110 How to Start Teaching Science in 3D – 2 Simple Strategies

June 20, 2022

Teaching science in a three-dimensional learning environment often feels overwhelming. Many teachers ask us where to start. Here’s our answer: It depends.

Each teaching situation is unique. There are differences in time constraints, demographics, resources and so much more. Therefore, your strategy for approaching 3D teaching and learning also needs to be unique.

In this episode, Nicole and Erin discuss the many options for getting started. They recap many of the top strategies that they’ve covered over the last 7 seasons. And, they help you formulate a coherent plan.

What is teaching science in 3D?

Teaching science in 3D refers to the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards. The NGSS is a set of standards with three parts or dimensions. These dimensions are the Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas.

However, these three dimensions aren’t the only aspects that make the standards unique. This type of science teaching requires you to change many aspects of your classroom. And, we know these changes aren’t easy.

That’s one of the main reasons we created this podcast. We want to provide you with clear example of what 3D teaching and learning look like in the classroom. And, we want to answer ALL of your questions.

What makes 3D science different?

There are many things that make three-dimensional science different. In addition to the 3D nature of the standards, there is a shift in the way we teach science. For example, teachers in a 3D learning environment utilize phenomena to frame instructional sequences. And, teachers use a discovery-based approach to teaching.

To learn more about these instructional shifts, check out this episode.

Review the major instructional shifts that have come with the NGSS in this episode.

Challenges with 3D Teaching

There are so many changes that came with the NGSS. As a result, many teachers aren’t sure where to being. So, below, we provide two possible solutions. And, from there, you can choose what best meets your needs.

Teaching Science in 3D – Getting Started

As we’ve said, there are so many aspects to 3D science teaching. And, it’s hard to know where to start. So, we’ve come up with two strategies.

It’s important to note that there is no right answer here. Either approach is the right approach if it works for you.

Strategy #1: Looking at the Big Picture

Nicole recommends starting with phenomena. Begin gathering phenomena that are relevant to your students’ lives and interests. Then, begin building a storyline around the phenomena.

Using this approach, you’ll develop longer, more robust lesson sequences.


This option will definitely give you the most bang for your buck. And, it works great with reluctant learners. With the right phenomena, engagement increases. Also, negative student behaviors decrease because they are more engaged.

This is a more intensive strategy. However, there are plenty of resources to help you. Check out these phenomenon-based storylines:


Developing full storylines is very labor-intensive. And, if your district had adopted a curriculum, this strategy might not work for you. Also, as your understanding of the other aspects increases, some pieces will need to be reworked.

Going Further: Episodes to Check Out

If this sounds like the approach for you, check out the episodes below.

Strategy #2: Small Changes with a Targeted Approach

Erin’s approach is the exact opposite. She suggests starting with a smaller component. For example, she believes starting with the Crosscutting Concepts is an easy way to make 3D changes in your classroom. Or, start by focusing on the Science and Engineering Practices and using them to develop a discovery-based approach in your classroom.

Begin incorporating these pieces into your daily lesson plans.


This strategy gives you a quick easy wins in your classroom. And, it helps you understand the standards better. Also, it works well if you are using an adopted curriculum you’d like to improve upon.


The differences in student engagement are more minimal with this approach. Though there will be changes, you’ll likely have to wait longer to see a significant result.

Going Further: Episodes to Check Out

Whether you are starting with the Crosscutting Concept or the Science and Engineering Practices, these are great episodes to check out.

Teaching science in 3D requires strong relationships.

Regardless of the strategy you choose, strong relationships are a must. Teaching Science through a 3D lens requires students to take a much more active role in their learning. And, as a result, they are in a much more vulnerable position in your classroom.

Navy writing on turquoise background "Any of these constructivist types of learning strategies... they don't work well if you don't have strong classroom relationships." Nicole VanTassel
Nicole highlights the importance of classroom relationships in this episode.

We have so many episodes related to building strong relationships in the classroom. Here are a few episodes we suggest checking out: