Crosscutting Concepts

Crosscutting Concepts: The Ultimate Guide

What are Crosscutting Concepts?

Crosscutting concepts, or CCCs, are one of the three dimensions of 3-D science. They are themes that appear again and again across STEM subjects. In the NRC’s A Framework for K–12 Science Education, CCCs are defined as concepts that bridge disciplinary core boundaries, having explanatory value throughout much of science and engineering.

While they can feel slightly abstract, the CCCs are crucial to building content knowledge and understanding scientific processes. As students progress in their scientific education, these concepts will appear in multiple disciplines again and again and should become more and more familiar.

Crosscutting Concepts Blog Series

Throughout this blog series, we will take a look at each of the seven crosscutting concepts in-depth, and the progression throughout kindergarten, elementary and middle school.


Patterns appear again and again in nature and science—such as the symmetry of flowers, the lunar cycle, and the structure of DNA. Recognizing patterns is important for many scientific tasks, like classification or analyzing and interpreting data.

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect can be seen as the next step after identifying patterns. This CCC involves discovering the underlying cause of phenomena, understanding connections and causation, and finding out why one event leads to another.

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

A big part of investigating phenomena involves comparing them using relative scales (e.g., bigger and smaller, faster and slower) and describing them using units of, for example, weight, time, temperature, and volume.

Systems and System Models

A system contains objects that are related and form a whole, enabling scientists to study smaller units of investigations. It can be as large as a whole galaxy and as small as the human circulatory system. Or even smaller—a single molecule.

Energy and Matter

This crosscutting concept emphasizes that energy and matter flows in and out of any system—for example, the sunlight (energy) and water (matter) that a plant needs to grow, or the flow of water in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Structure and Function

This crosscutting concept refers to the shapes, relationships, and properties of materials in natural and human-made systems. For example, in engineering understanding the structure and function of different materials helps ensure a more effective design.

Stability and Change

Stability and change refers to the understanding of how change occurs in any system and how we can use technology to control change. Focusing on understanding concepts like dynamic equilibrium, the flow of water and the Moon’s orbit.

Crosscutting Concepts Printable Poster Series

Download our free printable posters to serve as a reminder for your students that the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts are an important part of the process of scientific investigations.

Explore Crosscutting Concepts with a Dedicated 3-D Science Program

To ensure that you hit the three dimensions, you need the support of a good 3-D science program. Twig Science Next Gen is a phenomena-based science program for Grades PK/TK–8 created specifically to ensure that all students have an interwoven understanding of Crosscutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Practices, and Disciplinary Core Ideas

In Twig Science Next Gen, students experience dozens of different STEM roles as they become creative problem solvers, making sense of engaging, real-world phenomena. To learn more about how Twig Science Next Gen can help you incorporate the crosscutting concepts into your curriculum, contact us today.

Learn more about Real-World Phenomena with

Twig Science Next Gen