Cross-cutting Concepts

Happy Tuesday, Friends.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about cross-cutting concepts in science.  What exactly are these mysterious things, you might ask?  To me, being a biochemist, these are common molecules you see in all living things (proteins, DNA, etc.) or common processes cells need to live.

But if you think even more broadly, according to the National Science Teachers Association there are 7 big, cross-cutting concepts in science:


  1. Patterns – Patterns observed in nature guide organization and classification and prompt questions about relationships between things. e. – rain and crop growth.
  2. Scale, Proportion, and Quantity – what is relevant at different size, time, and energy scales.
  3. Systems and System Models – A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.  Scientists love to develop model systems for everything thing from the big bang to a human disease – with varying degrees of success.
  4. Energy and Matter – Tracking how energy and matter flows, into, out of, and within systems helps you understand the system better.
  5. Structure and Function – The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and how it works.  Think of how the curve of an airplane wing makes it fly.
  6. Stability and Change – conditions that affect stability of systems and factors that control rates of change are critical elements to consider and understand.

And – the concept I want to talk a little more about:

  1. Cause and Effect. This is a concept that touches our daily lives in countless ways

Your soup is too hot, you burn your tongue.

You eat because you are hungry

The wind blows in one place and it rains in another

Or – A student in college is trying to decide between two careers – a teacher or engineer, say.  On the day they need to declare a major, they by chance meet a relative who is a teacher who talks about their career in a way that makes the young person think they regret it.  The student finds it meaningful that they met this relative on the exact day they were making career decisions, so the student becomes an engineer.

What are some examples of cause and effect that you have observed lately?


  1. Jean De Muzio

    Most people only concern themselves with 3 or 4 of these concepts when considering a problem, usually with the emphasis on the 7th concept- cause and effect. We see the 7th concept played out in daily life in politics, in what to spend our money on or in a decision about what food to prepare or what to wear. It’s part of all of life.

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