Getting a Closer Look at the Next Gen Standards in 3D

Looking at the 3 Dimensions of the Next Gen Science Standards

In our previous blog, we talked about how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a set of performance expectations that are written in three dimensions: (a) what kids should do (a.k.a.the science and engineering practices); (b) what kids should know (a.k.a. The disciplinary core ideas); and (c) the big ideas (a.k.a. crosscutting concepts). While you may be familiar with standards that cover science content (the disciplinary core ideas), the NGSS are different because of their incorporation of the science and engineering practices and the crosscutting concepts.

Example performance expectation from kindergarten physical science illustrating the three dimensions of: science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.

Here is an example of standard cluster taken from the kindergarten physical science (K-PS-1) domain. The NGSS are written as sets of performance expectations (see the red box) that allow students to engage in science and engineering practice in order to learn disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts. Clarification statements (in the brackets) provide examples, while assessment boundaries are just that: they help guide the forms of assessment that are appropriate for that standard at that grade level.

To understand how these dimensions work together, imagine two people constructing a puzzle. In order to construct the puzzle, students must acquire the skills needed to put the pieces together (e.g., matching pieces by color or shape of the piece, starting with corner and edge pieces first, etc.). These skills represent the blue or the science and engineering practices of the NGSS (e.g., asking questions, developing models, interpreting data, etc.). The NGSS focus on these science and engineering practices because once students acquire these skills, they can use them to construct any puzzle that comes their way.

An illustrated metaphor of how the three dimensions of NGSS — science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts — work together.

The orange faces on each puzzle piece represent the disciplinary core ideas (also called DCIs) of the NGSS. DCIs are the facts or the science content (e.g., definitions of scientific terms). While DCIs are similar to the old science standards, their level of detail is limited to providing enough scientific background for students to gain a working level of knowledge in one of four disciplinary areas (i.e., physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and applications of science); thus, they emphasize depth rather than breadth, and doing science rather than the memorization of facts.

Finally, the green sections of each puzzle piece represent the crosscutting concepts in the NGSS. Like the edges of puzzle pieces, these crosscutting concepts emphasize the common themes like patterns, proportions, functions, etc. (e.g. the concept of cause and effect in the example standard above) that are found throughout the science and engineering domains (and, as you will discover, across other disciplines, as well). Crosscutting concepts link DCIs, and they add context to the science and engineering that is being studied. Think, for example, how a puzzle piece alone may not make sense until it is connected to other pieces — picture emerges once all the pieces are connected together. This dimension is tricky to understand, and we will discuss it more thoroughly in a later post.

Together, the blue, orange, and green combine to form the performance expectations of the NGSS. Performance expectations, unlike curriculum, define what students should be capable of doing after they’ve finished instruction. Similar to the context of an occupational evaluation (e.g., teacher performance expectations), performance expectations are meant to help both teachers and students understand how to perform as scientists within the context of a scientific domain. Again, we will say more about this in a later post.

If you are new to the NGSS, then start with this phrase:

Focus on the blue for what they do, and the content will come through.

Stay tuned for more blog posts on understanding and teaching to the NGSS.

What explanations do you use to understand how the three dimensions come together? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you for reading!

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