What are the Three Dimensions of 3-D Science? | NGSS

What are the Three Dimensions of 3-D Science?

Why do we need NGSS?

The fundamental aim of the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was to change science teaching as we knew it. The way that we used to, and many people still do, teach science is not a reflection of how science is being used in the real world—the scientists and engineers of today approach science in a practical, proactive way on a day-to-day basis. With the help of the new standards, teachers will be able to make science more approachable, more engaging, and more reflective of our current society. 

Instead of focusing on rote memorization, the NGSS highlights important skills such as research, communication, and analytical thinking. While content knowledge is still a part of the standards, the focus is on teaching students how to engage with new knowledge, answer questions and solve problems, and make connections between the different scientific disciplines, as well as relating science to the real world. This is where three-dimensional learning comes into play. 

Three-Dimensional Learning

At the base of the NGSS are three “dimensions” of science learning:

  1. 1. Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs)
  2. 2. Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs)
  3. 3. Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs)

Every standard, or performance expectation, is supported by these dimensions. SEPs and CCCs are designed to be taught in context, while a focus on a small number of DCIs help students gain a thorough understanding of the science disciplines. Together, the three dimensions reflect far more accurately how science and engineering is practiced in the real world. 

Science and Engineering Practices highlight methods that scientists and engineers actually use as part of their work, such as modeling, developing explanations, and engaging in critique and evaluation. The SEPs require students to learn by doing, thus acquiring skills that can be applied to problems across all STEM disciplines. The eight SEPs are:

  1. 1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. 2. Developing and using models
  3. 3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. 4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. 5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. 6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. 7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. 8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting Concepts are ideas that appear across several areas of STEM. They give students “an organizational framework for connecting knowledge from the various disciplines” and include concepts such as cause and effect, energy and matter, and stability and change. The seven CCCs are:

  1. 1. Patterns
  2. 2. Cause and effect
  3. 3. Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  4. 4. Systems and System Models
  5. 5. Energy and Matter
  6. 6. Structure and Function
  7. 7. Stability and Change

Disciplinary Core Ideas can be simply defined as “content knowledge.” They are those ideas that are crucial to understanding the science disciplines, and can either be a key concept to a specific discipline or relevant to more than one discipline. They are divided into four content domains: 

  1. 1. Life Sciences
  2. 2. Earth and Space Sciences
  3. 3. Physical Sciences
  4. 4. Engineering, Technology, and the Application of Science

Together, the three dimensions create opportunities for learning how to think and act like scientists and engineers, while covering necessary content knowledge. Three-dimensional learning helps maximize student engagement and improve learning outcomes.