Just the other day I was setting up 2 different labs. They were both DNA extraction labs. One was for my 10th graders extracting from wheat germ and the other was a cheek cell extraction for my Seniors. I was doing the prep work late at night and of course I ran out of supplies and had to run over to Meijer and get some more meat tenderizer. As I was doing my errand run I started to reflect on the labs and their NGSS implications (or lack thereof) It seems to me that one part of our implementation of NGSS that can easily go off the track is the end goal or vision of NGSS is NOT to do more labs. One of the dangers in changing anything in education is to go to one of two extremes. These extremes are helpfully identified by McTighe and Wiggins in their book Understanding by Design as the “twin sins” of activity and content. Its easy to show progress when all the students do is follow these steps and get the answer you told them they would find. Its just as easy to show off how much are kids are “doing” and how active they are in our classes. Neither of these is guaranteeing that our students are learning while doing science.
The vision of NGSS in our classrooms is so much richer then adding some more labs to our curriculum so we can check off some new boxes. It is a vision which moves our students into the role of scientist. They are the ones that need to be asking the questions and allowing them the freedom to investigate, collect data, share what it means and argue with others about the data they collected. Yes this is messy. Yes this takes more time. Yes this will not be a linear or easy to control process. The rewards of this method are so much greater for the student and the teacher.