March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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 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.

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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: