What are Crosscutting Concepts and Why are They Important? - Rabbi Matthew Bellas
Rabbi Matthew Bellas

What are Crosscutting Concepts and Why are They Important?

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education is all the rage in the United States and beyond as schools work to prepare children for a rapidly changing and developing world and for jobs that have not yet been invented/created.  Over the past several years, CESJDS has not simply been making an effort to “keep up with the times,” but we have been a thought and practice leader in the field of STEM education. While in most schools, STEM is viewed and applied as a specialty field for “one off” activities, events, speakers, etc., several years ago the Lower School (and more recently the Middle and High Schools) identified the STEM field as a discipline that could influence our overall approach to integrated education and become a core element of our educational program.  While we, like most schools, started small, we have now come to a place where STEM concepts and thinking are at the foundation of our program across all subject matter disciplines, General and Judaic studies alike. How have we accomplished this and become a leader in the field? With our use of the Crosscutting Concepts.

Oe element of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), developed by the National Research Council and endorsed and adopted by the National Science Teacher Association, is the Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs).  These are overarching “big” ideas that provide a platform or framework for students to be able to make connections between different disciplines of study. They are:

  • Patterns

  • Cause and Effect

  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

  • Systems and System Models

  • Energy and Matter

  • Structure and Function

  • Stability and Change

The original intent of the CCCs was to provide opportunities for integrative thinking and study across the disciplines of science.  However, as we at the Lower School were reviewing and revising our science curriculum to become more aligned with the NGSS, we realized that the CCCs could be applied for integrated curriculum development across all disciplines and could become an organizing driver for school-wide STEM program and curriculum growth.  As a dual curriculum school, interdisciplinary study and cross-curricular connections occur organically.  However, using the CCCs for the purpose of integration move us into a place of deliberate cross-curricular planning across all grade levels and subjects as opposed to coincidental connection making.  In a world where integrated thinking is a critical skill, schools must design curriculum and create experiences in precisely that. Our CCCs integrated curriculum breaks down the silos of discipline-based study and offers students cutting-edge cross-disciplinary education.

To convert this new curriculum planning idea into practice, we decided that each grade level 1st-5th would adopt one of the CCC’s and use it as an integrative thread both among and between subjects.  For example, 1st grade students would explore and discuss where and how Patterns appear in reading, writing, math, Hebrew language, Judaic studies, science, art...etc. and develop pattern-themed “kaleidoscope projects” that integrated at least two subjects and focused on patterns.  The first project that emerged was “Patterns of Shabbat” where students would learn about the order of the rituals and blessings of the Shabbat dinner table (Judaic studies), draw and map them on a large scale (art and social studies), then program a Dot and Dash robot to travel the order on the map (technology and engineering), at each stop playing an audio file of the blessing that the students pre-recorded into them (technology and music).  Each grade level is in the process of developing multiple kaleidoscope projects inspired by the content of their curriculum and their CCCs:

  • 1st grade - Patterns

  • 2nd grade - Structure and Function

  • 3rd Grade- Cause and Effect

  • 4th - Stability and Change

  • 5th - Systems and System Models

As you can see, this is a very exciting curriculum initiative which, to our knowledge, we are the only school known to be developing.

In just a few short weeks, we will be celebrating the 100th Day of School, a milestone of the school year for our lower elementary grades.  This day has always been used for special programming, first in Math and then in STEM. As a next step, a few years ago, we started hosting a Math & Science Night event during the week of the 100th Day of School.  For this year, in order both to highlight the development and progress of our curriculum integration work and to recognize the place it now holds in the School, we have transformed this program into Crosscutting Concepts Night.  During the event, teachers will be hosting a variety of activities at different developmental age levels that will have students and parents thinking about and engaging with the CCCs as a window into our unique curriculum integration experience.  We are excited about this next step forward with our curriculum and programming and hope to have the same incredible participation from families that we have had since the inception of this evening event. Here are the details:

Lower School Crosscutting Concepts Night

Wednesday, February 11th, 2019

6:00-7:30 PM

The opportunity to pre-order a pizza dinner for the family will be available.  See upcoming editions of the Weekly Newsletter to make your order.

For more information about the CCCs, click here.


Rabbi Matthew Bellas