The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013) reimagined science standards to include a focus on the integration of disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), scientific practices (SPs), and crosscutting concepts (CCCs), which together make-up the three dimensions of science education. Although the standards describe combinations of the three dimensions, how the three dimensions might come together in classroom instruction is unclear. Using a curricular unit co-developed with the classroom teacher who enacted it, this study asks: What does integration of the three dimensions look like in middle school classrooms? The analysis focuses on describing the learning, and opportunities to learn, that occurred in conjunction with the enactment of an NGSS-based curricular unit. This study uses qualitative analysis protocols to identify instances of the three dimensions in: (a) the written curricular unit, (b) interviews with students, (c) students’ pre- and post-tests, (d) homework assignments, and (e) video capturing full class and small group discussions. While only one lesson in the intended curriculum was designed to explicitly integrate the crosscutting concept, the enacted curriculum included three lessons with explicit integration of all three dimensions due to modifications by the classroom teacher or students. Students’ work before and after one of these lessons showed change in their three dimensional knowledge, which students attributed to learning that occurred during the lesson. Students’ responses were used to highlight changes in students’ knowledge over time, but this use of responses as evidence of change proved problematic as students demonstrated different understandings depending on whether they were responding to conceptual model or scientific explanation prompts. The research interviews provided students with opportunities for metacognitive reflection, which were not a part of the written curriculum. This research illustrates two roles the CCC can play in students’ development of three-dimensional knowledge. These roles are (a) as a tool for developing a deeper understanding of the content and (b) as a resource for students’ development of connections across science disciplines. This research has implications for how classroom discussion and curricular materials can be used to support the development of three dimensional science knowledge and students’ metacognition about their learning
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