September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Do We Really Need a Third Dimension?

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Peter A’Hearn

The NGSS has defined science learning as three-dimensional. There are Core Ideas and Science and Engineering Practices, which seem similar to content from the old standards. Then there’s this new thing- the Crosscutting Concepts.

So… do we really need the crosscutting concepts? How important are they to science? Consider a few examples from the history of science:

Galileo used a new tool, the telescope, which let him observe the universe at a different SCALE. He observed PATTERNS which he tried to establish CAUSE AND EFFECT relationships to explain. He ended up supporting a new SYSTEMS MODEL of the solar system.

Fresco by Giuseppe Bertini

Fresco by Giuseppe Bertini

Cross Cut Symbol for Patterns. Used with permission from CrossCutSymbols.

Patterns in nature are often the starting point for science.
Cross Cut Symbol for Patterns. Used with permission from CrossCutSymbols.

Darwin observed PATTERNS in the distribution of living things. His reading of geology led him to understand the vast SCALE of time for change to occur. He connected a series of CAUSE AND EFFECT relationships that both explained STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION in living things and STABILITY AND CHANGE of species over time.



Understanding global climate change required the observation of PATTERNS of climate over long and short time SCALES and identifying a CAUSE AND EFFECT relationship that could account for those patterns. To truly understand STABILITY AND CHANGE in Earth’s climate, complex SYSTEMS MODELS had be developed to account for the many ways that ENERGY AND MATTER flow and cycle through Earth’s SYSTEM.

Graph by NASA

Graph by NASA

Identifying Cause and Effect relationships is a major goal of scientific inquiry from the website

Identifying Cause and Effect relationships is a major goal of scientific inquiry
Used with permission from CrossCutSymbols.

I have found that the Crosscutting Concepts can be challenging to explain to classroom teachers, but are always easy to explain to working scientists and engineers. Dr. Dave Polcyn, on first seeing a presentation on the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts, said, “This describes how we [scientists] think, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it just listed this way!” I have had similar reactions from wildlife biologists, physicists, and engineers, who regard the crosscutting concepts as obvious, if usually unstated.

These encounters have led me to an easy shorthand for the three dimensions of NGSS:

The Disciplinary Core Ideas are what scientists and engineers KNOW

The Science and Engineering Practices are what scientists and engineers DO

The Crosscutting Concepts are how scientists and engineers THINK

To help keep your students and yourself thinking about the crosscutting concepts and how to apply them, I developed a series of classroom symbols that can be found at . There are free PDFs of small and large classroom posters and lists of questions that can be used to focus student’s thinking. I hope you enjoy thinking like a scientist!

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

One Response

  1. Finally someone voiced it out! Peter, thank you for saying it out without mincing your words. I have read the crosscutting concepts (CCC) over and over again and have asked ‘HOW DO I EMBED THESE IN THE THREE DIMENSIONS’ of teaching/learning? These CCC are not new – just a stretch from previous standards- and stated in the most confused way to be explicit to teachers. Just look at the ‘System and System Models’ Unlike others like patterns and cause and effect, this one continues to bug me. ‘Systems’ as in systems thinking is challenging at best. If this is the underlying thought in identifying system and system model as a crosscutting concept then there is so much to be desired with everything I have read so far on how teachers should embed it in their teaching.

Leave a Reply


State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. 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.