What Are the NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts?

Instructor: Carrie Soucy
Crosscutting concepts play a critical role in the Next Generation Science Standards. Below, you'll learn what those concepts are, how they are applied, and why they are incorporated into the standards.

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts at a Glance

Crosscutting concepts are one of three key components that comprise the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These seven crosscutting concepts have been identified by the NGSS as critical for students to master in order to understand and apply knowledge in any scientific discipline. The crosscutting concepts of the NGSS are:

  • Structure and function
  • Patterns, similarity and diversity
  • Cause and effect
  • Systems and system models
  • Stability and change
  • Scale, proportion and quantity
  • Energy and matter

The Importance of Crosscutting Concepts Within the Standards

Like engineering and practical science application practices, NGSS incorporates crosscutting concepts to help students develop a comprehensive, real-world understanding of science as they study various scientific subjects. While mastery of these crosscutting concepts has long been an unstated expectation for students learning about science, NGSS is emphasizing their importance by formally incorporating them into performance expectations for all scientific disciplines in K - 12 education.

Examples of Applying Crosscutting Concepts to Scientific Disciplines

While educators may choose how to infuse the NGSS crosscutting concepts into their lessons, the standards detail how crosscutting concepts relate to each NGSS performance expectation. See, for example, how crosscutting concepts apply to these science disciplines at different grade levels:

Elementary-Level Example

NGSS physical science performance expectations for second graders require students to conduct investigations of materials, then interpret data and argue the result of heating and cooling. In describing these performance expectations, NGSS details that learning should include the crosscutting concepts of observable patterns, how those patterns cause specific effects, and how the energy of heating and cooling impacts the matter.

For more on physical science topics for elementary school students, and for inspiration for how to apply the NGSS crosscutting concepts to lesson plans, explore the 600+ lessons in Study.com's online Science for Kids course.

Middle School-Level Example

Among the NGSS life science performance expectations for middle school students are the ability to explain and describe photosynthesis, model energy flow, and empirically argue the impact of changes on an ecosystem. To properly illustrate mastery of these scientific topics, students must demonstrate the crosscutting concepts of cause and effect, energy and matter, and stability and change.

To brush up on life science subjects for middle school students, and to help your students practice the crosscutting concepts described, see Study.com's Middle School Life Science course. This online resource offers 35 chapters focused on the life science topics incorporated in NGSS.

High School-Level Example

NGSS performance expectations within the high school earth and space science discipline require students to model the function and lifespan of the sun, explain the Big Bang theory, and predict orbits within the solar system. To execute these tasks, students must demonstrate mastery of the crosscutting concepts of scale, proportion and quantity, and energy and matter.

To help students understand these and other NGSS earth and space science topics and the applicable crosscutting concepts, explore and use the video lessons within Study.com's online Astronomy 101 and High School Earth Science courses.

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