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As we learn to navigate an increasingly complex world and sort through data from many sources, it is important that students understand how to use science to decide what stories might be true. To promote full understanding of science and critical thinking using data, teachers implement three-dimensional science teaching in their classrooms.

What are the three dimensions of science teaching and assessing? 

Disciplinary Core Content 
Disciplinary Core Content represents the “what” that students should learn about science. Whether understanding how human body systems work together to keep us alive, how various chemicals react when combined, or knowing the physics behind air travel, students need to know the properties and structures that make up the world around us. 
Science and Engineering Practices 
The Science and Engineering Practices describe “how” students should learn science. These practices represent the practices that scientists and engineers use to make sense of the world around them. Skills such as develop and use models, analyze and interpret data, obtain, evaluate, and communicate information help students make sense of the data they encounter in our world and make decisions about the truthfulness of claims.   
Cross-Cutting Concepts 
The Cross-Cutting Concepts identify how students should think about science ideas. These concepts have applications across multiple domains of science and help us link the different parts of science. Viewing science through lenses of patterns, cause and effect, systems, or any of the other four cross-cutting concepts helps students see connections between ideas and begin to understand the complexity of science and our world.  


How might we build all three dimensions into our classrooms? 

Educators can follow these steps to ensure that students have opportunities to experience science through all three dimensions: core content, science and engineering practices, and cross-cutting concepts: 

STEP ONE:  Select a Disciplinary Core Idea to be the focus of your lesson or assessment. The select content should align with grade level standards as defined by your state Department of Education.  

For example, a third grade teacher in S.C. might select the core idea of properties and changes in matter, specifically how heat energy can be used to change matter from one state to another. This teacher focuses on the third grade S.C. science standard Obtain and communicate information to compare how different processes (including burning, friction, and electricity) serve as sources of heat energy. 

STEP TWO:  Select a scenario or phenomenon to frame the learning experience. Scenarios might come from everyday situations, science investigations, classroom situations, or hypothetical situations. A phenomenon is an observable event. According to,  


The most powerful phenomena in instruction are personally relevant or consequential to students. Such phenomena highlight how science ideas help us explain aspects of real-world contexts or design solutions to science-related problems that matter to students, their communities, and society. 

The Wonder of Science has gathered a list of phenomena by grade level that teachers will find useful as they are designing lessons and assessments.   

Continuing with the previous example, the teacher might set up a demonstration with a bottle and balloon to show how heat energy can be used to inflate a balloon, similar to this video.

STEP THREE:  Select a Science and Engineering Practice (SEP) and a Cross-Cutting Concept (CCC) for focus during the lesson or assessment. The SEP and CCC should align with the disciplinary core idea selected.   

For example, if a teacher selects the third grade S.C. science standard Obtain and communicate information to compare how different processes (including burning, friction, and electricity) serve as sources of heat energy, the Science and Engineering Practice embedded in the standard is “Obtain and communicate information,” and the Cross-cutting Concept for focus could be Energy and Matter, although other concepts might also be connected to this content idea.  


STEP FOUR:  Determine what types of questions students should be able to answer about the scenario or phenomena after instruction. STEM Teaching Tools’ Task Formats for the Science and Engineering Practices and Prompts for the Cross-cutting Concepts are useful tools.   


Some questions that teachers might ask about the balloon and bottle demonstration include:

  • How is energy coming into the bottle and balloon?  
  • How is energy going out of the bottle and balloon? 


By integrating all three dimensions into our science teaching, we prepare students to enter the world with world-class skills and abilities to critically examine data and make good decisions for their futures, as well as the future of our world.  


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