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From the Editor's Desk

Three-Dimensional Learning

The  Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for three-dimensional learning, or the intentional integration of disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), crosscutting concepts (CCCs), and scientific and engineering practices (SEPs). The integration of the three dimensions is necessary if we are to ensure our students have the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the performance expectations, for it is the integration that allows students to confidently and competently make sense of phenomena and to create solutions to problems.

As a former middle school science teacher, I can attest that while DCIs and SEPs were strongly embedded in my instruction, I often fell short of being intentional when it came to incorporating the CCCs. CCCs are ideas common to science; their power is in their application for exploring and explaining phenomena. For teachers, identifying and being comfortable with the CCC(s) applicable to a particular phenomenon is crucial if we are to assist our students in applying a crosscutting lens to a phenomenon (Duncan and Cavera 2015). By making CCCs explicit during instruction, they become tools for students to make sense of phenomena and make connections across disciplines (Goggins et al. 2019). STEM Teaching Tool #41 includes a list of prompts for integrating crosscutting assessments into assessment and instruction (see Online Resources).

The complexity of the NGSS can also make evaluating curriculum materials and assessments challenging. When undertaking such tasks, I encourage you to do so with a three-dimensional lens. Ask yourself if the DCIs, CCCs, and SEPs are truly integrated. Start by looking at examples of quality instructional materials or consider applying a tool such as the NGSS Lesson Screener or EQuIP rubric. There are also tools for evaluating the alignment of assessments to the NGSS, including the Science Task Screener. Quality instructional materials, assessments, and instruction are powerful tools for ensuring all students meet the standards (see Online Resources).


Duncan, R.G., and V.L. Cavera. 2015. DCIs, SEPS, and CCs, oh my! Understanding the three dimensions of the NGSS. The Science Teacher 82 (7): 67–71.

Goggins, M., A. Hass, S. Grapin, L. Llosa, and O. Lee, O. 2019. Integrating crosscutting concepts into science instruction. Science and Children 57 (1): 56–61.

Online Resources

EQuIP Rubric—

NGSS Lesson Screener—

Prompts for integrating CCCs into assessment and instruction—

Quality Examples of Science Lessons and Units—

Science Task Screener—

STEM Teaching Tools—

Patty McGinnis is an instructional coach and veteran middle school teacher. You can contact her at or on Twitter: @patty_mcginnis.

Crosscutting Concepts Disciplinary Core Ideas NGSS Science and Engineering Practices Three-Dimensional Learning Middle School

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