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District 99 to adjust science curriculum for the next generation

Published: Thursday, May 30, 2013 2:10 p.m. CDT
Michael Heinz

Statistics show that students in the U.S. have fallen behind their peers worldwide when it comes to achievement in science.

This deficit is impairing our ability to compete globally and to develop innovative solutions to worldwide challenges, such as generating new sources of energy. 

That’s why at District 99, we’re bringing in the Lego robots.

The District 99 Education Foundation, which is spearheaded by community volunteers, just provided my department with a generous grant to purchase robotics kits, which use Legos as building blocks. These kits are no toys, though: they will serve as a seriously sophisticated and powerful learning resource for all of our students. 

Using the kits in their physics classes, students will design physical robots and circuitry that runs the robots, and use computer program algorithms to have the robots perform tasks. This will give our students new experiences and opportunities to experiment with engineering design and re-design, computer coding and electronics.

The kits are just one example of how District 99 is addressing the new science standards called “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS), which will raise a student’s level of analysis and critical thinking, and opportunities to learn engineering design and development.  

On April 9, the final edition of the standards was released. NGSS will replace current state standards that have been in place for 15 years – well before the explosion of the Internet.  

In District 99, curriculum to align with NGSS is expected to be adopted in the 2014-15 school year.

NGSS will significantly improve science education and student achievement across our nation – and make major changes to the way that science is taught. The performance expectations emphasize the process of “doing” science, a change from the past when teachers lectured and students memorized.

We will be arming students with skills for the “real world,” such as asking questions, defining problems, analyzing and interpreting data and communicating. The expectations will also create more time for hands-on experiments and labs, and provide for engineering design in all areas of life, physical, Earth and space science courses.  

Similar to the new Common Core State Standards for math and other subjects, NGSS will result in a much deeper understanding and application of science and technology, and more relevant and rigorous learning opportunities.

Thinking as a scientist does, I predict that NGSS will revolutionize the way our students learn, and ultimately ensure that they – and our country – can enjoy a brighter future.

Michael Heinz is science department chair at North High School in Downers Grove.

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