May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Teaching Physics Through the Crosscutting Concepts

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Joseph Calmer

I have been teaching science for 10 years. During that time I have taught biology, anatomy/physiology, chemistry, and physics. When the NGSS began to trickle down to us teachers, I began to see the light at the end of the science education tunnel. The authors of the NGSS seemed to grasp the interrelatedness of the different disciplines of science and were trying to explicitly demonstrate that interconnectedness through the new standards. As a science teacher and a person who has studied science for a long time, the connections between science fields are painfully obvious, but to a new learner, the obvious may not be so obvious.

In the book, Developing a Pedagogy of Teacher Education, John Loughran identifies the notion of “making the tacit explicit” (Loughran, 2006). The idea of making the tacit explicit is at play with the crosscutting concepts. To science teachers and experts in science, the transdiciplinary nature of science is clear. To us, chemistry, biology, physics, etc, are not separate and distinct fields, they are simply permutations of different examples of science. Our students, being novices, probably do not see the panoply of science like we do, despite being exposed to the “scientific method” and “the scientific process” throughout their education. It is not their fault; they may never have had the teacher say, “Well, this is the biology and the chemistry and the physics…(of a phenomena)” They have always learned the aforementioned subjects in isolation. The curriculum has always been structured that way, but now it will be different.



The NGSS has set to rectify this. As patrons of science, we can see the patterns, cause and effect, systems, etc. in a scientific story. Often the experts forget the novices’ perspective. To a student, that same story may only appear to be about a cellular respiration (which is from biology). They may not see the chemistry (molecular structure…) or the physics (thermal energy, entropy…). The NGSS has done an excellent job of creating seven items that span all of science. The work will be integrating them into our pedagogy and classrooms. The SEPs and DCIs are very comfortable to use. They are guidelines for objectives that are familiar to us. The CCC are new, but they are ingrained in the Nature of Science. Below, I point out some of the concepts that can connect to the CCC and can serve as a place for you to start.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but is a place to help you start making the tacit explicit to your students. Also, Peter A’Hearn has developed a site for educators to use the CCC and integrate them into lessons (A’Hearn, 2015). I hope this list will help make the tacit explicit:

  • Collisions: can be used as lesson on patterns
  • Newton’s Laws: can be used as lesson on cause and effect
  • Vectors: can be used as lesson on Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Thermodynamics: can be used as lesson on systems and system models
  • Waves: can be used as lesson on energy
  • Circuit: can be used as lessons on structure function
  • Conservation of energy or momentum: can be used as lesson on stability and change

There are a myriad of directions the CCC can take a lesson. The existence of the CCC is by definition to integrate everything, so we can literally place any learning objective into a crosscutting concept. The only limit is creativity. As teachers, we can be seen as experts in both pedagogy and science, so we need to practice making lessons that help students see the obvious transdiciplinary nature of science.

The goal of teaching (implicitly) is making the tacit explicit to our students. The NGSS is a paradigm shift in science education. This shift has been a long time coming; Herbert Smith described a dilemma in science education that could be fixed when science is taught in its true interdisciplinary form along with its connection to humanistic roots (Smith, 1969). Despite the gravity of the shift (pardon the pun), I think that the CCC are a great place to start making a change in your lessons.


A’Hearn, P. (2015). Crosscut Symbols.   Retrieved from

Loughran, J. (2006). Developing a Pedagogy of Teacher Education (Kindle Edition ed.). New York: Routledge.

Smith, H. A. (1969). Science: Trends and Dilemmas. In D. G. Hays (Ed.), Britannica Review of American Education (Vol. 1). Chicago, Il: Britannica Reviews.

Joseph Calmer, Ed.D, is a Physics and Chemistry Teacher at Lawndale High School.





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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.