May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Crosscutting Concepts – Making Connections and Creating Tools for Student Thinking

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Sue Campbell

Have you ever wondered how they make 3D movies and why some provide a thrilling experience for the viewers and others leave the audience disappointed and even a little sick? My curiosity led to me to do a little reading and research and I discovered that the difference comes in the planning and shooting of the film. 3D movies require different lighting, shooting angles, and more. So if the intent is to have a 3D movie, then the filming must be planned accordingly. Retrofitting a movie to be three dimensional is problematic and the results are usually disappointing.

This idea of 3D movies was running around my head as I have been thinking about the goal or intent of NGSS for three dimensional lessons. A well-made 3D movie intentionally brings the viewer into the experience. It is as if they are in the movie. The intent of our new standards is to have our students be personally involved in the lessons, personally constructing meaning, personally discovering, personally engineering, personally making decisions with scaffolded support along the way. This intention needs to be present in our planning at the beginning stages, not an afterthought. To plan a three dimensional lesson requires careful thought to include all of the dimensions. For me, the hardest to intentionally and explicitly include in a lesson are the crosscutting concepts. It is the area with which I wrestle, struggle, and sometimes just don’t quite get as I plan. I am able to plan three dimensional lessons but the crosscutting concepts area is weak and generally not student centered.



As it is with many things that I don’t understand, I started reading, researching, talking with experts, and experimenting. Don’t worry. No students have been harmed in the process. My latest reading has been the CA NGSS Draft Framework. This is a massive document and I am so grateful for all those who have had a hand in writing it. Perusing through the table of contents I found the chapter covering the three dimensions: Scientific and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts. If you are looking for a good overview of the dimensions I suggest that you begin with Chapter 2: Overview of the California Next Generation Science Standards. There is a wealth of information in this chapter, and from it I gained a greater understanding of crosscutting concepts and ideas for including them in my lessons. You will also find information and examples in the chapters for the specific grade levels. Chapter 6 covers the middle school grade span.

Crosscutting concepts are more than the connective tissue between disciplines. They are also tools for students to use to learn and make sense of the science content and the world. Failing to help build the students’ understanding and use of the concepts, as well as the science and engineering practices, limits them to being a collector of information. The draft framework provides us with direction in building these concepts through questioning. To be clear, this type of questioning needs to be planned as the lesson is developed. To try to wing it as you go will likely result in something resembling a bad, retrofitted 3D movie.

Crosscutting concepts are also the connections to other content. Middle school teachers most frequently teach within a specific discipline which while it allows for a deeper level of expertise in an area, it creates other challenges. The nature of this approach means that content becomes more isolated and less connected. As the science teacher I don’t always know what is being studied in other classes. There are times when we are talking in the staff lounge that I get a glimpse. Sometimes we make a point to share what we are doing in our classes with each other. In those conversations vocabulary gets mentioned and then we all make a point of including it in our classes. Students are often surprised when I use a word that they learned in their history or language arts class. Crosscutting concepts bring another opportunity our way to help students to make connections in their world.

To make these connections, we need to spend more time with our peers who teach other content. If “cause and effect” is the main crosscutting concept in a unit of study in science, that same concept can be emphasized in a language arts or history class. This is more easily accomplished in a self contained classroom where one teacher is making all the lesson decisions. When many teachers are involved, it requires more planning. It will also take time on many levels. It will take time for us become comfortable with these new standards and approaches. It will take time for administrators to understand the new standards and changes that need to occur. It will also take time for our students to shift away from being passive in the classroom and become fully involved. And just like a well made 3D movie, it will be a magnificent experience as we see our students fully involved in learning.

Written by Sue Campbell

Sue Campbell

Sue Campbell is the District STEM Coach for Livingston Union School District and is a member of CSTA.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.