After taking a bit of a break from this blog and website, I have been inspired to share some new learning on the Cross Cutting Concepts (CCCs). Many of us have been working with the Next Generation Science Standards for several years now. Some are just beginning their journey as school districts and teachers have waited to see what was really going to pan out. No matter where you are in your NGSS implementation, we all continue to learn and walk together on this journey of transition to new methods in science teaching and learning.
I have continued to serve as a Science Peer Review Panelist (PRP) for Achieve and have also taken on a new position of part time faculty at Cal State University, Fullerton teaching pre-service science teachers. Both of these endeavors have been pushing my thinking on the Cross Cutting Concepts.
At our last #sciencePRP meeting this past week in Nashville, we took a deep dive into the CCCs. Molly Ewing, former Senior Program Associate for Achieve, presented some of her latest research findings on CCCs. I found it very intriguing that a "Summit for Examining the Potential for Crosscutting Concepts to Support Three-Dimensional Learning" was held at the University of Virginia in December of 2018. Science education researchers, teachers, and scientists convened in order to:
1. develop shared understandings among the community of stakeholders regarding the role of CCCs in science teaching and learning, and
2. identify central issues and question that can guide future research in order to prioritize these topics for future lines of research, and initiate productive collaborations among participants to pursue these questions.
The conference proceedings present some excellent models and explanations of how CCCs can be integrated to fulfill the vision of the Framework and NGSS, but it is acknowledged that there is "little coordinated knowledge about the role of CCCs in supporting students' science learning or how students build ideas about CCCs over time" (Conference Proceedings, page 5). What is very clear is that as a science and engineering education community, we are all growing in our knowledge and understanding and how to leverage the CCCs as tools or lenses to help students organize and explain their thinking while making sense of phenomenon or solving problems. I imagine this understanding will continue to grow for some time as we continue to stretch our thinking.
While reviewing instructional materials and lesson plans, I have found that teachers and developers also have varying ideas about the role of CCCs in lessons and units. Often teachers or developers can point to and make connections with CCCs within a lesson, but the connections tend to be superficial and students are unaware of the CCC being used or developed. When integrating CCCs into your lessons and units, it is important to identify the grade band element of the CCC students are being asked to use. Here is the progression chart for the CCC of Patterns found at NSTA.org. The elements are the bullet points in the boxes of the standards or green dot with the "i" in the center on the website. Notice the language and detail of the CCC to be used at each grade band level.
Strategies for Intentional Use of the CCCs
The paper titled "CCCs as epistemic heuristics to guide student sense-making of phenomena" included in the conference proceedings was the topic of our deep dive at the Science PRP meeting. This model is presented in the paper and shows how CCCs flow from the Framework and Standards, to Professional Learning and Instructional/Assessment Resources, to the classroom community where teaching and learning occurs. What is important to point out are the opportunities for explicit prompts for CCCs within scaffolds, discourse, and classroom assessments.
I want to reiterate the idea of explicit prompts. STEM Teaching Tool #41 provides one way of doing this using prompts for integrating Crosscutting Concepts into assessment and instruction. Teachers might ask guiding questions or provide graphic organizers to explicitly prompt students to use the CCCs to organize their thinking and construct explanations.
This slide show provides templates of how to prompt students to apply each CCC in an attempt to explain phenomenon. Originally published for the NSTA Blog in 2017, Dr. Amy Peacock and Dr. Jeremy Peacock explain how these templates might be used.
One of my big takeaways from my table group discussion about the CCCs, is that each CCC may provide a different lens and slightly different explanation of a phenomenon. Consider asking students to explain phenomenon using more than one CCC (one at a time) and then coming up with a final explanation that combines more than one CCC.
In the end, the goal of using CCCs is to help students make sense of phenomena and solve problems. The model shared above breaks down the unique contributions of the CCCs into four epistemic heuristics. I had to look up these terms to make sure I understood, so here they are for you:
Epistemic- relating to knowledge or conditions for acquiring it
Heuristics- involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem solving
The four epistemic heuristics presented are:
1) Crosscutting concepts help to identify productive questions and goals for sensemaking,
2) Crosscutting concepts provide rules for scientific sensemaking,
3) Crosscutting concepts can support analogical reasoning, and
4) Crosscutting concepts can help to identify essential evidence
My main takeaway from this conversation was that the elements of the CCCs give students and teachers the language to use as a classroom scientific community when engaging in discourse and the Science and Engineering Practices. There is obviously so much more to this conversation and I look forward to learning more about the epistemic heuristics in the future.
Whether you are just beginning to include the CCCs in your lessons or you want to deepen your instructional approaches, it is important to acknowledge and share ways that CCCs can act as a lens or a tool to aid students in learning, discovery or problem solving. The CCCs can help students make connections across domains and disciplines and begin to see the world and phenomena in a way that makes more sense to them. As teachers, we are always looking for ways to help students think and the CCCs are such a valuable asset to three dimensional science teaching and learning.
Cari Williams is a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for the Tustin Unified School District in Southern California. She holds a MS in Instructional Design and Technology from Cal State Fullerton and works on the side as a consultant writing science and STEAM curriculum and training teachers. After working for 12 years in the classroom as a middle school science and STEAM teacher, she transitioned into the role of Digital Learning Coach in 2013. In this role, Cari helped teachers innovate curriculum and shift pedagogies through the integration of educational technologies. Her most current work as a TOSA is focused on engineering design in robotics, computer science, and Makerspaces. She is an official VEX Robotics event partner hosting tournaments for teams from around Southern California as well as leading 28 robotics programs servicing over 100 teams in the Tustin Unified School District. Although her expertise has taken her deep into STEAM education, she remains passionate and engaged in helping teachers transition to the NGSS through participating as a Science Peer Review Panelist for Achieve and as a Professional Learning Facilitator for NSTA.