Your Questions About the Crosscutting Concepts Answered

December 7, 2019 No Comments

The Crosscutting Concepts are often the last dimension of the NGSS that teachers incorporate into their lessons.  In this post, I answer some common questions about the Crosscutting Concepts.

Questions About the Crosscutting Concepts

What are the Crosscutting Concepts?

The Crosscutting Concepts are one of the three dimensions in the Next Generation Science Standards.  These are concepts that are found across the Science and Engineering Disciplines.  They were designed to help students deepen their understanding of the other two dimensions.  Also, they help students to build common vocabulary between science and engineering disciplines.

The 7 Crosscutting Concepts

There are seven Crosscutting Concepts.  These concepts are in each grade-level band (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12).  The Crosscutting Concepts are:

  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and Effect
  3. Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  4. Systems and System Models
  5. Energy and Matter
  6. Structure and Function
  7. Stability and Change

Each Concept includes a few subcomponents.  These get more sophisticated in each grade level band.  To see the subcomponents and the grade level progression, check out the NSTA matrix (linked below.)

When should a new Crosscutting Concept be taught?

It is best to teach the Crosscutting Concepts in context rather than all at once. Teach them right before you ask students to use them in your classroom.  Then, students should apply the concept to a Disciplinary Core Idea or use them with a Science and Engineering Practice.

Which phase in the 5E model should the Crosscutting Concepts be used in?

If you are using the 5E model, the Crosscutting Concepts work well in the first part of the explain phase.  In this part of the explain phase, students explain what they discovered in the explore phase.  This occurs before the teacher provides additional information.  (If you are unfamiliar with the 5E model, check out this episode of the podcast.)

Also, the Crosscutting Concepts can also be used as part of the Explore phase.  For example, students can look for patterns during a card sort activity.

The CCCs can be used in other phases as well.  They can be used anytime that you find a connection.

How do you introduce a new Crosscutting Concept?

I like to start by assessing the student’s prior knowledge.   Students may have some familiarity with concepts like Patterns.  However, they might not identify patterns that are more complex as patterns.  Also, they probably won’t understand that mathematical formulas are used when there is a recognizable pattern in data.

Additionally, students will be less familiar with concepts like Systems and System Models or Stability and Change.  These concepts will require more direct instruction.

Prior Experience with the Crosscutting Concepts

I also look at the prior experience that students are likely to have had with the Crosscutting Concept.  For example, when I am working with sixth-grade students, I may start by working with them on the 3rd through the 5th-grade band for a given concept and stay within this grade-level band until most students are showing mastery.

However, in 8th grade, I assume that students have had some exposure to the Crosscutting Concepts in the 6th-8th-grade band.  Unless I notice a weakness in a given practice, we will only look at the 6th- 8th-grade band.  If needed, I can refer back to the 3rd-5th-grade band as a scaffold for struggling students.

After assessing the students’ prior knowledge, I will use direct instruction to teach students about the concept.  In my own classes, students take notes directly into their interactive notebook, but I have also developed printable notes.


Structure and Function Pic 2.JPG

The first time that students see a Crosscutting Concept, I give students these notes.  Students keep these in their interactive notebook so that they can serve as a reference sheet later in the school year when the concepts come up again.  You can find my resources for the Crosscutting Concepts at all grade levels here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

How can I help students make connections to the Crosscutting Concepts?

My favorite strategy is to use graphic organizers.  Graphic organizers can be used throughout a grade-level band.  Each time that students encounter a Crosscutting Concept, they can use the graphic organizer to make connections to the Disciplinary Core Idea or the Science and Engineering Practice.  Using the same organizer helps students to make connections and recognize patterns within a Crosscutting Concept. (Graphic Organizers and Notes for 3-5 Grade are available here.)

Structure and Function Pic 1

I also like to use exit tickets to help assess and reinforce connections to the Crosscutting Concepts on a much less formal scale.

Finally, devote an area in your classroom to the Crosscutting Concepts.  Refer back to this area each time that you make a connection to the Crosscutting Concepts.

Get more of your questions about the Crosscutting Concepts answered.



Erin Sadler

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