NGSS 3 -Dimensional Learning: Hands-on Minds-on Science

“The more hands on the experience, the more excited students will be about the learning.  The more minds-on the experience, the deeper the understanding will become.”

How do we design experiences for students that are both hands-on and minds-on?  The Next Generation Science Standards provides us with a beautiful vision for science education for all students obtained by engaging in the Science and Engineering practices and applying Cross-cutting Concepts to gain an understanding of Disciplinary Core Ideas.  This 3- Dimensional Learning (the blending of the three dimensions of Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts driving both the instructional progression and the assessment) is the most significant way that the NGSS differs from prior standards and is thus a challenge for many teachers.  In the NGSS, the 3 -Dimensional Learning in the classroom leads to proficiency demonstrated in the Performance Expectations. This blog uses a learning progression around Performance Expectations LS1-2 and LS1-3 as a context for sharing thinking around how NGSS 3- Dimensional Learning can provide students with hands-on minds-on experiences that lead to engagement and understanding.

Urinary PEs

This summer, I transitioned from focusing on understanding the Next Generation Science Standards to focusing on understanding how to translate the NGSS into student learning within my classroom.  I developed a unit, Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology: Systems, Subsystems, and Balance: Conceptualizing a Single System, to serve as the foundation for my course and the start of our NGSS road together.  I designed the learning progression around this core principles:

  • All NGSS aligned instruction must have students working to explain a phenomenon or solve a problem.

 Joe Tweet

  • Understanding develops as learners make new connections between their prior knowledge and the new experience. Understanding is built over time with each new experience.  This evolution is ongoing and flexible.

Making the unit’s center an evidence-based explanation of a phenomenon and student’s building/revising understanding of the science needed to communicate this explanation over time is key to designing a unit storyline that exemplifies 3-dimension learning while providing coherence between learning experiences. The progressions of these learning experiences involved a deliberate planned iteration of:

Exploration- learner actively constructing understanding

Reflection- making internal connection as well as external sharing of the experience through discussion and feedback

Extension– transferring understanding to a new context/ cements the experience and leads to deep understanding of the core ideas

The Exploration is Hands-on. The Reflection is minds-on. The Extension gives students the opportunity to transfer knowledge gained from these stages to a new context leading to deep understanding.

Over the next month, I will share a blog reflection around how each of the critical elements listed above were integrated into my unit plan. My hope is that by making my thinking public and sharing my unit, I can receive feedback from the Science education community so I can grow in my capacity to design NGSS experiences for my students.  I also hope that my reflections may support others on their NGSS journey and contribute to the collective conversation and effort to shift science education to prepare our students for career, college and life.

The framework and NGSS can provide us with a beautiful vision.  It is the work of classroom teachers and those that support classroom learning that makes the vision come to fruition.  Teachers sharing classroom stories and practical applications of the standards are the impetus that leads to improved science practice for all.

Please support my growth by providing feedback on my unit and my blog reflections and consider sharing your classroom stories, instructional and assessment designs, and reflections around the NGSS with me and the NGSS PLN so you can move our learning and thinking.

Thank you



One thought on “NGSS 3 -Dimensional Learning: Hands-on Minds-on Science

  1. WOW! The 2nd thought I have is how similar the work you have done is to the work I started a year ago and am currently working with a 4th grade teacher to re-pilot beginning December 8th. I am feeling validated because if my work is similar to your work then I know I am at least at the starting gate. Our starting points are the same,the standards,and Iam pretty sure if we sat down to talk about our work , we would find our non-negotiables are the same or very close.

    My templates are pretty similar. Our teachers used the same vision, The Framework for K-12 science education, as they help us make this journey. We are ALL learners when it comes to the Next Generation Science Standards and I feel like I have been intimate with the standards while they were being written.

    My disclaimer and my reason for celebration, I am an elementary teacher who although a bit nervous is willing to share my thoughts and ideas with a high school science teacher. That doesn’t happen everyday. NGSS is helping us to create a culture of science, where we are all learners, willing to take risks,etc to improve science instruction for ALL students.

    I haven’t had time to go through the unit closely but I am willing to share some of my initial thoughts, questions, concerns. I really like the fact that you listed additional CCC.I have done it with the SEPs but not the CCCs. My storyline page looks almost the same but I am not surprised because I am using an adapted version of Brian’s work.

    In the past I have always used Roger Bybee’s 5E model. I just took it out of my current work and I have a couple of reasons. Although not meant to be used linearly, the 5Es are being used in just that manner. Lessons are being written sequentially and followed through step by step with no room for the messiness of NGSS Science. Many teachers I know are just choosing a cute engagement activity that has little or nothing to do with the phenomena we are trying to figure out. The Es are being interpreted so literally that there can be no spill over. My thinking on this issue is not cemented but I would like to hear what others think about this concern.

    I am glad to see I am not the only one who includes a progression..

    When I was reading through the bullets about models and got to the last one, I thought to myself “Engineering design process happening a bit here.”

    So I need to put in another hour or so and I will be willing to share. Should I post it here?

    Great blog Tricia. Caused me to do some thinking on Thanksgiving Eve.


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