Shocking Proposed Next Gen Science Standards for Ca middle schools

July 3, 2013 at 1:37 AM Leave a comment

Finally, the Next Generation Science Standards offer the basis for a fabulous science education for our children nation-wide. California is proposing to adopt these standards with a twist unique to our state. Good idea in principle. Good intentions by the panels and forums and the California Science Teachers Association. I was however shocked to see the result.

Instead of an orderly progression through concepts in say, Life Science, it has been chopped up so that 6th, 7th and 8th grade have a third of Life Science concepts. The same for Earth Science and Physical Science. Perhaps this was done in an attempt to make middle school science integrated instead of a watered-down high school curriculum. Good intentions, I am sure.

As you read the results of these good intentions, consider the complexity of teaching the enormous breadth of topics, the coherence (or lack of) of those topics and (remote) possibility of hiring teachers with the range of subject level knowledge at each grade level. If the Proposed Ca Science Standards pass as written, I fear we will accidentally fall right back into the ‘inch deep, mile wide’ curriculum that has bedeviled the California science education since 1999.

Here is a summary (with my comments in italics. Full documents at California Dept of Ed Proposed Ca Sci Standards)

6th grade:


From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

a.k.a. cells, organisms, adaptations, development, stimulus and response.

Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits

a.k.a. sexual and asexual reproduction and genetics.


The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes

aka water cycle (but confusingly, not erosion).

Weather and Climate

inc. role of oceans, weather prediction but no mention of convection.

Human Impacts on Earth Systems aka habitat destruction, extinctions

Global Climate Change



Including temperature vs heat (v. difficult, abstract concept for 8th graders.), energy transfer. (This should be first as energy is a cross-cutting concept underlying almost all of middle school science).


Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem

Developing Possible Solutions

7th Grade:


Role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms

Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life

Basically matter and energy in photosynthesis and respiration, but confusingly, not including the chemical equations.

Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems  inc. biotic/abiotic factors, population limits, predator/prey, food chains, food webs

Cycle of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems seems awfully similar to the item above. Rather simple stuff for 7th grade, could be better done at 6th.

Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience includes how change affects ecosystems, biodiversity.

Biodiversity and Humans or why biodiversity is good for us. *This overlaps with 6th grade Earth ScienceHuman Impacts.


The History of Planet Earth

Plate techtonics but not the full history of life on Earth.

Earth’s Materials and Systems rock cycling, energy flow ex. Convection in the mantle.

Plate Tectonics and Large-Scale System Interactions aka fossil evidence of continental drift. So why not include the full history of life on Earth?

The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes aka erosion.

Natural Resources aka renewable and non-renewable resources.

Natural Hazards aka predicting earthquakes, volcanoes.

* If combing Life and Earth Science standards, it makes more sense to leverage Earth science standards with life science standards at the grade level – sedimentation, fossilization, history of LIFE on Earth.


Structure and Properties of Matter inc. atoms and molecules, chemical and physical properties, solids, liquids and gases. Kinetic theory, temperature and pressure. Aka physical chemistry lite.

Chemical Reactions – rearrangement of atoms, atomic bonds, conservation of mass, endo- and exothermic reactions

Definitions of Energy: Heat vs temperature.


Developing Possible Solutions

Optimizing the Design Solution

Unclear without context what these engineering standards could look like.

* The high-level physical science requirements require a teacher trained to a fairly high level in chemistry. These concepts were difficult for 8th graders in a high scoring school district. Moreover, these concepts do not relate easily either to the life science nor the earth science concepts at this grade level. If concepts do not leverage off each other, teachers will need to waste time re-teaching concepts learned at previous grade levels, leading to too much content to cover, overlap of material between grade level AND to conflict between grade level teams as teachers fight for their favorite units.

8th Grade:


Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits An EXACT overlap of a proposed 6th grade. Why?

Evolution: Evidence of common ancestry and diversity inc. fossil record, comparative anatomy

Natural Selection


* Evolution and genetics require high level understanding by the instructor to be accurately conveyed.


Earth’s Place in the Universe: Stars, galaxies, solar system, seasons

History of Planet Earth from rock strata – fossil record. Overlaps with 7th grade and therefore will create possible conflict and overlap between grade levels.

Human Impacts on Earth Systems effects of using Earth resources.


Force and Motion

Types of interaction: Electomagnetic, gravitational, contact and non-contact forces.

Definition of Energy inc. kinetic and potential energy.

Relationship between energy and forces.

Wave properties

Electromagetic radiation

Information Technologies and Instrumentation

* 8th grade physical science standards do not relate easily to the life science concepts at 8th grade.


Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

Developing Possible Solutions

General Comments:

I strongly support the NGSS AS WRITTEN at the national level. I love the emphasis on students DOING science, the blending of engineering and innovation, the integration of English and Math common core standards. The NGSS flow well because they are grouped as Earth Science, Physical Science and Life Science.

I have strong criticisms of the Proposed California NGSS for middle school:

The National NGSS organization allows concepts to build one on the next. It’s more efficient for learning, If concepts are split up as in the Proposed Ca NGSS, underlying concepts have to be reviewed before teaching new concepts in that area of science.

A good flow is vital to the coherence of the learning experience for students – the ‘story line’ of the curriculum.

A disconnected, incoherent sequencing of the Proposed Ca NGSS is likely to lead to teachers once again having to rely on textbooks to teach a mile wide, inch deep laundry list of topics.

There are significant overlaps between grade levels, particularly around genetics in 6th and 8th grade. There are also many areas where it’s unclear which parts of a topic are to be taught at a grade level.

Texts and curriculum developed for the NATIONAL NGSS will not be adequate for California with these Proposed Ca NGSS at middle school, leading to tremendous and needless extra effort by curriculum developers and textbook publishers. Unless there is urgent reason to do this, let’s not waste time, money and resources.

Most importantly, there are few teachers adequately qualified and trained to teach the range and depth of concepts across science disciplines. There must be a plan in place to address this shortfall.

We currently have teachers used to teaching Earth science at 6th, Life Science at 7th and Physical Science at 8th. Let’s change one thing at a time – the PROCESS of science and the ENGINEERING/TECHNOLOGY emphasis of the NGSS will be plenty challenging enough without also requiring teachers to learn entirely new areas of science.

I urge you to contact the State Board of Education members with your comments before the adoption of the Proposed Ca NGSS is up for discussion on July 9th :

“Members of the public are encouraged to attend the meeting (1430 N Street, Sacramento, CA 95814) or watch online. The board meeting begins at 8:30 am and the new science standards are Item #2 on the agenda. If you would like to submit a comment to the State Board, you may do so in person during the meeting (there is a two minute time limit) or in writing via email to If submitting your comments via email, you must include the item number (Item #2) in the subject line. Email comments must be submitted by 12:00 pm on Monday, July 8. CSTA invites you to copy your email to us at so that we can continue to gather and monitor the views and opinions of our members and science teachers throughout the state.” Jessica Sawco, Executive Director, CSTA


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