Crosscutting Concepts in NGSS: What They Are and Why You Need Them in Science

Crosscutting Concepts is one of three dimensions of the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS).  The other two are Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) and Science and Engineering Practices.

How Do Crosscutting Concepts Work And What Are The Seven Concepts?

The goal of Crosscutting Concepts is for students to gain a comprehensive understanding of different scientific and engineering concepts so that they can make connections across multiple subjects. These connections should not only be made between other scientific and engineering subjects; they can also branch into subjects like math, art, and social studies.

Students should be able to see things like these concepts in their everyday life and in many of the subjects they learn in school.  At its core, crosscutting concepts helps students think in scientific ways throughout their daily lives and education.

There are seven crosscutting concepts. Here is a basic overview of what they look like:

  • Patterns and Pattern Recognition – The ability to see patterns in different areas of science and other subjects.
  • Cause and Effect – The ability to investigate and understand the relationship between a cause and effect, and how that information can be used to predict future outcomes.
  • Scale, Proportion and Quantity – Understanding the size and scale of different things,  being able to measure that difference and seeing how that difference might impact a system’s performance.
  • System and System Models – Understanding how the smaller parts of a system make up the system as a whole and understanding how these parts work together.  
  • Energy and Matter – Flows, Cycles and Conservation – Understanding how energy and matter flow in and out of systems in various different cycles.
  • Structure and Function – Understanding how structures impact function, and how function affects structure.
  • Stability and Change – Understanding that changes in the system can either put the system in a state of flux or it can contribute to eventual stability.

Why Do Crosscutting Concepts Matter?

These concepts are essential to understanding science and engineering; but most students do not get direct instructional support in these areas.  Teachers can help bridge this gap by including these concepts in their instruction in both obvious and more subtle ways.

Where Else Can These Concepts Apply?

As we mentioned before, these concepts can also be applied to other subjects outside of science and engineering. Scale, proportion, and quantity could be applied to crafting projects, where a student might need a certain amount of supplies to complete their project. The concept of patterns can also easily extend across subjects such as math and art.  

Teachers can reinforce the idea of crosscutting concepts by softly pointing out things to their students.  For example, a simple verbal cue is more than enough to show the student that they are applying a scientific concept to a different subject.  For example, “Look at the pattern you’ve made on your art project! That’s very interesting,” or, “It looks like you have ten popsicle sticks to make your house, but it’s not quite finished.  How many more do you think you might need to complete it?”

Overall, there are many ways these concepts could be incorporated into daily learning, inside and outside of scientific lessons.

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