September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

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…

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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…

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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.