Planning Coherent Curriculum

I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about Grade 5 science curriculum. How do we make sure that we are creating opportunities for students to learn what they need to progress to higher grades? The K-12 Framework has learning progressions that we need to carefully consider in curriculum design. We need to use them effectively.

We have three NGSS dimensions with many components: 11 disciplinary core ideas, seven crosscutting concepts, and eight science and engineering practices. The performance expectations tell us what will be assessed by suggesting how the components can be combined, but they are not curriculum. However, most curriculum development approaches begin by grouping PEs into logical clusters, such as described in the front matter for NYU SAIL’s Garbage unit. Therefore, the combinations of dimensions in the PEs often affect what is emphasized in curriculum and instruction.

Let’s look at Grade 5. I analyzed the content of the PEs, which revealed:

  • Of 16 crosscutting concept elements, 56% were not addressed.
  • Of 7 crosscutting concepts, 2 crosscutting concepts were not addressed at all (structure & function, stability & change)
  • Of 40 science and engineering practice elements, 73% were not addressed.

Curriculum developers need strategies for addressing elements that are not in performance expectations in a way that is coherent within and across grades. In curricula that focus on students’ modeling of phenomena, the science and engineering practices are naturally integrated. For example, see this figure from Passmore et al. (2017). When students are actively developing and using models, the other SEPs inform and are informed by Developing and Using Models.

Passmore et al. (2017)

But what about the crosscutting concepts? There has not been a strategic way to integrate the crosscutting concepts. In my last blog post, I introduced a graphic organizer adapted from Rehmat et al. (2017) and used it to apply all the crosscutting concepts to a phenomenon. This could be a way to systematically address the CCCs, just as model-driven curricula are a way to address the SEPs.

Lori Andersen (2020). Adapted from model in Rehmat et al. (2019)

The CCCs are the epistemic heuristics, or “thinking tools” of science (Krist et al., 2018). They help students figure out the mechanistic explanations that are needed when modeling phenomena. If we apply all the CCCs to the phenomenon in curriculum planning, we might ensure that students have opportunities to learn about all the CCC elements in the grade band.

More to come as I explore this idea in my work. Do you have any comments about this approach? Please share here or on Twitter.


Krist, C., Schwarz, C. V., & Reiser, B. J. (2019). Identifying essential epistemic heuristics for guiding mechanistic reasoning in science learning. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 28(2), 160–205.

NYU SAIL. (2019). Garbage Unit Front Matter.

Passmore, C, Schwarz, C.V. & Mankowski, J. (2017). Developing and using models. In C. V. Schwarz, C. Passmore, and B. J. Reiser (Eds.), Helping students make sense of the world using next generation science and engineering practices, pp. 33–58. NSTA Press.

Rehmat, A.P., Lee, O. Nordine, J., Novak, A.M., Osborne, J., & Willard, T. (2019).  Modeling the role of crosscutting concepts for strengthening science learning of all students. In S. J. Fick, J. Nordine, & K. W. McElhaney (Eds.), Proceedings of the summit for examining the potential for crosscutting concepts to support three-dimensional learning. University of VA.

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