Unit 3: What are the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts?

College Biology Curriculum and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)


The NGSS are built upon the foundation of three dimensional learning. As a fully integrated system it is difficult to discuss each dimension separate from the others but we will use the next two units to try and approach them at least at an introductory level. Keep in mind that to fully realize the importance and benefit of each of the dimensions they need to be considered within the context of the whole.

As you progress through the next two units you should begin thinking about learning outcomes that you work towards in your own first year college courses. Which outcome or objective do you feel students struggle with the most? How might we leverage the NGSS from the K-12 system to help develop more engaging and objective focused curricula? This is the ultimate goal of this mini-course: to develop learning experiences that are accessible to students promoting opportunities to collaboratively construct their scientific knowledge. As we come to get to know each of the NGSS dimensions a little better you should think about which aspects of the Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Practices best align with your chosen objective. In our fifth unit we will consolidate our exploration of the NGSS and build a Wiki to showcase our library of understanding performances rooted in the Next Generation Science Standards.

What are the Disciplinary Core Ideas?


Simply put – the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) make up the content of the NGSS. They are fundamental scientific ideas forming the basis of each of the four domains: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science. The NGSS has established a progression of performance expectations spanning the K-12 hierarchy to promote gradual, and fully supported, increasing sophistication of student thinking.

We will once again refer to Paul Anderson’s library of NGSS videos. Between the four DCI domains and the progressing performance expectations included in each there are a total of 44 videos. It is not necessary to review all 44 videos. You can begin by thinking of the topic you wish to develop for your own course and focusing on the DCI domain you think best aligns with that objective. Your ideas may change as you progress through this course so please refer back to this list of videos to help focus your exploration.

Physical Science 1A: Structure and Properties of Matter

Life Science 1A: Structure and Function

Earth and Space Science 1A: The Universe and its Stars

Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science 1A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

What are the Crosscutting Concepts?


The NGSS Crosscutting Concepts tie the different DCI together to provide a cohesive learning experience for the student. Such concepts can bridge each of the four DCI domains setting the stage for progression through deeper levels of understanding and application.

The seven Crosscutting Concepts are as follows. Videos are hyperlinked to the title of each Concept.

Patterns: Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification

Cause & effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted

Scale, proportion, and quantity: It is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance

Systems and system models: Define the system under study—specify its boundaries and make explicit a model of that system

Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation. Tracking fluxes of energy and matter into, out of, and within systems

Structure and function: The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions

Stability and change: conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study

Additional Content for Review


NGSS Appendix E: Disciplinary Core Idea Progressions

TeachingChannel: Disciplinary Core Ideas

NGSS Appendix G: Crosscutting Concepts

TeachingChannel: Crosscutting Concepts



Now that you've had a chance to review two of the three dimensions of the NGSS you should be getting a sense of where your chosen learning objective fits into the framework. Prepare a brief assessment of your learning objective discussing how it relates to a specific NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea and Crosscutting Concept. At the end of this unit revise your assessment taking into consideration any feedback you received in the discussion and submit your final thoughts as your Unit 3 Journal Entry.

Unit 3 Discussion: Aligning your learning objective with NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts

Unit 3 Journal Entry

Unit 2: What are the components of a standard?

Unit 4: What are the NGSS Science & Engineering Practices?