The New Generation Science Standards (NGSS) list pattern as the first theme crosscutting their standards. Another crosscutting theme is system modeling, which we address thoroughly. Our games are system models and have computer code versions which allow you to change variables to explore system effects. As system models of emergence, they show large scale global patterns which are different from the small scale rules for interaction. Thus we speak frequently of scale, which is another NGSS crosscutting theme. Our models show balancing and tipping, and the conditions under which the systems are stable and which conditions that lead to dramatic change, speaking to NGSS crosscutting theme seven. Some of our models relate to energy flows, crosscutting theme five.  We treat the crosscutting theme causality in terms of “causal patterns” (the terminology of the Harvard Graduate School of Education).  In fact, pattern is overarching theme under which we integrate all the crosscutting themes. We use our life pattern games to integrate Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Math (STREAM). By streaming together artificially separated subjects, with life pattern games, we streamline and simplify learning, giving you much more learning value for less time.

Excerpts from “Crosscutting Concepts in the New Generation Science Standards”

Download the entire Crosscutting Concepts pdf

“Crosscutting concepts have value because they provide students with connections and intellectual tools that are related across the differing areas of disciplinary content and can enrich their application of practices and their understanding of core ideas. — Framework p. 233” (A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts)

“The Framework identifies seven crosscutting concepts that bridge disciplinary boundaries, uniting core ideas throughout the fields of science and engineering. Their purpose is to help students deepen their understanding of the disciplinary core ideas (pp. 2 and 8), and develop a coherent and scientifically based view of the world (p. 83.) The seven crosscutting concepts presented in Chapter 4 of the Framework are as follows:

1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.

2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts.

3. Scale, proportion, and quantity. In considering phenomena, 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.

4. Systems and system models. Defining the system under study—specifying its boundaries and making explicit a model of that system—provides tools for understanding and testing ideas that are applicable throughout science and engineering.

5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation. Tracking fluxes of energy and matter into, out of, and within systems helps one understand the systems’ possibilities and limitations.

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

7. Stability and change. For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study.

The Framework notes that crosscutting concepts are featured prominently in other documents about what all students should learn about science for the past two decades. These have been called “themes” in Science for All Americans (AAA 1989) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (1993), “unifying principles” in National Science Education Standards (1996), and “crosscutting ideas” NSTA’s Science Anchors Project (2010). Although these ideas have been consistently included in previous standards documents the Framework recognizes that “students have often been expected to build such knowledge without any explicit instructional support. Hence the purpose of highlighting them as Dimension 2 of the framework is to elevate their role in the development of standards, curricula, instruction, and assessments.” (p. 83) The writing team has continued this commitment by weaving crosscutting concepts into the performance expectations for all students—so they cannot be left out.”

“Progression of Crosscutting Concepts Across the Grades

Following is a brief summary of how each crosscutting concept increases in complexity and sophistication across the grades as envisioned in the Framework. Examples of performance expectations illustrate how these ideas play out in the NGSS.

1. “Patterns exist everywhere—in regularly occurring shapes or structures and in repeating events and relationships. For example, patterns are discernible in the symmetry of flowers and snowflakes, the cycling of the seasons, and the repeated base pairs of DNA.” (p. 85)

While there are many patterns in nature, they are not the norm since there is a tendency for disorder to increase (e.g. it is far more likely for a broken glass to scatter than for scattered bits to assemble themselves into a whole glass). In some cases, order seems to emerge from chaos, as when a plant sprouts, or a tornado appears amidst scattered storm clouds. It is in such examples that patterns exist and the beauty of nature is found. “Noticing patterns is often a first step to organizing phenomena and asking scientific questions about why and how the patterns occur.” (p. 85)

“Once patterns and variations have been noted, they lead to questions; scientists seek explanations for observed patterns and for the similarity and diversity within them. Engineers often look for and analyze patterns, too. For example, they may diagnose patterns of failure of a designed system under test in order to improve the design, or they may analyze patterns of daily and seasonal use of power to design a system that can meet the fluctuating needs.” (page 85-86)

Patterns figure prominently in the science and engineering practice of “Analyzing and Interpreting Data.” Recognizing patterns is a large part of working with data. Students might look at geographical patterns on a map, plot data values on a chart or graph, or visually inspect the appearance of an organism or mineral. The crosscutting concept of patterns is also strongly associated with the practice of “Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking.” It is often the case that patterns are identified best using mathematical concepts. As Richard Feynman said, “To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature. If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in.”

The human brain is remarkably adept at identifying patterns, and students progressively build upon this innate ability throughout their school experiences. The following table lists the guidelines used by the writing team for how this progression plays out across K-12, with examples of performance expectations drawn from the NGSS.

In grades K-2, children recognize that patterns in the natural and human designed world can be observed, used to describe phenomena, and used as evidence.  Performance Expectation from the NGSS: 1-ESS1-1. Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.

In grades 3-5, students identify similarities and differences in order to sort and classify natural objects and designed products. They identify patterns related to time, including simple rates of change and cycles, and to use these patterns to make predictions. Performance Expectation from the NGSS: 4-PS4-1. Develop a model of waves to describe patterns in terms of amplitude and wavelength and that waves can cause objects to move.

In grades 6-8, students recognize that macroscopic patterns are related to the nature of microscopic and atomic-level structure. They identify patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships that provide information about natural and human designed systems. They use patterns to identify cause and effect relationships, and use graphs and charts to identify patterns in data. Performance Expectation from the NGSS: MS-LS4-1. Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past.

In grades 9-12, students observe patterns in systems at different scales and cite patterns as empirical evidence for causality in supporting their explanations of phenomena. They recognize classifications or explanations used at one scale may not be useful or need revision using a different scale; thus requiring improved investigations and experiments. They use mathematical representations to identify certain patterns and analyze patterns of performance in order to reengineer and improve a designed system. Performance Expectation from the NGSS:  HS-PS1-2. Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.”

Here we skip from crosscutting theme “patterns” to “systems and system models.”

“4. Systems and System Models are useful in science and engineering because the world is complex, so it is helpful to isolate a single system and construct a simplified model of it. “To do this, scientists and engineers imagine an artificial boundary between the system in question and everything else. They then examine the system in detail while treating the effects of things outside the boundary as either forces acting on the system or flows of matter and energy across it—for example, the gravitational force due to Earth on a book lying on a table or the carbon dioxide expelled by an organism. Consideration of flows into and out of the system is a crucial element of system design. In the laboratory or even in field research, the extent to which a system under study can be physically isolated or external conditions controlled is an important element of the design of an investigation and interpretation of results…The properties and behavior of the whole system can be very different from those of any of its parts, and large systems may have emergent properties, such as the shape of a tree, that cannot be predicted in detail from knowledge about the components and their interactions.” (p. 92) “Models can be valuable in predicting a system’s behaviors or in diagnosing problems or failures in its functioning, regardless of what type of system is being examined… In a simple mechanical system, interactions among the parts are describable in terms of forces among them that cause changes in motion or physical stresses. In more complex systems, it is not always possible or useful to consider interactions at this detailed mechanical level, yet it is equally important to ask what interactions are occurring (e.g., predator-prey relationships in an ecosystem) and to recognize that they all involve transfers of energy, matter, and (in some cases) information among parts of the system… Any model of a system incorporates assumptions and approximations; the key is to be aware of what they are and how they affect the model’s reliability and precision. Predictions may be reliable but not precise or, worse, precise but not reliable; the degree of reliability and precision needed depends on the use to which the model will be put.” (p. 93)

In grades K-2, students understand objects and organisms can be described in terms of their parts; and systems in the natural and designed world have parts that work together. Performance Expectation from the NGSS:  K-ESS3-1. Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals (including humans) and the places they live.

In grades 3-5, students understand that a system is a group of related parts that make up a whole and can carry out functions its individual parts cannot. They can also describe a system in terms of its components and their interactions. Performance Expectation from the NGSS: 3-LS4-4. Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.

In grades 6-8, students can understand that systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. They can use models to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems. They can also learn that models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study. Performance Expectation from the NGSS:  MS-PS2-4. Construct and present arguments using evidence to support the claim that gravitational interactions are attractive and depend on the masses of interacting objects.

In grades 9-12, students can investigate or analyze a system by defining its boundaries and initial conditions, as well as its inputs and outputs. They can use models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) to simulate the flow of energy, matter, and interactions within and between systems at different scales. They can also use models and simulations to predict the behavior of a system, and recognize that these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in the models. They can also design systems to do specific tasks. Performance Expectation from the NGSS: HS-LS2-5. Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.”