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New Science Curriculums to be Implemented Next Year

By Staff Writers Ella Chen & Michael Ren

FUSD approved a new science curriculum pathway for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors at its board meeting on Dec. 14, 2016.  It will be phased in during the 2017-18 school year and fully implemented by the 2018-19 school year.

The new science standards are known as Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which are a set of content standards developed by states that focuses on three dimensions of scientific education, which, according to the NGSS website, are disciplinary core ideas, cross-cutting concepts, and science and engineering practices. Compared to the old science standards, which focused on specific content to be covered in each individual class, NGSS emphasizes building research skills and understanding trends and concepts through the four domains of science, which are physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering. The disciplinary core ideas are the key points that build on each other as students progress through each grade level. Because of this more integrated teaching method, students will “cross-cut” concepts by applying broad thematic questions to connect and apprehend the relationships between the four scientific domains.

Under the new plan, freshmen will take Physics in the Universe, sophomores will take Living Earth, and juniors will take Chemistry of Earth Systems. As the starting course, Physics in the Universe unifies physical science with earth and space science, with particular emphasis being placed on forces in the universe and power plants. Living Earth is a laboratory science course that will focus on the biology and history of Earth systems. Topics that will be discussed include molecular biology, heredity, evolution, and organismal biology. Chemistry of Earth Systems is also a laboratory science course. It will place more emphasis on how chemistry works in Earth systems, focusing on subjects such as chemical reactions, climate change, heat flow, and ocean acidification. All of the classes will be available as either honors or college prep courses. Science Department Co-chair Lisa Ishimine said, “NGSS shows the relationships between subject matters instead of compartmentalizing concepts into just biology or chemistry.”

The transition into NGSS will happen over two school years. Currently, the Class of 2020 Freshmen are taking two available science courses: NGSS 1 and Honors Biology. In the 2017-18 school year, these two courses will no longer be available, and all students taking Honors Biology will take Honors Chemistry in its last year offered as an available course. Students in the NGSS 1 classes will be eligible to take either honors or college prep Physics in the Universe. By the 2018-19 school year, the Chemistry of Earth Systems course will be implemented and a required course for incoming juniors. Some AP classes require a chemistry course as a prerequisite, so students will only be able to take those AP classes in senior year under this new pathway. Current sophomores and juniors are unaffected and will continue on their current pathway to graduation.

The change will have little financial impact in the coming years. “As of right now, there are no textbooks aligned to the new standards yet and they won’t be out for another few years. But that’s not a big deal because we’ll only be using the textbooks as a reference anyway,” said Science Department Co-chair Julie Luikart. However, materials for experiments may have to be purchased, especially for Physics in the Universe and the Living Earth.

With these new science courses, teachers hope to make learning more intuitive and engaging. Luikart said, “There will be less lecturing and less frontloading of information. NGSS will focus more on teachers demonstrating natural processes and asking open-ended questions about those processes.”

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