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Patterns in Science: A Guide to the Crosscutting Concept

January 17, 2021 No Comments

Patterns in science are easy to spot. But, are you able to make connections to the CCC in the appropriate grade level? Even though Patterns is a commonly used Crosscutting Concept, its depth is commonly misunderstood. Read the blog post below to learn more about this commonly used Crosscutting Concept and get ideas for how to use it in your classroom.

Patterns in Science are Crosscutting

I love using the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns in my classroom for many reasons.  The concept of patterns is already familiar to your students.  I remember my daughter showing me her math when she was in kindergarten.  Recognizing patterns was a major area of focus that year and will continue to be a strong focus in math throughout her academic career.

In addition to mathematical patterns, there are vast connections that can be made to the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns. I have also included several examples that can be used in your classroom below.

Patterns in Science: Wheel with patterns at the center.  On the outside are circles containing the words cause and effect, math formulas, scale proportion and quantity, similarities and differences, classify, analyze data, structure and function, and ask questions.
Here are some common connections to the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns. How can you use these in your science classroom?

What is a pattern in science?

Most students recognize simple ABABAB patterns. However, patterns in science are infinitely complex. Simply put, patterns are things that repeat in a predictable way. However, the way that they repeat can be incredibly complex.

With a little explicit instruction, students can begin to recognize increasingly complex patterns. Soon, your students will be recognizing patterns that you never even considered.  

Examples of Patterns in Elementary Science

Students in elementary school use the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns to identify similarities and differences with groups. For example, third-grade students observe similarities and differences between parents and offspring (3-LS1-1).

Once students show proficiency in recognizing similarities and differences, they should use these to classify objects.  To help students recognize these types of patterns, you give them pictures of various animals and ask them to sort them into groups.  Students will use observable similarities and differences to look for patterns that exist

Card sorts help students to classify.

Card sorts are my absolute favorite way to help students to classify different things into groups. During a card sort activity, the teacher provides the student with a set of cards related to the concept that they are studying. The teacher asks students to sort the cards into groups based on similarities and differences.

However, the teacher does not provide much instruction about the types of groups that need to be made. This strategy helps the teacher assess prior knowledge and works well at the beginning of a lesson sequence.

Examples of Patterns in Middle School Science

Middle School students will build on the foundations created in upper elementary and apply the concept of patterns in new ways.  In this grade level band, students are asked to recognize patterns in everything from DNA to feeding relationships in ecosystems, and in the fossil records.  

Also, in middle school, there is considerable overlap between the Crosscutting Concepts. Patterns are a central component in many other Crosscutting Concepts. As a result, students will be asked to make connections to other Crosscutting Concepts while using the CCC of Patterns.

Connections to Scale, Proportion and Quantity

In middle school, students are repeatedly asked to consider unobservable scales. This is also true with the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns. The patterns that can be observed at one scale are often observed at another scale.

Also, students may observe proportional relationships. I will discuss this below.

Graph in notebook. Graph shows the linear graph of the density of Aluminum foil at different volumes. Includes an ipod that is using the calculator function.

Connections to Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Within this grade level band, there are strong connections to the Science and Engineering Practice of Mathematics and Computational thinking. In their math courses, middle school students are learning about the relationship between tables and graphs. Graphs help students to recognize patterns that they might not be able to observe in a table.

For example, the density of a given material is always the same. However, the mass of the object is proportional to the volume of the object. This pattern allows students to derive the formula for density.

Connections to the Practice of Asking Question

As students recognize patterns, they should also be asking questions about these patterns.

Let’s take a look at MS-LS4-3. In this performance expectation, students are asked to analyze pictorial data to compare patterns of similarities in the embryological development across species. This allows students to identify relationships between species that aren’t as obvious in full-grown organisms.

Images of embryos of various species in different stages which can be used to recognize patterns in science.

Students might be asked to observe patterns in this drawing by Ernst Haekel (1892).  When presented with this image, students might notice that the embryos are most similar in the earliest stages of development.  They might also notice that the mammals look very similar throughout their development.  Students should use these observations to ask questions.  For example, “Why do the tortoise and the chick look so similar?”

Resources to Teach Students to Recognize Patterns in Science

It is important to make sure that students are making connections to the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns in the appropriate grade level band. Therefore, I created a reference sheet that explains the CCC in the upper elementary and middle school grade level band. Students can come back to this reference sheet everytime that there is a connection to the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns.

Also, I frequently use graphic organizers to help students make connections to the Crosscutting Concepts. We use the graphic organizer over and over again so that students can see how the Crosscutting Concepts connect idea. Here are links to my reference sheets and graphic organizers for Patterns.

To learn more about patterns in science, and other Crosscutting Concepts, check out these resources.

Erin Sadler

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