If you were trapped on a deserted island, what would you bring with you? Most people have heard this question before in some form or another. Common answers include a book, an inflatable raft, a satellite phone, music, bottled water, and sunblock. What’s interesting is how nearly everyone chooses something that will either get them off the island or distract them until they’re rescued. The general mindset is that this deserted island is a temporary state of affairs.

But what if it wasn’t? What if there was no going back, and you simply had to learn how to survive in this strange new wilderness? Well, that changes things. Rather than planting yourself under a palm tree with a good book, you need to make a plan.

For teachers, stepping into the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) can be as menacing as any unexplored jungle. These standards can be complex and frustrating even in the best circumstances, but they’re still a tool teachers must recognize. So where do we begin? And how do we create opportunities for inquiry-based science once we’ve found our footing? Here are a few tips for navigating the NGSS Wilderness:

Don’t Panic

It’s easy to get overwhelmed whenever you start something new. Don’t let your lack of knowledge weigh you down. No one begins as an expert on anything. Instead, commit to the process. Accept that you will make mistakes and learn from them. Like any wilderness, you must be in the right frame of mind before you begin exploring. If you need to take a moment and catch your breath, let yourself have one.

Learn By Doing

You always learn more by doing something than by hearing about it. If you want to understand NGSS, it’s best to dive in and start reading. Go to the website and learn what you can. Browse the tabs, check the pages, search the resource library, or watch one of the introductory videos. Understanding NGSS does not have to be a linear process. If you allow yourself to acclimate slowly to this new information, it will be easier for you to assimilate.

Use the Appendices

In order to navigate NGSS effectively you must know what you’re searching for. In this, the appendices will be extremely helpful. Found under the “Standards” tab on the main website, the appendices provide a detailed picture of what NGSS is trying to accomplish. This can still be a huge serving of information however, so it’s best to prioritize certain documents. Begin by reading Conceptual Shifts (A), All Standards, All Students (D), Disciplinary Core Idea Progressions (E), and Crosscutting Concepts (G).

Utilize Support Systems

The NGSS main page provides a number of useful support tools. A quick search can find information on any current standard, while following the “Tools and Resource” tab will allow you to find resources for parents, teachers, and school districts. Outside the main website, teachers have found assistance by subscribing to monthly NGSS newsletters, joining NGSS chats on Twitter, and even viewing the Bozeman science channel on YouTube. Take advantage of these outside resources to bolster your knowledge of science standards. Plus, your friends here at the VAEI are always happy to lend a hand!

Determine Your Purpose

Before you do anything else, consider why you are learning this. Knowledge is built on layers. Sometimes the information and techniques we use must be discarded or altered to accommodate new methods. Are you simply trying to move NGSS into preexisting educational buckets, or are you thinking from a student-centric lens? Teachers need to consider what these performance expectations mean for students and how to help them reach their full potential. This could mean sacrificing the easy path for teachers now, but it could make all the difference to future students.

The wilderness can be intimidating, but it’s also a place of limitless opportunity and discovery. In the same way, the Next Generation Science Standards symbolize a new frontier in education. Let’s strap on our boots and help students become creative problem-solvers this wild new world!

What about you? How do you navigate the NGSS wilderness?

*Segments of this post are based on the writings of Terra Tarango