How to Build Strong Scientific Foundational Knowledge Using Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas, also called DCIs, are one of the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  Essentially, they are ideas and lessons that answer fundamental questions about the natural world and the designed world.  Students need to learn about these disciplines so they can develop strong scientific knowledge of the world around them. Children are natural born investigators, so teachers can use these core ideas to foster their natural curiosity and help their students think in scientific ways about the world around them.

There are four basic disciplines that these core ideas apply to:

  • Physical Science (PS)
  • Life Science (LS)
  • Earth and Space Science (ESS)
  • Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science (ETS)

The Breakdown – Core Ideas and Sub-Ideas

Each of the above disciplines is broken down into core ideas and sub-ideas within the NGSS framework.  This breakdown makes it easier for teachers to see how they can help their students build a foundational knowledge in all four of these disciplines by using smaller concepts and lessons.

How Do The Core Ideas Apply Across Grade Levels?

Many of the core ideas start at a very basic level. As we move up through grades, the information being shared with students increases in sophistication and complexity to help ensure that students gain a sturdy foundational understanding these disciplines.  This overarching framework also helps students continue to build on their understanding of these concepts over long stretches of time, as they move on from grade to grade. This is a very natural progression, and one that aides students in their learning process.  It gives them a chance to revisit their foundational knowledge while adding new concepts as they continue their educational journey.

Why Do DCIs Focus On The Depth of Ideas, Not The Memorization Of Scientific Fact?

Over time, scientific facts can change, so the DCIs do not focus on drilling current scientific facts and making students memorize them.  Instead, they teach students to think critically about these four core areas of science and to evaluate the information they have learned about these areas.  

This sort of learning is essential in a time where misinformation and misinterpretations of scientific fact and data can be easily shared publicly.  The DCIs empower students with the ability to discern what kind of scientific information is good and inline with what they already know about the subject, and what kind of information might require additional research and data.

The Ultimate Goal of DCIs

When using DCIs, teachers should work to provide their students with enough strong foundational knowledge in these subjects that students are able to eventually learn on their own and think critically about these subjects in the future.  Students will go on to live in a world where a lot of information is available at their fingertips, so the hope is that this framework will help them become life-long, self-motivated learners. In addition to building this framework, the other goal is that some of these students will also go on to work in these areas and produce future scientific findings and innovations.

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