98 How to Teach the Crosscutting Concepts

October 9, 2021

The Crosscutting Concepts are one of the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards. They help students to make connections between disciplines, develop a deeper understanding of the Crosscutting Concepts, and more. But, they are often forgotten during the lesson planning process.

So, how do you teach the Crosscutting Concepts? It’s important that you provide explicit instruction about the CCC so that your students get the full value of this tool. In this episode, Erin discusses some things to consider when teaching the CCCs.

A Tool for 3-Dimensional Lesson Planning

Erin believes the first step in creating 3-Dimensional lessons is assessing your current lessons. She created this tool to help you evaluate and strengthen your 3D lessons.

The 3-D lesson Planner has a space for each of the three dimensions, phenomena, and your daily agenda. Simply fill it out every day for a week and see what pieces you are missing.

Text - three dimensional lesson plans with space for dates
Columns for Monday through Friday along the top.  Rows on the left - Agenda, phenomenon, Disciplinary Core Idea, Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts
The lesson plans are filled in with hand-written text.
Grab this FREE 3D Lesson Planner to make sure that your lessons are truly three-dimensional.

To get this tool for FREE, click here to sign up for her newsletter.

Mistakes Teachers Make When Teaching the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts

There are a few common mistakes that teachers make when teaching Crosscutting Concepts. However, the most common mistake is that they don’t teach the concepts at all.

Why? There are a lot of reasons. For example, teachers overvalue the significance of Science and Engineering Practices. Or, they don’t understand that connections to the CCCs must be made explicit to students.

Most often, the teachers believe that if THEY can find a connection to the CCCs then it is included in their lessons. However, the standards require that the STUDENT’S ability to make these connections.

To learn more common mistakes teachers make with the CCC’s, check out Erin’s blog post.

When you teach the Crosscutting Concepts, connections need to be explicit.

Explicit instruction leads to a strong understanding of the Crosscutting Concepts. When the connections aren’t explicit, students don’t recognize the significance of the CCCs.

Often, this is a simple oversite. Teachers mistakenly believe that simply having a connection to the CCCs is enough. For example, students planning an investigation are often exploring a cause-and-effect relationship. They make adjustments to a variable in order to affect the outcome. However, most students will not see that this is a cause-and-effect relationship without explicit instruction on the CCCs.

When you provide explicit instruction about the CCCs, students will begin to recognize them. But, they won’t make these connections on their own.

What does explicit instruction of the Crosscutting Concepts look like?

This is totally dependent on what works best for you. Erin started introducing these concepts by providing her students with a brief overview in the form of notes. She outlined the main components of the concept and then provided her students with the information.

Now, she provides them with a reference sheet just before students must make a connection to a particular concept. For example, if she would like students to identify the components of a system, she will provide students with a reference sheet about Systems and Systems Models right before.

On the left, notebook open long-ways.  On the top is a graphic organizer.  One the bottom is a reference sheet.  To the right is a map that has a pen on top of it.
Erin uses Crosscutting Concept Graphic Organizers and Reference sheets to make sure that the connections to the Crosscutting concepts are explicit.

To learn more about this system, check out this blog post.

Tie the explicit instruction to a specific grade band.

Sometimes, when they teach the Crosscutting Concepts, teachers don’t refer to a specific grade band. The Crosscutting Concepts look quite different in each of the three grade bands. So, many teachers unintentionally teach the CCCs below their grade level.

To determine what the CCCs look like at each grade level band, check out the NSTA Matrix. Use this to make connections to your content. For example, create an exit ticket using one of the components of the Crosscutting Concepts at the appropriate grade band.

When is it okay to teach the Crosscutting Concepts outside of the grade band?

It’s totally okay to teach the CCCs at a level that is below a student’s grade band if it is done intentionally. If students are being exposed to the Crosscutting Concept at their grade level might be too complex. For example, if middle school students are new to the Concepts, teaching them at the upper elementary grade level is totally acceptable. However, it’s important to have a clear plan.

More often, teachers revert to the early elementary grade band unintentionally because they don’t know what is expected of their students. That’s why it’s important to review the CCCs for your specific grade band.

Also, students can make connections to the CCCs at a higher grade level band if they have show mastery of the CCCs at their grade band.

Do you need more help to teach the Crosscutting Concepts in your classroom?

Check out these episodes to learn more: