What Are Crosscutting Concepts and Why Do They Matter?

In our last NGSS blog, we took a closer look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), the standards’ mechanism for organizing science content. This blog discusses another, more abstract pillar of the NGSS’s three-dimensional learning model, crosscutting concepts (CCCs).

The CCCs are ideas that apply across the entire range of DCIs, and NGSS defines seven of them:

  1. 1) Patterns – Observed patterns in nature guide organization and classification and prompt questions about relationships and causes underlying them.
  2. 2) Cause and Effect – Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. Deciphering causal relationships, and themechanisms by which they are mediated, is a major activity of science and engineering.
  3. 3) Scale, Proportion, and Quantity – In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different size, time, and energy scales, and to recognize proportional relationships between different quantities as scales change.
  4. 4) Systems and System Models – A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.
  5. 5) Energy and Matter – Tracking energy and matter flows, into, out of, and within systems helps one understand their system’s behavior.
  6. 6) Structure and Function – The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions.
  7. 7) Stability and Change – For both designed and natural systems, conditions that affect stability and factors that control rates of change are critical elements to consider and understand.

With CCCs, teachers can deliver new content in the context of older material taught successfully, adding continuity to the long-term science curriculum.

Legends of Learning Ambassador April T. says, “[t]here is a big push to make sure that our students are becoming comfortable identifying and explaining the SEPs and CCCs that are being presented in our different units and activities.” This push is important, but it comes with challenges.

Smithsonian Science Education Center Director Katya Vines points out that interweaving CCCs with DCIs and SEPs “will certainly be challenging to American teachers not used to this way of teaching. It will require a strong concept-based curriculum, additional teacher training, and appropriate assessment materials.”

While science curricula traditionally focus on specific content, the NGSS’s “three-dimensional” approach places importance on ideas that are more abstract and can be more tougher for students to learn, and for teachers to teach.

Getting Teachers on Board with CCCs

With these challenges in mind, making sure teachers understand how CCCs work and why they are necessary is key. The California Academy of Sciences compares the concept of CCC to a study of how expert and novice chess players organize information:

Expert chess players think about groups of pieces and the strategic moves they can make, while novices tend to focus on the individual pieces. Like the expert’s mindset, CCCs group pieces of scientific information by broader similarities to fully understand each piece’s importance.

Learning science without CCCs is more like the novice perspective, failing to consider how the different scientific principles relate to each other across the broader field of science.

Bringing CCCs to Students

The next challenge is actually teaching students. As unfamiliar as teachers may be with CCCs, students probably struggle more with abstract concepts. This makes NGSS pedagogy crucial to success.

NGSS Writing Team Leader Cary Sneider has a number of tips for teaching CCCs. He recommends targeting only the CCCs that best apply to the grade being taught. Since NGSS outlines detailed performance expectations for each grade, it is fairly simple to determine which CCCs are appropriate.

Sneider continues, “the best time to introduce a crosscutting concept explicitly is after the students have used the concept in two different contexts. So, for example, after the students have studied patterns in plants and animals, and again in relation to weather, the teacher can help the students see how both topics involve patterns, and how identifying patterns helps them better understand those subjects.”

This “learn by doing” approach is useful because students are best able to understand concepts when they see examples. However, it’s not only students who learn by doing; teachers do, too. The next task is finding out what teaching CCCs looks like in practice.

The Research + Practice Collaboratory published a series of worksheets for teachers that “can be used as part of a multi-component assessment tasks—or they can be used in formative assessment discussions in the classroom.” Each worksheet is full of detailed, fill-in-the-blank questions for each of the seven CCCs to apply them to any relevant subject matter.

In addition, Community Resources for Science compiled a webpage with videos, presentations, NGSS publications, NSTA webinars, and a number of in-class exercises that cover CCCs as a whole, as well as each specific concept, to help educators teach them.

Legends of Learning’s 90 learning objectives are based on the content-based DCIs. The resources mentioned in this blog, and more from our upcoming NGSS white paper (which will be found on our resources page), help teachers bring the three-dimensional NGSS model to their classrooms.

14 NGSS Teaching Resources for the Classroom

In our last blog post on NGSS challenges, we discussed some of the issues facing teachers trying to implement NGSS in the classroom.

In this post, teachers will find three primary groups of NGSS resources to help them in the classroom. Two groups focus on those classroom resources with lesson plans and those without. The third group offers teacher tutorials to help educators deliver an NGSS curriculum.

These curated resources work with Legends of Learning’s 90 lessons, 800 games, and thousands of assessment items based on NGSS and state standards. In addition, our Earth and Space lessons also have lesson plans. Check them out today!

And with that, please find the NGSS resources below.

Resources with Lesson Plans

1) eGFI: Engineering Go For It (eGFI) offers a wide variety of lesson plans for middle school science. These lessons help teachers meet the required science and engineering practices (SEP) aspect of NGSS implementation.

2) NGSS on the NSTA Site: Is it crazy to think that the curator of the NGSS standards would also have a great series of NGSS resources, too? Of course not. The NSTA provides an excellent source of lesson plans and content for their classrooms.

3) OpenEd: It will take some sifting, but OpenEd has an incredible amount of NGSS-aligned lesson plans, quizzes, homework assignments, videos, and games. Most of the content covers the DCI (Disciplinary Core Ideas) as well as crosscutting concepts (CCC). Search away!

4) PBS Learning Media: Like GLOBE (below), PBS Learning Media offers plenty of content in a wide variety of formats, from video to traditional documents and everything in between. The search feature allows you to sift through the content by topic or standard, and even find lesson plans. Enjoy this great series of NGSS resources!

5) Q?rius from the Smithsonian: The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History offers Q?rius resources for teachers seeking to bring the Smithsonian into their classroom. Q?rius delivers 30 Earth and Life Science topics, all of which include printable lessons.

Resources without Lesson Plans

6) The GLOBE Program: This resource provides content based on education standards from across the world, with a focus on the National Science Education Standards in the United States. While NGSS was not the focal point for the United States, GLOBE does focus on data collection and the scientific process, which meets the SEP component of the NGSS. You will need to use Teacher’s Guide search to find NGSS compliant content, but there is plenty to find.

7)SERC K-8 Activities: The ultimate curated source of SERC activities, this site gives teachers access to hundreds of Earth and Space, Life, and Physical Science tools. You will find classroom activities, field activities, lab activities and more here.

8) Science Snacks: Science Snacks from the Exploratorium Teacher Institute offer a wide variety of hands-on science activities based on museum exhibits. A (linked) guide helps teachers align the activities to the NGSS standard set they are working on.

9) Sophia for Teachers: This site offers a series of NGSS lesson content, usually a video or written tutorial followed by a quiz. The library of NGSS content is far from complete here, but you can find some good complimentary resources.

10) Understanding Science: Offered by UC Berkeley, Understanding Science offers a group of 18 science sources for middle school. Content ranges from classroom resources, field resources, videos, and articles.

Teacher Tutorials

11) Bozeman: If you like video tutorials, this site is for you. Featuring Hamish Todd, the Bozeman site offers short tutorials for teachers to help them implement individual lessons as well as SEPs and CCCs. Check it out!

12) A Framework for K-12 Science Education: This book presents the logic behind the implementation of NGSS. It is a useful read for teachers trying to understand the new standards.

13) Inquiry-Based Learning Tutorial: If you are looking to expand beyond content and want to incorporate the scientific inquiry aspect of SEP into your classroom, then check out this video tutorial from the Ontario Science Centre. Find the first of four videos below!

14) Teaching the Next Generation’s Science: Created by the Lewis Center’s Academy for Academic Excellence, this online tutorial seeks to help teachers understand the NGSS.

Legends of Learning also maintains a Pinterest Board filled with NGSS resources. Follow it to be updated when we add something new!

For Teachers
For Schools
For Districts