What are Crosscutting Concepts?

Crosscutting concepts, or CCCs, are one of the three dimensions of 3-D science standards. They are themes that appear again and again across STEM subjects. In the NRC’s “A Framework for K–12 Science Education,” CCCs are defined as “concepts that bridge disciplinary core boundaries, having explanatory value throughout much of science and engineering. These concepts help provide students with an organizational framework for connecting knowledge from the various disciplines into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world.” (1)

While they can feel slightly abstract, the CCCs are crucial to building content knowledge and understanding scientific processes. As students progress in their scientific education, these concepts will appear in multiple disciplines, again and again, and should become more and more familiar. They will work as touchstones that students return to as they discover new phenomena and make sense of the world. (2)

There are seven CCCs defined in 3-D science standards: 

1. Patterns

Patterns appear again and again in nature and science—such as the symmetry of flowers, the lunar cycle, the seasons, and the structure of DNA. Being able to recognize patterns is important for many scientific tasks, like classification or analyzing and interpreting data. Students need to be able to not only recognize patterns, but also ask questions about why and how patterns occur. 

2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation

Cause and effect can be seen as the next step after identifying patterns. This CCC involves discovering the underlying cause of phenomena, understanding connections and causation, and finding out why one event might lead to another. This concept will also help students when planning and carrying out investigations, or designing and testing solutions. 

3. Scale, proportion, and quantity

A big part of investigating phenomena involves comparing them using relative scales (e.g., bigger and smaller, faster and slower) and describing them using units of, for example, weight, time, temperature, and volume. Many of the phenomena students study are at a scale either too small or too large to observe, and models can be used to make sense of them—such as comparing the planets in our Solar System to fruits of different sizes. 

4. Systems and system models

To make the world easier to investigate, scientists often study smaller units of investigations, or “systems.” A system contains objects that are related and form a whole. It can be as large as a whole galaxy and as small as the human circulatory system. Or even smaller—a single molecule. System models are useful tools for studying how a system behaves in itself and how it interacts with other systems. 

5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation

Building on the previous concept, this one emphasizes that energy and matter flows in and out of any system—for example, the sunlight (energy) and water (matter) that a plant needs to grow, or the flow of water in the Earth’s atmosphere. Being able to observe and model these flows and cycles is important in many areas of science and engineering.

6. Structure and function

This concept refers to the shapes, relationships, and properties of materials in natural and human-made systems. In engineering, for example, understanding the structure and function of different materials can help the engineer create a more effective and successful design.

7. Stability and change

The final CCC has to do with understanding how change occurs in any system and how we can use technology to control change. It also focuses on understanding concepts like dynamic equilibrium, where the perceived stability of a system depends on constant change, e.g. the flow of water through a dam that is always at the same water level, as well as cyclical change, e.g. the Moon’s constant orbit around the Earth and how it affects, for example, tides. 

Each of these crosscutting concepts contains a wide variety of examples and applications which students work through during their academic career. 

How do you make sure that you cover the CCCs? 

To ensure that you hit the three dimensions of 3-D science standards, you need the support of a good 3-D science program. Twig Science is a phenomena-based science program for Grades PK/TK–8 created specifically for 3-D science standards, ensuring all students have an interwoven understanding of Crosscutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Practices, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. In Twig Science, students experience dozens of different STEM roles as they become creative problem solvers, making sense of engaging, real-world phenomena. 

Learn more about Twig Science.

  1. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts
  2. Ibid.

What are Disciplinary Core Ideas?

Disciplinary Core Ideas, or DCIs, are one of the three dimensions that make up 3-D science standards. DCIs are key components of science education and include ideas that are important across one or multiple science and engineering disciplines. Simply put, they are big ideas that students need to know to be able to understand the world around them. The DCIs form a conceptual framework through which students can understand the scientific disciplines. (1)

The NSTA lists four criteria of which a DCI must meet at least two, but ideally four

  • Have broad importance across multiple sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing concept of a single discipline
  • Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems 
  • Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technological knowledge
  • Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication (2)

DCIs are divided into four domains: Life Science, Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, and Engineering, Technology and the Application of Science. Within these domains, there are several groups of ideas that build in complexity as students progress through their academic careers:

Life Science

  • LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
  • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
  • LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
  • LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

Earth and Space Science

  • ESS1: Earth’s Place in the Universe
  • ESS2: Earth’s Systems
  • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity

Physical Science

  • PS1: Matter and Its Interactions
  • PS2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
  • PS3: Energy
  • PS4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer

Engineering, Technology and the Application of Science

  • ETS1: Engineering Design

The DCIs don’t just build complexity in themselves—they also build upon each other over the course of a student’s science education, allowing students to form a deeper understanding of the world and make sense of phenomena. The DCIs are interwoven with the SEPs and CCCs, providing opportunities for students to apply these practices and concepts to different core ideas. 

How do you make sure that you cover the DCIs? 

To ensure that you hit the three dimensions of 3-D science standards, you need the support of a good 3-D program. Twig Science is a phenomena-based science program for Grades PK/TK–8 created specifically for 3-D science standards, ensuring all students have an interwoven understanding of Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts. In Twig Science, students experience dozens of different STEM roles as they become creative problem solvers, making sense of engaging, real-world phenomena. 

Learn more about Twig Science.

  1. https://www.nsta.org/blog/whats-so-special-about-disciplinary-core-ideas-part-1
  2. ttps://ngss.nsta.org/DisciplinaryCoreIdeasTop.aspx

What are phenomena?

If you’re a science educator, you’ve probably come across the word “phenomena” countless times. Phenomena-based learning is at the core of 3-D science—but what are they, really? And why are they important?

Phenomena can be defined as “observable events that occur in a natural or designed system.” They are everywhere around us, but some are easier to notice than others. Common examples of natural phenomena include lightning, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and similar. 

However, there are also a lot of phenomena that are less dramatic and less noticeable: simple things like light reflecting in a mirror, the way electricity passes through wires to allow you to switch on a lamp, or the simple fact that gravity allows us to walk on the surface of the Earth! 

Some phenomena occur very slowly and can be hard to notice, such as the passing of the seasons, the decomposition of organic matter, or the erosion of mountains. But they are still observable events that can be explained with science and are therefore phenomena. 

Phenomena are important to science education because they give students tangible, interesting examples of science in the real world. They are also good opportunities for encouraging student inquiry: students can observe a phenomenon and subsequently ask questions and do research to find out more about how it works. 

Trying to explain phenomena to your students? This video explains what they are and why they are important—all in just 60 seconds. 

Need a genuine, phenomena-based 3-D science program? Check out Twig Science