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The NGSS 3 Dimensions of Science Learning: Understanding Why They Are Key

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Sep 1, 2021

KA_bloggraphicThe STEM cycle of innovation is about relationships between the core STEM components – science, technology, engineering and math.

Understanding the relationship between STEM components

Science is knowledge from experimentation, engineering uses scientific knowledge to produce technology that solves problems, and math works to enable these other components as the tool for quantifying or measuring, then communicating information.

These relationships are the foundation of the Next Generation Science Standards because they are the foundation of innovation in STEM industries beyond school.

Understanding the 3 dimensions of NGSS is essential

As a result of effective STEM instruction, students should be able to demonstrate what they have learned in new scenarios and contexts. Students should have the critical thinking and STEM practice skills necessary for working through questions and problems.

One way to understand how the three dimensions of the NGSS achieve this is to picture a stool. The performance expectation is like the seat of the stool, while the three dimensions are like the three legs of the stool holding up the seat. The dimensions not only support the standard but also help form the context in which the students will be expected to demonstrate their understanding.

The 3 dimensions of Next Generation Science Standards:

  • Science and engineering practices are the skills dimension, something you may be familiar with within the Common Core math practices. The practices describe the behaviors that scientists and engineers engage in as they investigate questions and solve problems. Consider the practice of developing and using models. One reason scientists develop models is to demonstrate how the parts of a system work together and influence one another. With NGSS, students need to be able to develop models to evaluate the evidence provided by the model to gain insights into the phenomenon being modeled.

  • Disciplinary core ideas are the content leg. NGSS content was chosen because it is dynamic and interacts with other areas of content in a system. NGSS disciplinary core ideas are designed to focus learning on the most important aspects of science, as well as to be teachable and learnable over multiple grades as students progress through their studies. Take the disciplinary core idea of cycles of matter and energy transfer in ecosystems. With NGSS, students should understand that matter cycles and energy transfers among the living and nonliving components of an ecosystem.

  • Crosscutting concepts are those concepts that can be applied across all domains of science. They provide a framework that helps students understand the connected nature of scientific concepts across domains. Consider the crosscutting concept of systems and system models. It is useful to understand the whole of an ecosystem as well as the parts that make it up in order to understand how the ecosystem functions.

Now, consider a lesson that uses the NGSS three dimensions to support the performance expectation of developing a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

For example, developing a model of a food web to analyze how matter cycles and energy transfers through both the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem. They might then use their model to answer a question related to how the cycling of matter and flow of energy changes when an invasive species is introduced to the ecosystem, observing and evaluating the connections in the system.

Effective STEM instruction will have students engaged in science and engineering practices

By using NGSS three dimensional learning, educators are doing more than teaching a specific performance expectation. Educators are also supporting young minds in developing critical thinking and STEM practice skills – the skills they will need to question, analyze, evaluate, problem-solve, create, and innovate.

These skills are not only important for STEM learning in school or STEM careers beyond school; they are also essential life skills, equipping those young minds with the tools they need to realize their own ideal of a bright, promising future, whatever that ideal may be.

Next Generation Science PD Session Resources for Teachers

Topics: Next Generation Science Standards

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