January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

The NGSS Crosscutting Concepts ARE Science Content!

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Pete A’Hearn

“How come if people evolved from monkeys, monkeys aren’t turning into people now?”

Evolution-Ahearn-1

I’m going to bet that any science teacher who has taught evolution has run into this question at some point. There are a bunch of incorrect assumptions behind the question, including the idea that evolution is a process that we could observe occurring during our lifetimes. This idea is directly addressed as part of the NGSS Crosscutting Concept of Scale, Proportion, and Quantity with the idea that:

  • Phenomena that can be observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale.

and

  • Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

(Note that this is not the crosscutting concept called out in the middle school evolution topic. Teachers will need to used multiple crosscutting concepts as well as multiple practices in building coherent units – not just the ones highlighted in the standards).

What can you see when you look at things at a different scale?

What can you see when you look at things at a different scale?

Evolutionary change only becomes observable when we look at time scales that dwarf a human life. If students don’t understand that, they will make assumptions like those behind the monkey question. The idea that we see different things at different scales is basic to many science ideas (chemical reactions, geology, astronomy, cell biology), which is why it is directly addressed in the NGSS. This idea appears in the NGSS as part of the middle school content for the Crosscutting concepts.

Mobius_Ahearn-2

Confusing and incorrect logo- there is “content” in all three dimensions.

“Wait a minute”, I can hear you saying, “aren’t the Disciplinary Core Ideas the content in NGSS?” Some versions of the NGSS logo imply that.

Correct logo- all three dimensions are “content!”

Correct logo- all three dimensions are “content!”

Actually, if you read carefully you will find that there are specific content ideas within the Crosscutting Concepts AND the Science and Engineering Practices. A easy to read list can be found at: http://nstahosted.org/pdfs/ngss/MatrixOfCrosscuttingConcepts.pdf.

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This may help teachers who find the crosscutting concepts to be interesting, but sometimes a little vague. There are specific ideas behind them and those ideas should be directly addressed in a lesson sequence that contains that crosscutting concept.

If you are looking for questions to guide your lesson, check out the critical questions at the Crosscut Symbols website at http://crosscutsymbols.weebly.com/ . For example, when discussing geologic (and evolutionary) time, a good starting question with students could be: How does this scale relate to you? How much bigger is it than what you are used to experiencing? Like most questions about scale, it takes some math to answer. In finding the answer, students will understand that the scale of evolutionary change is much larger than the scale of our lifetimes.

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. Actually, evolution can be demonstrated within a school year using short lived species such as fruit flies or fast growing plants. This sort of experimental approach really gets into the science of science. You could even use rats to demonstrate the epigenetic consequences of stress and obesity in offspring, but there would be ethics concerns.

  2. Thank you Pete for the great resource and providing a deeper perspective regarding on cross-cutting concepts. I get the monkey question on a a regular basis!

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CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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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.