With our national science scores remaining below those of many other countries, US states continue to look for ways to change the way we teach science. The newest set of science standards is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the number of states adopting the NGSS standards or a version of them, is growing.  Let’s look at the history and the future of the NGSS.

What are the NGSS?

The NGSS are a set of standards that cover every grade level and every scientific discipline.  According to their developers, these are standards that go beyond a specific discipline and attempt to integrate all disciplines to the real-world.  The focus is on a 3-Dimensional Model, which includes Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Scientific and Engineering Practices (SEPs), and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs).  The goal is for students to understand that science is more than just memorizing facts, and that science should be interwoven where it fits into the world.

How were the NGSS developed?

The idea of uniform science standards is not new.  The National Research Council (NRC) was created over a century ago to focus on the use of scientific research in American industries. ngss_logo_tag-300x137
Project 2061, created by Advancing Science, Serving Society (ASSS) in 1985, helped to define scientific literacy through its publication, Science for All Americans. In 1996, the NRC published National Science Education Standards, which were designed to enable the nation to achieve the goal of scientific literacy. In 2010, the NRC began the process of creating guidelines to change the way we teach science. A Framework for K-12 Science Education, released in 2011, provided the foundation to help develop standards that address what K-12 science students should know.  This was the beginning of the NGSS. In the fall of 2011, 26 states with an 18-member panel of experts appointed by the NRCBlog Articles worked together to write the new standards.  The final draft of the NGSS was released in April 2013, and Rhode Island was the first to adopt them in May 2013.  This was separate from the development of the Common Core standards released in 2010, although the NGSS team worked with the Common Core writers to help with literacy connections.

The future of the NGSS?

As of February 2016, 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, while over 40 states have shown interest in them. With pressure to improve science scores and science education in the United States, many states see the NGSS as a way to bring about that change.  At this point, the future of the NGSS remains to be seen.  The NGSS are meant to serve as a guideline, and the decision to follow all or parts of that guideline is ultimately up to each individual state, but there must also be buy-in from the local and classroom levels.

Why should my state look at adopting the NGSS?

Some of the advantages of the NGSS standards are:

  • Previous national standards are out-of-date
  • Emphasis on how to use science in the real world
  • Helps prepare students for STEM-related careers
  • Helps students to solve problems as opposed to only learning facts
  • States can save money by not having to develop their own standards
  • Links the different science disciplines together

What are some of the cons of the NGSS?

There are also potential drawbacks to adopting the new standards.  Some questions are:

  • Will adequate teacher training be available?
  • Are the standards too specific, and do they remove some of the creativity from teachers and students?
  • What is the cost to implement the new standards?
  • Will elected officials, students, teachers, and parents buy into the idea of uniform standards across state lines?

The NGSS are backed by research, and they were developed by both scientists and educators.  As with any new development in education, many states are waiting to see how other states fare with the new standards.  Only time will tell if NGSS are the answer to improving science education in the United States.

About the Author
A former science teacher in Georgia, Dr Michael Tolmich is now USATestprep’s Science Content Team Leader. He lives with his wife and their two sons in Tucker, GA.

Here are some recent enhancements to your USATestprep account:

    • Assignment setting terminology of “retest” missed items to “retry” missed items.
    • Benchmark answer key printing available in Spanish (questions only, not performance tasks or free responses). usatestprep-inc-online-state-specific-review-and-benchmark-testing-1-1
    • Teacher chart when comparing two benchmarks — each benchmark is now represented per teacher.
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Reading a history textbook is a lot like being at the end of a line of players in the old game, “telephone,” in which a message is passed along in whispers from one person to the next. By the time it gets to the end of the line, the message has often changed quite a bit, and is often shorter and less detailed than it was at first — if it is not hilariously wrong!

By the time an event is narrated in a textbook, it has likely passed through many hands and tellings: The textbook author has herself read it in an article, whose author, in turn, read it in a historical anthology (such as one of the Cambridge “companion” volumes). The authors of the anthology, in turn, may have read an account of the event in a famous monograph written by an eminent historian of the last century, and so forth. But what was the original “message” in this game of telephone? What did the first narration of the event sound like?

Take the story of Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon: He knew, both as a matter of tradition and according to Senate declarations, that to cross the Rubicon into Italy with his army amounted to a declaration of war and an act of treason against Rome. His decision to cross the the river in 49 BC led to a war and to developments in his life which have had incalculably many consequences for all subsequent history. Even the phrase, “to cross the Rubicon,” has become a proverbial way to express the idea of taking an action which cannot be reversed.

So what was that first Rubicon-crossing like? Thanks to the internet, we can easily get close to the original telling of this story.

When it comes to the history of ancient Greece and Rome, there is no better resource for those of us who are not Classics scholars than the Loeb Classical Library. The LCL is a collection of over 500 volumes of the most essential surviving literature of the ancient world, presented in the original Greek and Latin with facing-page English versions.

The Loeb project began in 1911, so many of the translations are now in the public domain. These have been gathered into a digital library of PDFs called Loebolus (or “little Loeb”), which can be downloaded either individually or complete in one file. There are also more browser-friendly versions of many of these available on LacusCurtius and at the Perseus Digital Library.

The LCL includes three volumes containing five of Caesar’s own historical works but, alas, in none of them does he offer his own account of the Rubicon moment. But Plutarch and Suetonius, two authors who wrote less than a century after the event, offer us very compelling accounts from much farther up the “telephone” line than our textbooks!

Plutarch (in his Life of Caesar) tells us:

He [Caesar] himself spent the day in public, attending and watching the exercises of gladiators; but a little before evening he bathed and dressed and went into the banqueting hall. Here he held brief converse with those who had been invited to supper, and just as it was getting dark and went away, after addressing courteously most of his guests and bidding them await his return. To a few of his friends, however, he had previously given directions to follow him, not all by the same route, but some by one way and some by another. He himself mounted one of his hired carts and drove at first along another road, then turned towards Ariminum. When he came to the river which separates Cisalpine Gaul from the rest of Italy (it is called the Rubicon), and began to reflect, now that he drew nearer to the fearful step and was agitated by the magnitude of his ventures, he checked his speed. Then, halting in his course, he communed with himself a long time in silence as his resolution wavered back and forth, and his purpose then suffered change after change. For a long time, too, he discussed his perplexities with his friends who were present, among whom was Asinius Pollio, estimating the great evils for all mankind which would follow their passage of the river, and the wide fame of it which they would leave to posterity. But finally, with a sort of passion, as if abandoning calculation and casting himself upon the future, and uttering the phrase with which men usually prelude their plunge into desperate and daring fortunes, “Let the die be cast,” he hastened to cross the river; and going at full speed now for the rest of the time, before daybreak he dashed into Ariminum and took possession of it. It is said, moreover, that on the night before he crossed the river he had an unnatural dream; he thought, namely, that he was having incestuous intercourse with his own mother.

Suetonius gives his account in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars:

Then, overtaking his cohorts at the river Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, he paused for a while, and realizing what a step he was taking, he turned to those about him and said: “Even yet we may draw back; but once cross yon little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword.”

As he stood in doubt, this sign was given him. On a sudden there appeared hard by a being of wondrous stature and beauty, who sat and played upon a reed; and when not only the shepherds flocked to hear him, but many of the soldiers left their posts, and among them some of the trumpeters, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, rushed to the river, and sounding the war-note with mighty blast, strode to the opposite bank. Then Caesar cried: “Take we the course which the signs of the gods and the false dealing of our foes point out. The die is cast,” said he.

Accordingly, crossing with his army, and welcoming the tribunes of the commons, who had come to him after being driven from Rome, he harangued the soldiers with tears, and rending his robe from his breast besought their faithful service.

It should be clear that using the internet to “go up the telephone line” and to get closer to the sources of history is a great way to make the events and stories more lively and easier to relate to, as opposed to waiting for the messages to get all the way down to the textbooks we use in the classroom.

larry-headshotAbout the Author
A former math teacher in Georgia, Larry Coty is now USATestprep’s Math Content Team Leader. He has two daughters and resides in Tucker, GA.

Students and educators around the nation are concerned with their ACT and SAT test scores. Most of their efforts are focused around increasing their scores based on their academic efforts. What if there were a quick and easy way to ensure you’re maximizing the results of your students’ hard work and study? This great infographic shows a few non-academic ways to make the most out of testing day. The first couple are fairly obvious, get sleep and eat well. The rest of them, not so much. They include body language, inner dialog, gum, and others.

Groza Learning Center Shares 8 Hacks to Improve SAT and ACT Test Scores
Read the full article at the Groza Learning Center.

The College Board’s Advanced Placement programs have long been a staple of American high schools. For some students, the prestige of having an AP class on one’s resume draws them to the demanding courses, while parents may entrain visions of massive tuition savings once college hits. But dollars and status aside, the courses require students — and teachers — to strive to keep up with the rigors of the curriculum.

That curriculum, though, has garnered much attention in recent years. Updates take place regularly, of course, but rarely do they solicit any sort of notice outside of the teachers who have to revamp their plans every decade or so. No doubt you remember this was not the case in 2014 when the AP US History test experienced an overhaul. Critics, both in academia and in the general public, blasted the new standards for downplaying American exceptionalism and for emphasizing concepts over facts. Bowing to the pressure, the College Board quickly released a re-revamped curriculum in August of 2015. Since then, national media has resumed its “radio silence” of nearly all things AP.

Teachers, of course, understand that changes (likely less controversial) are always afoot. The 2016-17 school year saw major changes to Calculus AB, Calculus BC, and World History courses. The Calculus changes, according to some, were more tweaks than fundamental changes. World History, however, saw a massive reorganization of both the curriculum and the exam. Unlike APUSH’s first revision, the APWH curriculum changes were not only less (or “non-“) controversial but rich with details and specifics. Its testing format also emphasizes both facts and historical thinking skills. The efficacy of these course changes will only be known once the exams are graded and tabulated in July.

So what’s on tap for the 2017-18 school year? According to the College Board’s “Advances in AP” website, nothing new — something that, from personal experience, is welcomed news to AP teachers around the globe. The next major overhaul looks to be U.S. Government in Politics in 2018-19, the first in a decade. These changes promise a “deeper conceptual understanding of political processes” rather than a memorization of facts and specific Court cases. Students will be expected to interpret data and draw conclusions from those sources. In general, the expectations mirror many of those in the revised US History and World History courses. And as with those previous courses, teachers of this AP course will be expected to submit a revised course syllabus for an audit review. But again: this will not go into effect until the 2018-19 school year.

For AP U.S. Government teachers: you may want to get to work. For everyone else: we can hear your sigh of relief from here.

About the Author

Kirby Spivey taught AP World History, US History, and many other Social Studies courses in Georgia. He and his wife live in Atlanta

Tips:

  • How can I view the answer key for a test?
    • This depends:
    • If a benchmark, go to the Benchmarks tab —> Options menu —> Answer Key
      • The answers will be bolded
      • Explanations for all answers are also available
    • If a practice test (small, medium, large, full, or domain test), then those tests are randomly-generated for every student —> NO answer key
    • If a teacher asks how to see the questions the students have, explain that since practice tests, practice questions, and vocabulary are all randomly-generated, there’s no way to preview the exact questions
      • A teacher can certainly go to the Options menu —> Preview to see what the assignment will be like, but the questions will vary each time
      • If a teacher wants the ability to see the exact questions that students will have, then direct him/her to creating a benchmark

New Features:

  • Not exactly a feature, but we’ve added some copy on the login page to help with auto-fill issues

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  • Coming later this month… …Test Drive, a new racing game in your Game Arcade!usatestprep-ambassadors-1
  • “Assignment Submitted” message: 
    • There’s nothing to prevent students from opening a test or benchmark in two different tabs or browsers.  Before this change, students could submit the test in each tab (even if the assignment only allowed 1 attempt), thereby creating confusion and frustration for teachers.  
      • Why do students have multiple results for this benchmark?  
      • Why is the benchmark result in a different column in my gradebook? 
      • How did the benchmark become disconnected from the assignment?  
      • Why is the line you’re in always the slowest?  
      • Can money really buy happiness?  
      • Does toast really always fall buttered-side down?  
      • Does Sean secretly enjoy Tech Tuesdays?
    • Well, not so fast multiple-tab-students!
    • Students can still open and save a test in multiple tabs/ browsers.  BUT, there’s now a check in place upon submitting.  If the test or benchmark has already been submitted and met the number of attempts allowed by the teacher, then they receive the message “Assignment Submitted”
    • If a student calls to complain that he/ she saw that message, then you will be able to find that test or benchmark already completed in Graded Work.  I guarantee it.
    • There are a couple of loopholes (these will be addressed at a later time):
      • Benchmarks within a group assignment —> workaround is to only assign benchmarks as single assignments
      • Students manually removing the assignment ID from the URL —> in this case, if the benchmark no longer has the assignment ID attached to it, we know that the student was intentionally causing that to happen

Assignment writing can be a real drag, but it doesn’t have to be. If your students can develop the right habits and learn the right tricks to writing a great assignment, the whole process becomes a lot easier. The internet is a great place to find resources and tools to help you out, so check out these nine tools to help your students get the most out of their writing.

  1. Paraphrasing Tool: You want to use the work and research of experts in your essay, to strengthen your arguments and solidify your point of view. However, you need to be careful not to write in their work verbatim. It can look as though you’ve not put the effort in, and can even lead to plagiarism accusations. This tool lets you paste the text in and gets suggestions for paraphrasing them, so you can include them without worry.Male student working on report in library
  2. Boom Essays: The best way to proofread your work is to have someone else read it for you. However, sometimes you just don’t have time or someone with the right experience to get it done. When this is the case, you can call on this writing service. They’ll read your work over, and even edit it if needed.
  3. Plagiarisma: Are you worried that your essay may get picked up for plagiarism? Paste it into this tool, and it will tell you if any sections will trigger plagiarism checks. You can then edit them before your deadline.
  4. EssayRoo: Most students don’t have infinite free time to get their assignments done. They’re working, raising families, or caring for loved ones. If you’re short on time and can’t get your essay done, you can hire the professionals from this service to help you. They’re highly qualified and will consult you so you could write the perfect essay for your assignment.
  5. EasyBib: Bibliographies carry marks, and most students lose marks on these. This tool allows you to put in the books you use, and generates a bibliography for you.
  6. Proofread Bot: No matter how much you read your essay over, you can still miss errors in your writing. The best way to get around this is to use this tool. Paste your essay into the text box, and it will highlight any errors that it finds in your work. You can correct them easily from here, and then copy the corrected text back into your essay.
  7. University Tutor: If you need a help to handle your coursework assignment, this site offers some of the most qualified tutors around. You can browse their portfolios, so you can choose a tutor that has the expertise in academic writing. This way, you know you’ll write an original essay that will get you the marks you need.
  8. Thesis Generator: Planning essays can be something of a nightmare for some students. This tool helps you create an essay plan quickly and easily. Simply follow the steps and answer the questions given, and you’ll have a plan made especially for you.
  9. LucidChart: If you need to create flowcharts in your assignments, this tool is the best one to use. It works with almost any operating system, and they look slick and professional with only a few minutes work.

Try these tools when your class needs some help writing your next assignment. They’ll help students develop skills and become better writers. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your students’ grades will improve with just a little extra effort put in. As any teacher knows, anything that makes writing easier has got to be a good thing.

Student Dot Rank Settings

  • On any content area page, students can track their own progress and proficiency.
  • Proficiency is displayed using Dot Rank, our system of green, orange, pink, and grey dots.
  • Students have two options to calculate their Dot Rank scores — best practice question set only or cumulative total of all test, benchmark, and practice questions.
  • New easy toggle at the top of the page makes it easy to switch views.
  • Click on the Dot Rank link to view scoring breakdown for each color dot.
  • Vocabulary, performance tasks, and videos are tracked through the Progress bar.

Watch a video about the Dot Rank settings.

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Did You Know…?

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The day after a test, every math teacher has heard this student complaint:

“But I did all my homework, and I got the problems right! How could I have made a 50 on the test?”

Of course, the question is usually intended to advertise the student’s powerful work ethic, and perhaps to give the teacher a twinge of guilt for having flunked him.

On the other hand, if the student really has been working hard on the homework, then there may be some easy adjustments he can make to improve his results. Ask these questions:

  • Are you making yourself too comfortable when you work?

A common mistake is for students to work on math problems in too relaxed a posture. They should be sitting at a desk, with minimal distractions, and working the problems exactly as if they were testing.

  • Do you have too many reference aids? Are you using your notes, homework problems, formula sheets, stuffed animals, Twitter buddies, etc.?

Students often practice with far more assistance than they will have on the test. Stress to them that EVERY problem should be attempted — at least to begin with — as though it were being done on a test. Students should get as far as they can and then, if they get stuck, try to get just enough information to continue the problem, but no more. They may have to resort to little “tricks” to make this happen; for example, covering the bottom part of a solution so as to see only the next step, or asking a friend to tell them what the next step is, etc.

  • Are you checking every problem — NOT by looking at a solution, but on your own?

It is just as important to practice the checking process as it is to practice the solving process. On a test you do not have a place to look to see quickly whether your answers are right — you have to decide if your answer is reasonable and check it on your own. Do this every time to develop this extremely useful habit! You may be surprised at how many of your own errors you can catch, and learn from.

The goal of all these items is the same: Complete all your practice as if you are working on a test. Do not fool yourself into thinking you are “getting them all right” when, in fact, you are only getting them after checking your notes, trying ten formulas from your sheet, calling two friends (including Uncle Frank, the math professor), and posting a request on a homework help site.

All Practice Is Test Practice!

larry-headshotAbout the Author
A former math teacher in Georgia, Larry Coty is now USATestprep’s Math Content Team Leader. He has two daughters and resides in Tucker, GA.

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