What is Three-Dimensional Learning According to NGSS

What is Three Dimensional Learning According to NGSS

Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, sounds a bit like a popular science fiction show featuring characters who explore the last frontier in a spaceship. Though NGSS doesn’t have plots about broken warp drives or navigating a new galaxy, it is about solving problems. 


The standards in NGSS are called dimensions because one is not subservient to another. Each of the three standards is equally important, and they all rely on each other. The standards take a holistic approach to help learners become proficient in science. 


In the past, learners were considered well-trained in science if they could recite the periodic table and label a diagram of a cell. However, this isn’t good enough anymore. Learners need to know facts, methods, and theory so they can discover, test, and revise their own ideas. And these extended abilities apply to every field of study and work. This is why NGSS exists, and its three dimensions encompass so much.


Scientific and Engineering Practices

This dimension includes the word “practices” instead of “skills” to emphasize the actions of scientists and engineers. Both ask questions and build models based on established theories. They must know the basic tenets of their fields and how those apply to finding answers.

Crosscutting Concepts

These are seven ideas that apply to every scientific domain. Though some of these notions may seem basic, such as patterns, they must be taught explicitly. In other words, it cannot be assumed that learners “just know” some of these concepts. Learners must also be taught how to recognize these ideas in different areas of science. These concepts include scale, cause and effect, similarity and diversity, structure and function, systems and system models, and stability and change.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

These ideas fall into four categories: physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering and technology science. In order to be “core,” or one of the most important concepts in science, it must have at least two of the following characteristics as described  by the National Science Teaching Association:

  • Have broad importance across multiple sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing concept of a single discipline;
  • Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems;
  • Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technological knowledge;
  • Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication.


To give learners the best chance of success, educational organizations and material providers need to adopt this approach. This may mean reviewing, reorganizing, restructuring previous models, but the results will benefit learners and the fields they eventually work in, which may one day include starships. 

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