September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

The Big Idea Page: A Creative Way to Emphasize the Crosscutting Concepts for Three Dimensional Learning

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Jennifer Weibert

Making three-dimensional learning a reality in the classroom of teachers starting to implement the NGSS can be a struggle. In many cases, the Crosscutting Concepts are often an afterthought. According to A Framework for K-12 Science Education, “…the purpose of the Crosscutting Concepts is to help students deepen their understanding of the disciplinary core ideas, and develop a coherent and scientifically based view of the world” (NRC, 2012). This is achieved via the Crosscutting Concepts, “because they provide an organizational schema for interrelating knowledge from various science fields into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world” (Achieve, 2016). The NGSS were designed for all three dimensions (Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts) to work together allowing the teacher to create an environment where students make sense of real world phenomena. To measure the success of this in an NGSS aligned classroom, teachers need access to evidence of student understanding and thinking. The Big Idea Page was my solution for that.

I originally developed The Big Idea Page when I was teaching 8th grade science. The idea came about after using the Big Idea Thesis (a 5 paragraph essay at the end of each unit developed by the K-12 Alliance) as a way to synthesize student learning. Through trial and error I found that students needed to collect evidence of learning throughout the unit, not just at the end of the unit in a reflection. The idea of a using a graphic organizer as a tool that students could use to process information as they worked through unit came to mind. It turned out to work very well, especially with my students who were English language learners. As an added benefit, the tool also has value in teacher planning where questions for the unit are generated by looking at the breadth of content students will be engaging in. In my current position with the Fresno County Office of Education, I now provide professional development to teachers, and I’ve experienced that they too find the Big Idea Page to be a useful tool for both student learning and teacher planning.



Students actively engage in making Big Idea Pages because it is their own personal processing page. As a result, no two students have the same exact looking page. Below is are two examples completed student Big Idea Pages for the same unit. (For more information and detailed instructions on how to construct a Big Idea Page with examples of student work in several grades click here.)

The questions you see in the light bulbs drawn in these examples were based on the 1998 standards. They are fact based, and do not reflect the three-dimensional nature of the NGSS. My success in using the Big Idea Page with the 1998 standards led me to suspect that it could be used to create NGSS-aligned units of instruction and would be especially useful for integration of Crosscutting Concepts. I suggested to my K-8 NGSS Early Implementation Initiative content cadre team (consisting of Herberta Zulueta of Oakland Unified and Dr. Art Sussman, one the authors of the draft California Science Framework), that we adapt the Big Idea Page to reflect three-dimensional learning and use it with our 7th grade Early Implementer teachers.

Below is the year-long sequence we developed with the integrated model for 7th grade. You’ll note that this sequence is parallel to the sequence identified in the draft California Science Framework.


Click image for full size view.

We taught components of the first unit of this sequence to our 7th grade Early Implementer teachers from the Oakland area this past summer. We made the decision to break the unit into four pieces that could be tied to real life phenomena, offering opportunity for questions that would engage participants in making their own questions, provide opportunities for observable investigations, and create “buy-in.”

To accomplish this, we began by identifying how the Performance Expectations (PE’s) and Crosscutting Concepts (CCC’s) for each of the questions were divided. The Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI’s) that correlate are found on the outside of the light bulb you see in the image below.

Click to view a full size image.

Click to view a full size image.

You’ll notice that we also identified the Science and Engineering Practices that students would engage in, but our focus on Crosscutting Concepts helped us think about phenomenon and drive our questions. For this unit, the two CCC’s of Patterns and Energy and Matter were prominent. One additional consideration we had when generating questions was to stay away from vocabulary that would lead to an answer; we wanted to make the questions open enough for participants to collect evidence to answer it. For example, the first question we generated was intended to facilitate participant investigations of bonding and develop understanding that what happens at the microscopic level can also be seen on the macroscopic level. We came up with a creative way of asking about patterns of strong bonds in nature by asking the question, “Why don’t rocks melt on the playground”? The tool allowed us to be explicit about the use of Crosscutting Concepts in our planning and to generate a question broad enough to sustain investigation by participants. The image below shows the questions that we used for the 7th grade unit: Living and non-living things are made of matter.

Click to view a full size image.

Click to view a full size image.

Once we had determined our phenomenon questions, we were now ready to teach the unit. On the first day of the unit, the Big Idea Page was created in our session by asking the participants to draw a light bulb (or any other central icon of their choice that fits the theme of the unit). All four phenomenon-based questions were given to the participants to write down. Participants then work during the time we had together in class and go back to the Big Idea Page every so often and fill in evidence. As instructors, we would monitor work and ask smaller questions of our participants that related to the Crosscutting Concept as they investigated phenomenon and then encourage them to make that connection on their Big Idea Page. (Initially, participants or students new to this need teacher prompting to work on this page. In actual classroom practice, once students understand the purpose of the Big Idea Page, they often go back to this page on their own as their learning progresses to make connections.)

The Big Idea Page has great potential beyond daily input. Culminating activities at the end of the unit could include having students make a collaborative group Big Idea Page or use their evidence from their existing Big Idea Page and write an answer to a question in paragraph form for an essay. Both of these examples would provide another opportunity to bring back the Crosscutting Concept. For example, “what patterns explain the idea that living and non-living things are made of matter?” could be an end of unit question. Students eventually realize the value of the Big Idea Page as a tool that will help them with an end-of-unit task. Additionally, while some teachers include one question from the Big Idea Page on a unit test, others let this page be used as a resource by students on their test to further encourage student buy-in and support quality learning throughout the unit.

Overall, the process of using the Big Idea Page as a tool for constructing linkage among the three dimensions of teaching in the NGSS enhances a teacher’s ability to design, construct and deliver lessons that facilitate deeper understanding among students. It is also a creative tool to help teachers and students start digging into Crosscutting Concepts.


Achieve (2016). Three Dimensions. Retrieved from

National Resource Council (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Fresno County Office of Education Big Idea Page with examples of student work in several grades:

Jennifer Weibert is a Science Coordinator for the Fresno County Office of Education and a member of CSTA. She can be reached at

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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.

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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.