March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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 CSTA’s Middle School/Jr. High Director.

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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. 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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017


CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: 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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Learning to Teach in 3D

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”

I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. 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: