The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a revolutionary advancement for Earth and Space Science (ESS) education not only because of the establishment of a full year of ESS content in high school. The structure of the NGSS moves away from rote memorization of science content toward a more dynamic and active practice-based approach to student learning, with the standards written as an interweaving of three different dimensions: 1) science and engineering practices, 2) scientific disciplinary core ideas, and 3) the crosscutting concepts of science. Each of the performance expectations involves one of eight science and engineering practices, many of which involve students working with real data and evidence. This aligns very well with geoscience research practices, which are largely data and observation driven. In addition, the connected crosscutting concepts, which are largely systems oriented, align well with the modern Earth Systems Science approach to teaching the complex feedbacks and interactions between Earth’s systems.
The writing of the NGSS was done with the cooperation of the majority of U.S. states and was supervised by the states-run organization Achieve. I continue to work with Achieve and the adopting states as a lead advocate for the geosciences, and this role has extended internationally, giving many presentation in person or by Skype about modernizing K-12 Geoscience curricula. Many states have adopted the NGSS, and many more are in the process of adoption. In the near future, for the first time in this nation’s history, the majority of students going to college will have had a year of complex, practice-based, systems-focused, data-oriented, and mathematically rigorous high school Earth and space science!