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CCC1: Patterns

Crosscutting Concept: PatternsObserved patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them. (NRC Framework 2012, p. 84)

Introduction to CCC1: Patterns

from NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

“Patterns exist everywhere—in regularly occurring shapes or structures and in repeating events and relationships. For example, patterns are discernible in the symmetry of flowers and snowflakes, the cycling of the seasons, and the repeated base pairs of DNA.” (p. 85) 

While there are many patterns in nature, they are not the norm since there is a tendency for disorder to increase (e.g. it is far more likely for a broken glass to scatter than for scattered bits to assemble themselves into a whole glass). In some cases, order seems to emerge from chaos, as when a plant sprouts, or a tornado appears amidst scattered storm clouds. It is in such examples that patterns exist and the beauty of nature is found. “Noticing patterns is often a first step to organizing phenomena and asking scientific questions about why and how the patterns occur.” (p. 85)  

“Once patterns and variations have been noted, they lead to questions; scientists seek explanations for observed patterns and for the similarity and diversity within them. Engineers often look for and analyze patterns, too. For example, they may diagnose patterns of failure of a designed system under test in order to improve the design, or they may analyze patterns of daily and seasonal use of power to design a system that can meet the fluctuating needs.” (page 85-86) 

Patterns figure prominently in the science and engineering practice of “Analyzing and Interpreting Data.” Recognizing patterns is a large part of working with data. Students might look at geographical patterns on a map, plot data values on a chart or graph, or visually inspect the appearance of an organism or mineral. The crosscutting concept of patterns is also strongly associated with the practice of “Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking.” It is often the case that patterns are identified best using mathematical concepts. As Richard Feynman said, 

“To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature. If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in.” 

The human brain is remarkably adept at identifying patterns, and students progressively build upon this innate ability throughout their school experiences. The following table lists the guidelines used by the writing team for how this progression plays out across K-12, with examples of performance expectations drawn from the NGSS.

K-12 Progressions

from NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12

Children recognize that patterns in the natural and human designed world can be observed, used to describe phenomena, and used as evidence.

Students identify similarities and differences in order to sort and classify natural objects and designed products. They identify patterns related to time, including simple rates of change and cycles, and to use these patterns to make predictions.

Students recognize that macroscopic patterns are related to the nature of microscopic and atomic-level structure. They identify patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships that provide information about natural and human designed systems. They use patterns to identify cause and effect relationships, and use graphs and charts to identify patterns in data.

Students observe patterns in systems at different scales and cite patterns as empirical evidence for causality in supporting their explanations of phenomena. They recognize classifications or explanations used at one scale may not be useful or need revision using a different scale; thus requiring improved investigations and experiments. They use mathematical representations to identify certain patterns and analyze patterns of performance in order to reengineer and improve a designed system.

Progression of CCC1: Patterns

from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 86-87)

Human beings are good at recognizing patterns; indeed, young children begin to recognize patterns in their own lives well before coming to school. They observe, for example, that the sun and the moon follow different patterns of appearance in the sky. Once they are students, it is important for them to develop ways to recognize, classify, and record patterns in the phenomena they observe. For example, elementary students can describe and predict the patterns in the sea¬sons of the year; they can observe and record patterns in the similarities and differences between parents and their offspring. Similarly, they can investigate the characteristics that allow classification of animal types (e.g., mammals, fish, insects), of plants (e.g., trees, shrubs, grasses), or of materials (e.g., wood, rock, metal, plastic). 

These classifications will become more detailed and closer to scientific classifications in the upper elementary grades, when students should also begin to analyze patterns in rates of change—for example, the growth rates of plants under different conditions. By middle school, students can begin to relate patterns to the nature of microscopic and atomic-level structure—for example, they may 
note that chemical molecules contain particular ratios of different atoms. By high school, students should recognize that different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied. Thus classifications used at one scale may fail or need revision when information from smaller or larger scales is introduced (e.g., classifications based on DNA comparisons versus those based on visible characteristics). 

Performance Expectations Associated with CCC1: Patterns

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12

Additional Resources

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 85-87)

NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

Bozemanscience Video

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