What is a crosscutting concept? – Defintion & Example

The concept of a crosscutting concept is very important for people to understand, but it’s also hard to explain.

Many people have trouble explaining what a crosscutting concept is because there are no good examples or analogies that help other people visualize the idea.

A cross-cutting concept is one that cuts across other concepts and ideas in your field of study. In this article, we’ll give you some examples of these types of concepts so that you can better explain them yourself.

What is a crosscutting concept?

Crosscutting concepts are those that come up again and again in science, as well as in everyday life. These concepts help us see how different ideas relate to each other. To really understand these crosscutting concepts, students need to learn them from multiple angles.

The Crosscutting Concepts provide a framework for organizing the disciplinary core ideas into a coherent presentation that facilitates students’ understanding of how these ideas interrelate and their ability to apply them.

What is a crosscutting concept?
What is a crosscutting concept?

In teaching science, some topics naturally seem more important than others—for example, the process of photosynthesis in an ecology lesson or angular momentum in a physics class. Crosscutting concepts are different because they implicitly relate many diverse scientific ideas and can tie lessons and field trips together.

How many Crosscutting Concepts are there?

There are seven crosscutting concepts, as listed on the curriculum framework:

How many Crosscutting Concepts are there?
How many Crosscutting Concepts are there?


A pattern is a relationship between two or more objects that occurs in many contexts. Patterns can be seen in shapes, sounds, symbols, language, events, and physical objects.

One example of a pattern is the relationship between the structure of a thing and how it works as seen in the tree canopy.

Cause and effect

It is a concept that occurs in daily life frequently. One causes some event to happen and that leads to some other event. For example, the cause of a rock being thrown is the rock being picked up by someone. Once that occurs, it has an effect on something else.

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

 As with most events and occurrences, there are several factors that influence duration. One of the most influential is scale: the size or proportion of an object to other objects. Scale can be observed as a driving factor in many different areas, from the human body to the world as a whole. These factors can be applied to a variety of disciplines and problem-solving situations.

The most basic example would be the length of one’s daily commute to work or school. If a person’s commute is about 30 minutes each way, every day, the length of their trip will be halved or doubled depending on if they move closer to work, or school. While this example is extremely basic, it illustrates the concept of proportionality

Systems and System Models

A system is a set of things working together as parts of a whole. Systems can range from very simple, like a flashlight with one bulb and battery, to very complex, like the federal government of a nation. Systems are all around us and affect our lives every day.

Systems include a wide variety of things, from a country’s economy to the cells in the human body. They can be tangible objects like buildings and roads, or they can be abstract ideas like mathematics and music. 

Energy and Matter

Energy is the ability of a physical system to do work on other objects, or bodies. The matter is anything that has mass and takes up space or occupies volume.

Energy is stored in the bonds between atoms and molecules, as well as released when those bonds are broken. Energy can be transferred from one object to another, creating a different form of energy. Energy exists in many forms including heat, light, sound, and electrical energy. Energy is also the ability of a physical system to do work on other objects or bodies.

Structure and Function

It is a major crosscutting concept of the life science domain. It is related to a number of other key concepts, such as homeostasis, regulation, and organism. In addition, it is related to a number of other vital concepts that are central to biology.

Stability and Change

As you read this article, take notes on the concepts of stability (steady-state) and change (variable). These concepts may be familiar to you from previous research or study, but they will also help you understand the complexities of ecosystems.

The concept of stability is central to ecology. A stable ecosystem is thought to have a steady or constant state, in which organisms are adapted to their environment and the energy flowing through the system is relatively predictable. 

How do you implement crosscutting concepts?

There are many ways to teach students about the ideas of design patterns and how they can be implemented, but some of the main ideas include:

Conduct a survey/interview with professionals/students to ask questions regarding how they implement design patterns in software / what they have been taught about the design pattern concept.

This could result in a report of best practices, which could be shared to help other students implement design patterns effectively.

The design pattern concept could be taught in a class or project, where the idea of design patterns is then applied to real-world problems, which the students are required to solve. Students could be tasked with implementing their own design.

How do you implement crosscutting concepts?
How do you implement crosscutting concepts?


Why do we use crosscutting concepts?

We use crosscutting concepts because they enable us to think more deeply about a text and to transform our understandings of a text by looking at the text from different perspectives.

The NGSS includes seven crosscutting concepts—systems and systems modeling, patterns, cause and effect, stability and change, energy and matter, structure and function, and stability and change—that apply across disciplines.

The NGSS states that these crosscutting concepts are important for all disciplines.

The example of a crosscutting concept

Let’s say we’re reading a story about a kid who gets bullied and the main character is looking for ways to escape. From a character’s perspective, we might think about how the character is feeling and what’s happening internally for the character.

From a plot perspective, we might be thinking about how the events of the story are unfolding over time.

From a theme perspective, we might think about what ideas or messages are being conveyed throughout the story.

From a setting perspective, we might think about where in space and time the characters are located along with the physical places and objects.

From a style perspective, we might think about how the author uses words or language to convey his or her portrayal of the characters, events, ideas, settings, and themes.

From a cultural perspective, we might think about how the story reflects cultural norms and how it impacts the characters, events, ideas, settings, and themes.

From a gender perspective, we might think about how the perspectives of male and female characters impact the story.

From a diversity perspective, we might think about how characters who are different in terms of race, ability, language, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, etc., impact the story.

How are crosscutting concepts different from science and engineering practices?

The term ‘crosscutting’ may mean that these are concepts apply across disciplines; however, Science & Engineering Practices are also ubiquitously used in every discipline. K-2 is just learning science fundamentals; specific crosscutting concepts are not covered at this level.

Crosscutting concepts are ideas that are referenced in every NGSS discipline. The seven crosscutting concepts in the NGSS pertain to every discipline and set of standards, is not specific to a particular one.

A crosscutting concept is a topic that cuts across several disciplines or fields of study. The American Psychological Association calls it “a theoretical perspective, methodology, ideology, policy position, etc., which runs through more than one discipline.” For example, a teacher might use an understanding of psychology to teaching math skills and vice versa. A scientist might be working on Alzheimer’s disease but also develop cancer treatments. Cross-disciplinary work can help create new perspectives for addressing problems in the world around us.

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