The Next Generation Science Standards and Climate Change

On April 16, the Next Generation Science Standards were released, revealing a significant change in the direction of science education. For the first time, the topic of climate change has been included in both the middle and high school science standards.

Scientists and education experts across twenty-six states worked to craft these new science education guidelines to better prepare American students for the future. The NGSS consist of three dimensions: Practices, Cross-cutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. Practices focus on the skills that scientists need to engage in their work; Cross-cutting Concepts are those ideas that provide integration across the domains of science (e.g., cause and effect, and structure and function); Disciplinary Core Ideas are the scientific concepts every student should grasp. Beginning in third grade, global climate change has been integrated as a disciplinary core idea. This means that students will be engaging with scientifically-sound, age-appropriate climate change information throughout nearly the whole of their compulsory education. What better way to prepare future generations to tackle such complex issues than by making them a standard part of every education?

While some schools in the U.S. already voluntarily teach about climate change, students receive varying amounts of information. By identifying climate change as a disciplinary core idea, or essential concept for science curricula, students will learn about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to climate change. Although the final standards are not as explicit about the connection between human activities and climate change as earlier drafts, they are a giant step forward for science education and environmental education.

Earth Day Network’s commitment to advancing climate change education and the adoption of the NGSS has been fortified through our partnership with Extreme Ice Survey. We have just released a set of climate change lesson plans as a precursor to our larger climate change e-curriculum that will made available in the fall. These lessons use the dramatic images from Extreme Ice Survey of retreating glaciers to engage students around the issue of climate change.