3D Learning in the Science Classroom

3D Learning in the Science Classroom

Hey there, welcome back to my NGSS and PA STEELS adventure! In this second round of the series, I'm taking a deep dive into the captivating realm of 3D learning. If you're a high school science teacher already cruising through NGSS, then you're in for a treat with this post. It's like the next level of your teaching game. I'm going to uncover how to blend Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas into an educational masterpiece. If you missed the first blog about NGSS and STEELS, no worries, just catch up to get all the backstory for this 3D learning extravaganza. Let's rock this educational journey together!

Understanding 3D Learning

Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) are like a toolkit of eight awesome techniques that scientists and engineers use to unravel the cool secrets of the natural world. These practices aren't just about hitting the books; they're hands-on, real-deal ways to get into the nitty-gritty of science. They're like a backstage pass to the world of inquiry. And guess what? We're about to dive into each of these SEPs to see what makes them tick. Let's get this science party started!

an infographic listing the 8 science and engineering practices

  1. Asking Questions and Defining Problems
    This one's all about sparking that inner detective in students. We encourage them to throw out open-ended questions and spot real-world problems to dig into. It's like diving headfirst into a treasure hunt of scientific curiosity. Whether it's coming up with wild guesses (aka hypotheses), figuring out the 'why' of things, or realizing where our knowledge has its limits, this practice keeps that fire of curiosity burning.
  2. Developing and Using Models
    Think of models as our scientific sidekicks, helping us simplify the complex stuff. In this practice, students get to craft their own mini-versions of things to show what's going on. It's like creating a mini-movie to understand the big blockbuster. And as they fine-tune these models with data and observations, they get a real feel for how scientists put ideas together.
  3. Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
    This one's the hands-on adventure! Students step into the shoes of explorers. They cook up experiments, grab data, and really take a close look at things. It's like they're the Sherlock Holmes of science, making decisions about how to collect info, where things might go wrong, and how to sort out all those clues.
  4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data
    In a world bursting with info, being able to read data like a pro is gold. Students learn how to pull meaning from numbers, spot trends, and make solid conclusions based on evidence. It's like becoming a data detective, finding those patterns and making some savvy calls.
  5. Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
    Numbers are the secret language of science. Students learn how to use math to talk about relationships in the natural world. And think of computational thinking as a fancy way of saying they'll use digital tools to crunch data and build models. It's like becoming math magicians who can make sense of the science puzzle.
  6. Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    Now, it's time to put on the 'explainer' hat. Students get to weave together evidence, science smarts, and those core ideas to create well-thought-out explanations or even cook up cool solutions to real-world problems. It's like they're becoming the storytellers of science, turning complex stuff into something everyone can understand.
  7. Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    This is where the science showdown happens. Scientists don't just talk; they back up their ideas with evidence. Students learn how to make strong arguments, share their thoughts, and even tackle different opinions. It's like getting into a friendly debate where everyone's got some cool facts to back them up.
  8. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
    In a world full of information overload, being able to sort through it all is like having a superpower. This practice teaches students how to pick out the good stuff, figure out what's reliable, and then talk about their findings in a clear and meaningful way. It's like they're the news reporters of science, sharing what they've found with the world.

So, these eight SEPs are like your secret sauce to turning students into science superheroes! They're not just learning about science; they're actually doing it, just like real scientists and engineers. With hands-on adventures, mind-bending puzzles, and all those cool methods scientists use, these SEPs take learning to a whole new level.

Imagine them digging into experiments, questioning like detectives, and explaining stuff like pros. They're not just memorizing facts; they're cracking the code of how things work. And you know what? That's the kind of learning that sticks. These SEPs aren't just changing the game; they're rewriting the whole rulebook.

This isn't just about passing tests. It's about creating a tribe of curious minds who love diving into the unknown, solving problems, and thinking critically. It's like giving them a backstage pass to the world of science. And with these skills, they're not just students; they're future leaders, problem solvers, and thinkers who are all set to tackle whatever the world throws their way.

Imagine Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) as the ultimate science connectors—they're like bridges that link different science areas. It's like these subjects are having a big science party, all holding hands and sharing secrets. Pretty awesome, right? And these Crosscutting Concepts? They're the MVPs that you'll find in every nook and cranny of science.


First up, we've got Patterns. This concept is like the treasure map of science. It's all about spotting those repeating shapes, behaviors, and trends that pop up everywhere. Whether you're looking at cells under a microscope, tracking the phases of the moon, or deciphering chemical reactions, Patterns are your guide to finding order in the chaos.

Cause and Effect

Next, say hello to Cause and Effect. This one's like the detective of science. It helps you figure out how things tick—what makes stuff happen and what happens as a result. It's the reason plants grow towards the sun, why magnets stick to the fridge, and why planets orbit the sun. It's like science's way of saying, "If you do this, that's gonna happen."

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

Now let's talk about Scale, Proportion, and Quantity. Think of this concept as the magician's assistant of science. It helps you zoom in and out, understanding how things change when you tweak their size or amount. Whether you're dealing with atoms or galaxies, this concept helps you make sense of it all, like uncovering the hidden magic behind the scenes.

Systems and System Models

Here comes Systems and System Models, the ultimate teamwork champions of science. These concepts are all about understanding how things work together as a team. It's like breaking down a car engine to see how each part contributes to making it run smoothly. Whether it's ecosystems in nature or machines in the lab, Systems and System Models show you how the pieces fit.

Energy and Matter

Ready for a jolt of excitement? Energy and Matter are here! They're like the dynamic duo of science, helping you understand how things move, transform, and interact. Think of them as the actors in a never-ending science play—energy dances and matter changes costumes, keeping the show going. From batteries to bouncing balls, Energy and Matter are the stars of the show.

Structure and Function

Now, meet Structure and Function. These are like the architects of science, designing how things are built and what they do. It's why a bird's wings are shaped the way they are, why leaves have tiny pores, and why our cells are so intricately designed. Structure and Function are all about understanding the design secrets of the natural world.

Stability and Change

Last but not least, we have Stability and Change. This is like the weather forecaster of science, predicting what stays the same and what's gonna shake things up. It's why some species survive while others disappear, why water freezes at a certain temperature, and why your favorite snack turns into compost. Stability and Change help you see the balance and the transformations happening all around.

These Crosscutting Concepts are the ultimate guides to unraveling the secrets of science. They're like the compasses that help you navigate through different subjects, making the journey super exciting. By understanding these concepts, you're not just learning facts—you're becoming a science master, seeing how everything fits into the grand scheme of things. It's like science's way of winking and saying, "Hey, it's all connected!"

Now, let’s move on to the heart and soul of scientific understanding: Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs)  Think of these as the building blocks, the essential stuff that lays the foundation for all things science. These ideas are the bedrock that holds up four science disciplines: Physical Science, Earth and Space Science, Life Science, and Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science. They're like the key principles, theories, and know-how that make science tick.

infographic showing the four scientific disciplines and underpinning principles of each

Physical Science

Imagine diving into the world of Physical Science. Here, DCIs cover everything from matter and energy to forces and motion. It's like peeking into the secrets of atoms and molecules, understanding how things move, and exploring why things act the way they do. Think about concepts like conserving energy or uncovering the hidden properties of matter. This is the stuff that lays the groundwork for understanding the mechanics of the universe.

Earth and Space Science

Now picture venturing into Earth and Space Science. These DCIs take you on a cosmic adventure, from the Earth's surface to the far reaches of space. They're about the systems that shape our planet, the water cycle, climate changes, and the epic story of how the universe came to be. It's like stepping into the shoes of a detective, investigating Earth's past, its place in the cosmos, and all the magic that happens above us.

Life Science

Next up: Life Science. These DCIs are all about the wonders of life, from tiny cells to entire ecosystems. It's like diving into the intricate world of genetics, understanding how life adapts and evolves, and uncovering the dance of energy in ecosystems. This is where you grasp the beauty and complexity of life's diversity, like piecing together a massive puzzle of living things.

Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science

And then there's the exciting realm of Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science. Here, DCIs are all about using scientific know-how to solve real-world problems. It's like becoming an inventor or an engineer, understanding how to design solutions and navigate the complex relationship between science and technology. Think optimization, constraints, and creative problem-solving—it's all part of the game.

When you mix these DCIs with Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs), you're creating a whole new way of learning. It's not just about memorizing facts; it's about diving into real science action. By doing experiments, crafting models, and embracing scientific techniques, you're not just understanding science—you're living it. And guess what? This way of learning sets you up not just for acing tests, but for tackling the big, real-world challenges that lie ahead. It's like becoming a science superhero, ready to take on anything that comes your way.

Benefits of 3D Learning

Alright, let's dive into the awesomeness of 3D learning and how it's a game-changer for your students:

Sparking Lifelong Curiosity: With 3D learning, you're not just pouring knowledge into students' minds; you're igniting a flame of curiosity. They become active explorers, asking questions, seeking answers, and diving deeper into the "whys" and "hows." This curiosity doesn't stop at the classroom door; it sticks with them, making them eager to learn and discover throughout their lives.

Mastering Practical Skills: 3D learning isn't just about theories and concepts; it's about hands-on skills that matter. Students aren't passive observers; they're scientists and problem solvers in the making. They analyze data, design experiments, and collaborate like professionals. These skills are a toolkit they'll carry into whatever field they choose, preparing them for the real world's challenges.

Connecting Learning to Reality: Science isn't confined to textbooks; it's all around us. 3D learning bridges the gap between the classroom and reality. Students see how science is intertwined with their daily lives, from the food they eat to the technology they use. This connection makes learning meaningful and impactful, turning students into informed citizens who understand and engage with the world around them.

So, when you embrace 3D learning, you're not just teaching science; you're shaping future thinkers, problem solvers, and informed citizens who are ready to take on whatever the world throws at them. It's like giving them a toolkit that's way cooler than any textbook. It's a whole new way of learning that's exciting, engaging, and, most importantly, life-changing.

Strategies for Effective 3D Learning Implementation

Integrating SEPs into Lessons: Think of SEPs as the heartbeats of your lessons. Instead of just pouring out facts, make your classroom a hub of scientific exploration. Set up hands-on experiments that allow students to touch, feel, and see science in action. Encourage them to analyze data, make observations, and construct models. It's like turning your classroom into a mini laboratory where they're the scientists, discovering and learning by doing. This approach not only deepens their understanding but also fosters a genuine passion for scientific inquiry.

Utilizing CCCs for Connection: Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) are like the bridges between science subjects. They show students that science isn't a bunch of isolated facts; it's a web of interconnected ideas. As you teach, bring out these concepts to demonstrate how a principle in biology connects with a concept in physics or chemistry. Show them that scientific thinking isn't confined to a single subject—it's a way of understanding the world around us. This approach widens their perspective and encourages them to see the bigger picture.

Aligning DCIs with Performance Expectations: Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) are like the anchors of your teaching. They're the foundational principles that hold your lessons together. When you align these DCIs with NGSS performance expectations, you're creating a roadmap for comprehensive learning. Craft your lessons around these core ideas while integrating SEPs and CCCs. It's like building a puzzle where every piece fits perfectly, creating a holistic understanding of science. This approach ensures that students don't just skim the surface; they dive deep into the heart of scientific concepts.

Overcoming Challenges in 3D Learning

Embarking on the voyage of 3D learning in your science classroom is a thrilling but intimidating endeavor. Below are 3 common obstacles you might face as you transition to this method of teaching with actionable steps to give you and/or your teacher team a roadmap for a seamless integration of 3D Learning in your classroom.

Time Constraints and Resources: Striking the right balance between your tried-and-true content and the exciting world of 3D learning is key; especially in the beginning when you are just getting your feet wet teaching in a new way.

  1. Prioritize Your Goals: Identify the core 3D practices and concepts that align with your curriculum. Focus on a handful that resonate most with your teaching style and student needs.
  2. Curate Resources: Dive into the wealth of online resources tailored to 3D learning. Leverage these tools to enhance your teaching without overwhelming your schedule.
  3. Collaborative Genius: Pool your creative energies with fellow educators. Share ideas, activities, and approaches to effectively integrate 3D learning into your lessons.

Measuring Student Progress: Shifting from conventional testing to assessing 3D learning requires a strategic approach. You are no longer assessing your students on memorizing facts, terms, or processes; 3D Learning is all about assessing how your students use their knowledge or information to solve novel problems, scenarios, or case studies. Traditional assessments should be paired with projects, lab reports, or oral assessments.

  1. Craft Performance Tasks: Develop performance-based assessments that require students to apply their 3D skills. Think experiments, projects, and presentations that showcase their understanding.
  2. Argue It Out: For high school biology or chemistry, set the stage for students to construct and defend scientific arguments. This not only assesses their grasp of concepts but also sharpens their critical thinking.

Shift from Traditional to 3D Learning: Moving from traditional teaching methods to 3D learning might seem daunting. Start small, infuse one or two practices or concepts, and build from there. Embrace a growth mindset as you adapt your teaching style. My next blog post will cover some of this in more detail and you will get some goodies to help you with this process!

  1. Start Small: Begin with a couple of 3D practices or concepts. Choose ones that naturally fit into your existing lessons or units. First focus on one unit of study and one lab or activity in that unit to adapt.
  2. Trial and Reflect: Integrate the selected practices and concepts and observe the impact. Reflect on what worked well and what could use adjustments. Do your students need more content up front? Different question or discussion stems or techniques? Is there scaffolding you could put in place that will be gradually removed as the year progresses?
  3. Gradual Expansion: As you gain confidence, gradually expand the incorporation of 3D elements across more lessons. It gets easier with time and experience. If you focus on just one activity in each unit throughout the year, by the end of the year you will have one three-dimensional activity in each of your units to expand on the next school year.
  4. Feedback Loop: Encourage student feedback on the new approach. Their insights can guide your adjustments and improvements. I love giving my students anonymous midpoint and end of course surveys to get a pulse on their feelings about and in the classroom.
  5. Growth Mindset: Embrace the mindset of continuous growth. Every step you take brings you closer to a more dynamic and effective teaching style. Teaching is an art that takes years to craft in an effective way.

Your Next Steps

3D learning isn't just some fancy educational technique; it's a real game-changer. As high school science teachers, we hold this incredible power to spark curiosity and shape the next generation of scientists. It's like we're planting seeds of scientific wonder that will grow into something amazing. By weaving together Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas, we're turning textbook theories into hands-on adventures.

But before we wrap up, don't forget to dive into our first blog post all about the NGSS. It's like the foundation for this whole exciting journey. And hey, check out my other series on how to make learning even cooler with inquiry techniques and the magic of phenomena in your science classroom. Want to keep the science party going? Join my email list or catch me on Instagram.

And guess what? There's more goodness coming your way with the third post in our series: "Planning for the NGSS Using the Curriculum You Already Have." We're about to spill the beans on how to seamlessly blend your current lessons with the NGSS alphabet soup. So, let's keep riding this wave of science education innovation together!

Need more support with inquiry-based learning or the NGSS? Check out my blog series on inquiry learning and NGSS:

Talk soon!

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