Academic journal article Science Scope

The Second Dimension-Crosscutting Concepts: Understanding a Framework for K-12 Science Education

Academic journal article Science Scope

The Second Dimension-Crosscutting Concepts: Understanding a Framework for K-12 Science Education

Article excerpt


For the last half century educators have struggled with the question, "What do we want students to know and what do they need to do to know it?" An alternative perspective for planning and framing science instruction asks "What do we want students to do and what do they need to know to do it?" The recently published National Research Council (NRC) report A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC 2011) offers a thoughtful research-based agenda that helps guide us in making the shift to a doing-led agenda in K-12 science education. Grounded in the recommendations and conclusions from the NRC research synthesis report, Taking Science to School (NRC 2007), which I chaired, the Framework proposes that:

1. K-12 science education be coordinated around three intertwining dimensions: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas; and

2. curricula, instruction, and assessments be aligned and then coordinated across grade band learning progressions.

In the December 2011 editions of the NSTA journals, Rodger Bybee focused on Science and Engineering Practices, Dimension One of the Framework. Here the focus is on the Framework's Crosscutting Concepts--Dimension Two. The Framework makes very clear that science learning needs to be coordinated around generative conceptual ideas and scientific practices. I begin with the seven Crosscutting Concepts, highlighting features within each that reveal the components of progressions. A big challenge for teachers is thinking about planning lessons and units across grade bands as student learning progresses within a grade and across grades. This will require more work, but designing lessons that move students through the Crosscutting Concept progression while teaching the Core Ideas and engaging students in the appropriate Scientific Practices will help ensure that students are doing science in grades K-12.

Developing an understanding of how the Framework's Three Dimensions relate to the Four Strands of Science Proficiency in Taking Science to School is important. Figure 1 presents the relationships between the Strands and the Dimensions. The emerging evidence on science learning from Taking Science to School, as well as Ready, Set, Science! (NRC 2007, NRC 2008) suggests the development of the science proficiencies is best supported when learning environments effectively interweave all four Strands into instruction. A similar recommendation from the Framework is to interweave the Crosscutting Concepts and the Science and Engineering Practices with the Core Ideas. What the research tells us is the primary focus for planning and instruction needs to be longer sequences of learning and teaching. The agenda is one of alignment between curriculum-instruction-assessment in classrooms where both teaching and learning is coordinated around "making thinking visible" opportunities employing talk, arguments, models, and representations. Keep this in mind as you read the overviews of the Crosscutting Concepts in the next section. Ask yourself: How would I integrate the concepts into planning, teaching, and assessing science units?

The Second Dimension--Seven Crosscutting Concepts

1. Patterns

2. Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation

3. Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

4. Systems and System Models

5. Energy and Matter: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation

6. Structure and Function

7. Stability and Change

Look familiar? The set of Crosscutting Concepts in the Framework is similar to "unifying concepts and processes" in the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996;, "common themes" in Science for All Americans (AAAS 1989;, and "unifying concepts" in Science: College Board Standards for College Success (College Board 2009) (see Figure 1). Regardless of the labels used in these documents, each stresses, like the Framework, the importance that "students develop a cumulative, coherent, and usable understanding of science and engineering. …

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