just biology, physics, geology, and chemistry. There is an entire world of possible study. Anything you want to learn about, most likely there is a scientific field studying that phenomenon already!

We want to work to ensure that your school, educators, and students have the means to create this environment. We have a number of programs that are geared towards helping schools receive the support they need. Whether that is funding in the form of grant wrting, or maybe it’s through a donation of a system. Either way Aquaponics and an NGSS curriculum are affordable tool that your students can’t afford to be without.

Because in the end. Our goal and the goal of the NGSS is to educate future scientists and future entrepreneurs to make the world a better place for us all.

And of course boldly go where no man has gone before.

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