Revamped science curriculum introduced

Emma Shannon, Staff Writer

To kick off the new science curriculum, half of next year’s student body will be walking through the front doors to an entirely different set of science classes. Maryland has approved a new state curriculum called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), with an emphasis on crosscutting concepts, or those shared across different science classes.

The new curriculum also focuses on critical thinking and practical application more so than memorization.

“The science curriculum has changed to become more student-centered, project-based critical thinking,” biology teacher Sheila Adcock said.

Earth Science teacher Jenna Roberts is piloting the new curriculum this year and had the opportunity to gain insight on the new curriculum’s direct impact in the classroom.

“The most significant change is the fact that this new science curriculum is project based. The project itself is the major assessment, like that of a unit test,” she said.

Adcock expects that the new importance of students discovering their own answers will initially be a bit disconcerting. Especially in science classes, students aren’t used to learning through projects rather than textbooks.

“It’s going to be a shock,” Adcock said. “No more standardized tests, no more regurgitation of answers that the teacher just throws out at you.”

In addition to changing the approach towards learning the material, NGSS requires students to take an Earth science, a living science and a physical science to graduate.

“Currently, most of our students don’t do anything with Earth science. So, there will be an Earth systems class that’ll be for freshman,” head of science department Stephen Shaw said.

New classes also include Life Science in sophomore year, replacing biology, and an integrated physics and chemistry class, called IPC.

“Students can still take physics and chemistry as separate courses, which would be the traditional route for students who are interested in science,” Shaw said. “But, we’re going to offer IPC in two years.”

Although the majority of this year’s student body will not get the chance to try these new classes, the curriculum change will affect the freshman class. These students are currently taking NGSS courses, meaning they will also be required to take classes from each three science categories to graduate. As a result, next year the science department will be breaking from the mold and requiring the same Earth systems class of sophomores that the incoming freshmen will be taking.

“This is unprecedented. We’re going to have ninth and tenth graders both taking this new course next year, so there are going to be a thousand students taking Earth systems,” Shaw said.

Teachers will have to learn new material to keep up with the huge demand for Earth systems classes next year, as a majority of teachers currently focus on biology, chemistry and physics. Despite the challenge of learning new material, Shaw believes that the science department will be more than capable of making the transition due to their strong collaboration and teamwork.

However, the introduction of these new science requirements may also spell the end for many science electives, like biotech, horticulture, astronomy, forensics and paramedical biology.

“We know we’re not going to see as many students in science elective classes. We don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Shaw said. “But we will continue to offer what we’re able to, based on who will register for it.”

Despite the uncertainties about the future of science electives and the learning curve required to teach the new curriculum, Shaw stands strongly in favor of the NGSS curriculum. He anticipates the creativity this curriculum demands will result in processes more aligned with a realistic scientific approach.

“This is definitely the idea of, can you think like a scientist or an engineer? These practices are paramount to what we do. We’re trying to make better thinkers,” Shaw said.

After seeing the new curriculum at work, Roberts agrees.

“I feel all my students, whether or not they recognize it in themselves, have become stronger critical thinkers, analyzers, and problem solvers,” she said.