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Your Questions About 3-Dimensional Learning Answered

January 17, 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.

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.

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.  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

  • Earth and Space Science
  • Life Science
  • Physical Science
  • Engineering

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 provide a structure for identifying themes across these disciplines.

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.


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

The performance expectations explain how a 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.

How is 3D learning different?

Students should use each dimension as a tool to strengthen their skill and understanding of the other two dimensions.  Therefore, the components should be taught together rather than in isolation.  Additionally, students should be using a discovery-based approach to acquire content knowledge.

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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