The Crosscutting Concepts

When I first started digging into NGSS so much of it made sense to me. The science and engineering practices were clearly things my students should be doing in class and they all fit together. The science and engineering practices clearly rely on each other. To engage in argument from evidence you must be able to analyze and interpret data and to get data you need to conduct investigations. The disciplinary core ideas were the big enduring understandings that we keep coming back to throughout the course. Those things that kids will remember for the rest of their lives when they have forgotten all the details.

The crosscutting concepts were a bit fuzzier. I get structure and function. When I was in college that was a huge epiphany for me: that almost every behavior of an atom or molecule could be predicted by knowing its shape and electronegativity. Cause and effect: obvious. But energy and matter? Patterns? What do they mean by patterns? I asked my students what a pattern was and they all gave me blank stares until one of them pointed at the stripes on the American flag. These seemed like a random assortment of big ideas; obvious or sometimes intuitive ideas with many possible interpretations. I mean, I guess that’s why they are called crosscutting.  But how to teach them? And are they really that random?

So after struggling to reconcile with the crosscutting concepts for far too long I finally did what a good researcher does and went to the source material. After digging in and doing a close read of Appendix G, I had another epiphany. I strongly recommend all science teachers take the time to read Appendix G. It’s really helpful. Here’s a link so you don’t even have to google it.

The crosscutting concepts do rely on each other and science and engineering practices to make sense of phenomena. In our math curriculum they have Mathematical Habits of Mind and Interaction and they have instructional strategies for addressing these.The crosscutting concepts are our habits of mind and I’m still working on how to be more explicit about teaching the crosscutting concepts. I want to learn what that might look like from our math department, but I do know that they have the Habits on their walls as anchor charts so now I have this hanging on my wall.

Scientists observe and ask questions about PATTERNS to find CAUSE AND EFFECT relationships, a special case of which is STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION. This helps us understand SYSTEMS and develop SYSTEM MODELS to explain the relationships between STABILITY AND CHANGE; ENERGY AND MATTER; and SCALE, PROPORTION, AND QUANTITY.