Mistakes to Avoid When Teaching the NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts

January 17, 2021

The Crosscutting Concepts are one of the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards. They help students make connections to the Disciplinary Core Ideas and make sense of the Science and Engineering Practices.  It's important to avoid these five common mistakes when introducing the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts.

5 Common Mistake Teachers Make with the NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts

The NGSS is so much different than traditional teaching methods.  So, mistakes are common.  Here are a few common mistakes to look out for so that you can avoid them in your classroom.

1. Introducing all of the NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts at Once

Introducing the Crosscutting Concepts all at once removes the context and takes the meaning out of the activity. This wastes valuable class time and reduces student buy-in.

Instead, introduce the Crosscutting Concepts one at a time in context during your instructional sequence.  Consider devoting a place in your classroom to the Crosscutting Concepts.  I have Juli Cannon's Crosscutting Concept posters in my room.  When I introduce a new concept, I refer to the spot in the room where the posters are located.  As a result, reviewing connections to previous lessons is quick and easy.

Also, Juli recommends adding post-its each time that the Concepts are addressed in your classroom so that students can make better connections.  (Check out the references at the bottom of this post to get a direct link to this product!)

Scale Proportion Quantity

 2.  Assessing the Crosscutting Concepts by themselves

The NGSS are three-dimensional standards.  Each dimension has equal importance.  Each performance expectation addresses one Science and Engineering Practice, one Crosscutting Concept and a single component of the Disciplinary Core Ideas.  Performance expectations assess students on their ability to use the three dimensions together. e

Ideally, students would be assessed on all three dimensions.  However, for small informal assessments, it's okay to assess students on just two dimensions.  For example, I like to use exit tickets to assess students on their understanding of a Crosscutting Concept in the context of the Disciplinary Core Idea that we are focusing on.  Adding in a Science and Engineering Practices could overly complicate these short, informal assessments.

3) Focusing too heavily on vocabulary

The Crosscutting Concepts include considerable vocabulary.  The intention is that the CCCs will provide a common vocabulary that can be used for both science and engineering.  Teachers who are new to Using the Crosscutting Concepts in their classroom might mistakenly over-emphasize vocabulary and fail to use the CCCs to make higher-level connections.

Context is key to making sure that students are using the CCCs as they are intended.  The emphasis should be on the application of the CCCs.  If the CCCs are used often and in a wide range of contexts, they should become familiar with the vocabulary.  This will free your students up to make deeper and more meaningful connections.

4) Only using the Crosscutting Concepts from the Performance Expectation

When I first started using the Crosscutting Concepts in my classroom, I only focused on the CCC that was specifically listed in the Performance Expectation.  This can be a very limiting practice.  The Performance Expectations only assess students on the basic ability to make connections to the CCCs.  Some subcomponents found in the Crosscutting Concept Matrix that aren't addressed by the Performance Expectations.

The CCCs provide the ability to make connections across disciplines and practices. The significance is more apparent each time students are given the opportunity to use the CCCs.  Use a CCC that isn't associated with the Performance Expectation, as well as those that are, so that students can have more opportunities to use them.

5) Only addressing subcomponents from your designated grade band

Students are assessed on the subcomponents of the CCC matrix at THE END of the grade level band.  However, many teachers only stick to the components within that grade level band.  Many students come to us without a strong understanding of the Crosscutting Concepts from the previous grade-level band because the NGSS is so new.  From my experience, it is always a good idea to start at the grade-level band below their current grade level.

Structure and Function Pic 1

For example, incoming 6th graders may not have had exposure to the concept of Systems and System models in grades three through five.  This CCC is complex and has many ties to other CCCs so students will likely struggle with picking it up at the middle school level when seeing it for the first time.  Instead, consider focusing on the third through the fifth-grade band until the majority of your class has shown mastery at this level.  The idea is that they will move toward mastery of the middle school components by the end of their 8th-grade year.

This is also a great way to differentiate your instruction.  You can provide your students with scaffolds, such as graphic organizers so that they are able to work at different grade-level bands within the same classroom.



Erin Sadler

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