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What is 3-dimensional learning?

February 27, 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 toward a more student-driven approach to learning.  Read this post to get your questions about the three dimensions of the NGSS answered.  

What are the 3 dimensions of the NGSS?

The 3 dimensions of the NGSS are the Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts.  I will go into detail about them below.  

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. 

Reading the NGSS

Most aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards are more difficult than previous versions of the standards.  Reading the standards is no exception.  Check out this post for a 10-minute overview of how to read the NGSS.  

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 resemble 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.  However, 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.  

To learn more about using a discovery-based approach in your classroom, check out this resource.  

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 mathematical models 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

To learn more about the Crosscutting Concepts in detail, check out this blog post.

Crosscutting Concepts : Your Questions Answered

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

The performance expectations explain how students will be assessed on the standards.  These performance expectations are also 3D as each one 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 must use the Science and Engineering Practice of Developing and Using Models to demonstrate their understanding.  Finally, this performance expectation 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 significant shift from traditional classroom practices. 

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.  Often, students to confirmation-style labs, or answering questions bout the lecture.  

Discovery-Based Teaching

When using a discovery-based approach, students explore phenomena.  Then, they develop their own explanation that the teacher later clarifies.  

Explore-Before-Explain: Discovery-based learning

Often, students investigate phenomena using one of the Science and Engineering Practices.  For example, students may use the practice of Planning and Carrying Out investigations to investigate phenomena.  Or, students may make observations and then use the practice of Engaging in an Argument to clarify their observations.  

Other practices like Developing and Using Models, can be used to explain what they believe is happening at different scales.  

Learn More about 3D instruction and the NGSS.

What questions do you have about 3-dimensional learning?  Please post your questions below

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

Erin Sadler

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