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Your Questions About 3-Dimensional Learning Answered

April 25, 2021 No Comments

The 3 dimensions of the NGSS are at the heart of the instructional shifts that come with these standards.  3D learning in the NGSS represents a move away from the memorization of unrelated facts. Instead, they require a move toward a more student-driven approach to learning.  

To learn more about 3-dimensional learning and get my free 3-D Lesson Plan Template.

Making the Shift to NGSS

When I first started transitioning to the NGSS in my classroom, I was overwhelmed by the three dimensions.  I was used to focusing primarily on content knowledge in my classroom.  I had no idea how to incorporate the other dimensions.  

In the post below, I share everything that I have learned about the three dimensions of the NGSS.  I answer the most frequently asked questions to help you begin to make the shift to NGSS in your classroom.  

What are the 3 dimensions of the NGSS?

The 3 dimensions of the NGSS are the foundational areas of focus in the standards. They are the Disciplinary Core IdeasScience and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts.  I will describe each of them in more detail below.

The three dimensions should be used together to support students in understanding the nature of science and learning science content. Each of the dimensions should be covered in your lesson sequence. And, for the most part, lessons shouldn't focus on a single dimension.

It's also important to note that there is a fourth important component.  Phenomena are incredibly important in 3-dimensional learning.  This is because they drive this type of learning. 

How to Read the Next Generation Science Standards

Everything about the NGSS is different from previous versions of the standards.  Even reading the standards can be tricky.  So, I created this 10-minute guide to reading the NGSS.  Check out this post for the guide.  

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What are the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI)?

The Disciplinary Core Ideas represent what a student should know by the time that they complete a unit or course. The disciplinary core ideas are the knowledge components of the standards.  

In some ways, they look like the “old standards”. They contain facts and concepts that are needed to understanding the four main disciplines of the NGSS.

The Four Disciplines of Science and Engineering According to NGSS

According to the NGSS, there are four disciplines that should be covered.  These are: 

  • Earth and Space Science
  • Life Science
  • Physical Science
  • Engineering
4 dimensions of the NGSS: life science, earth and space science, physical science and engineering

For many, the engineering component is new.  But, there is a strong connection between science and engineering.  Engineering utilizes science knowledge to solve real-world problems.   

How do students learn the Disciplinary Core Ideas?

Three-dimensional instruction is quite different than traditional learning models.  In a 3-dimensional environment, teachers use a discovery-based approach to teaching.  

Using this approach, students are given the chance to explore a topic before any explanation is given.  Teachers present students with phenomena that students investigate throughout a lesson sequence.  They use the Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts to help them make sense of a given phenomenon.  

What are the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs)?

The Science and Engineering Practices are another of the three dimensions of the NGSS.

The Science and Engineering Practices, also known as the SEPS, are designed to help your students understand and explain the Disciplinary Core Ideas.  Therefore, I like to think of the SEPs as tools on your student's tool belt. Once a student learns to use them, they can be used as needed.

The 8 Science and Engineering Practices

  1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  2. Developing and Using Models
  3. Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  4. Analyzing and Interpreting data
  5. Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  6. Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  7. Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  8. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

What are the Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs)

The Crosscutting Concepts are the third dimension of the NGSS.  Though they can seem simple, they are quite diverse in the way that they can be used in your classroom.

The Crosscutting Concepts help to provide a common vocabulary that your students can use across the science and engineering disciplines.  Additionally, they help students make connections between the 4-disciplines of the NGSS.  As a result, students are able to see the “big ideas” in science.  These big ideas help them to develop an understanding of science that can be applied to new scenarios. 

The Crosscutting 7 Concepts are:

  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and effect
  3. Scale, proportion and quantify
  4. Systems and system models
  5. Energy and Matter
  6. Structure and Function
  7. Stability and Change

How do performance expectations relate to the three dimensions of the NGSS?

The performance expectations explain how students are assessed on the standards.  Each performance expectations incorporates all three dimensions of the NGSS.  For example, we can look at the following performance expectation:

  • MS-PS1-1: Develop and use models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.

In this case, students are asked to demonstrate their understanding of the DCI Structure and Properties of Matter.   Students use the SEP of Developing and Using Models to demonstrate their understanding.  Finally, it includes the Crosscutting Concept of Scale, Proportion, and Quantity.

3-dimensional learning requires a discovery-based approach. 

Teaching in a 3-dimensional classroom requires a big shift from what we usually see in a classroom. Read below to find out more about this new approach.

Teaching in a Traditional Science Classroom

In a traditional setting, the teacher is responsible for providing students with information about a topic.  Students usually receive information from the teacher at the start of a lesson sequence.  Teachers provide information in the form of lectures, videos, notes, etc.  Then, the students perform activities that confirm what the teacher has already taught. 

Discovery-Based Teaching

When using a discovery-based approach, students explore phenomena.  Then, they develop their own explanation. The teacher provides clarification to address misconceptions.

Explore-Before-Explain: Discovery-based learning

Learn More about 3D instruction and the NGSS.

Let me help you make the transition to NGSS. Sign up today for my free 3D Lesson Plan Template and learn how to assess your 3D lessons. I will send you a short video explaining how to use this tool and provide easy-to-follow next steps. Then, you will receive my weekly email with more time-saving strategies, tips, and more.

Original Pot Date: May 30 2018 – Updated January 17, 2021

Erin Sadler

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