NGSS Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs)

I was fortunate to have recently attended the 2018 Atlanta NSTA Conference.  It was so inspiring! I was able to hear from amazing presenters and speak with educators, instructional coaches and district curriculum coordinators who are doing amazing work implementing NGSS. As a 6-12 Science Instructional Coach hoping to support teachers, I focused on attending sessions that would provide tangible tools and strategies for ensuring that instruction and assessment is three dimensional (3D).  I was not disappointed!

Perhaps the simplest and most high leverage takeaway for ensuring instruction and assessment is three dimensional relates to the crosscutting concepts (CCCs). The NGSS crosscutting concepts are:

  1. patterns
  2. cause and effect
  3. scale, proportion and quantity
  4. systems and system models
  5. energy and matter
  6. structure and function
  7. stability and change

In general, the DCIs (content) are what students should KNOW, the SEPs (science and engineering practices) are what students should DO, and the CCCs are how students should THINK.

Why are crosscutting concepts important? Karen Whisler is an NGSS Solutions Leader for Measured Progress. In her #NSTA18 presentation, she said that CCCs:

  • are applicable across all science disciplines
  • facilitate comparison and connections
  • provide an organizational framework and way of thinking
  • support understanding of disciplinary core ideas
  • enrich use of the practices

In multiple sessions, I heard both presenters and participants say that CCCs are often the most difficult of the three dimensions to include in instruction and assessment. It is not necessarily new for teachers to refer to the crosscutting concepts (perhaps previously known as themes or overarching concepts), although traditionally many teachers have not been explicit about teaching &/or assessing CCCs. However, there are some very manageable steps that teachers can take to ensure that the CCCs are being taught and assessed:

  1. Asking at least one question related to a CCC in each lesson helps to ensure 3D lessons. Plan for this in advance of the lesson using these small cards created by @paulandersen.
  2. Posting medium size posters of the CCCs means teachers can easily refer to them during class. It is helpful to post cards for the main CCC and SEP (practice) with the content learning target(s) for the day. This helps students to understand the focus of the lesson. Refer to these both at the beginning and throughout the lesson.
  3. Teachers can refer to more than one CCC and/or SEP during a lesson, even if they are not all assessed. In fact, at times it can be difficult to refer to a CCC &/or SEP in isolation.
  4. Modeling ‘think alouds’ for students helps them to understand how to use the CCCs as lenses for asking questions, making sense of phenomenon, etc.
  5. Aim to have all assessment questions (formative or summative) at least “two dimensional”, and ensure that summative assessments are 3D overall. STEM Teaching Tool 41 has a wealth of prompts related to all 7 CCCs. Ensure that some student responses are required to explicitly refer to CCCs. Some teachers have students highlight work in green if it explicitly refers to CCCs.
  6. Keep posters on the wall that have questions for each of the CCCs. Students should be encouraged to refer to the posters to help them think of questions they can ask during instructional activities, small group and whole class discussions, etc. This will help students to build an awareness of the different ‘ways of thinking’ that they can draw upon when doing science. Students who are more aware of ‘how to think’ can apply this in other disciplines and start to see more connections as well!
  7. It is very important to connect the CCCs to the “sense making practices” which are: developing and using models, constructing explanations, and arguing from evidence.

The following framework by Brett Moulding was mentioned in more than one session, and I find it to be an incredibly useful way to organize the CCCs. Those in blue are used for explaining CAUSES, while those in green are related to SYSTEMS.

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 8.04.01 PM

Here are some other useful resources:

Matrix of Crosscutting Concepts in NGSS

This translates appendix G from NGSS into teacher friendly language. It breaks down each crosscutting concept by grade band K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

NSTA Webinar Series: Crosscutting Concepts

Appendix G: Crosscutting Concepts

The purpose of this appendix is to describe the second dimension— crosscutting concepts—and to explain its role in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Crosscutting concepts have value because they provide students with connections and intellectual tools that are related across the differing areas of disciplinary content and can enrich their application of practices and their understanding of core ideas.

— A Framework for K-12 Science Education, Appendix G

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