CCC6: Structure and Function

Structure and Function

Image Source: San Diego County Office of Education

The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions. (NRC Framework 2012, p.84)

Introduction to CCC6

from NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

Structure and Function are complementary properties. “The shape and stability of structures of natural and designed objects are related to their function(s). The functioning of natural and built systems alike depends on the shapes and relationships of certain key parts as well as on the properties of the materials from which they are made. A sense of scale is necessary in order to know what properties and what aspects of shape or material are relevant at a particular magnitude or in investigating particular phenomena—that is, the selection of an appropriate scale depends on the question being asked. For example, the substructures of molecules are not particularly important in understanding the phenomenon of pressure, but they are relevant to understanding why the ratio between temperature and pressure at constant volume is different for different substances. 

“Similarly, understanding how a bicycle works is best addressed by examining the structures and their functions at the scale of, say, the frame, wheels, and pedals. However, building a lighter bicycle may require knowledge of the properties (such as rigidity and hardness) of the materials needed for specific parts of the bicycle. In that way, the builder can seek less dense materials with appropriate properties; this pursuit may lead in turn to an examination of the atomic-scale structure of candidate materials. As a result, new parts with the desired properties, possibly made of new materials, can be designed and fabricated.” (p. 96-97)

K-12 Progression for CCC6

from NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12
Students observe the shape and stability of structures of natural and designed objects are related to their function(s). Students learn different materials have different substructures, which can sometimes be observed; and substructures have shapes and parts that serve functions. Students model complex and microscopic structures and systems and visualize how their function depends on the shapes, composition, and relationships among its parts. They analyze many complex natural and designed structures and systems to determine how they function. They design structures to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used. Students investigate systems by examining the properties of different materials, the structures of different components, and their interconnections to reveal the system’s function and/or solve a problem. They infer the functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of their various materials.


from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 97-98)

Exploration of the relationship between structure and function can begin in the early grades through investigations of accessible and visible systems in the natural and human-built world. For example, children explore how shape and stability are related for a variety of structures (e.g., a bridge’s diagonal brace) or purposes (e.g., different animals get their food using different parts of their bodies). As children move through the elementary grades, they progress to understanding the relationships of structure and mechanical function (e.g., wheels and axles, gears). For upper-elementary students, the concept of matter having a substructure at a scale too small to see is related to properties of materials; for example, a model of a gas as a collection of moving particles (not further defined) may be related to observed properties of gases. Upper-elementary students can also examine more complex structures, such as subsystems of the human body, and consider the relationship of the shapes of the parts to their functions. By the middle grades, students begin to visualize, model, and apply their understanding of structure and function to more complex or less easily observable systems and processes (e.g., the structure of water and salt molecules and solubility, Earth’s plate tectonics). For students in the middle grades, the concept of matter having a submicroscopic structure is related to properties of materials; for example, a model based on atoms and/or molecules and their motions may be used to explain the properties of solids, liquids, and gases or the evaporation and condensation of water. 

As students develop their understanding of the relationships between structure and function, they should begin to apply this knowledge when investigating phenomena that are unfamiliar to them. They recognize that often the first step in deciphering how a system works is to examine in detail what it is made of and the shapes of its parts. In building something — say, a mechanical system — they likewise apply relationships of structure and function as critical elements of successful designs. 

Performance Expectations Associated with CCC6

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12
N/A MS-PS1-3

Additional Resources for CCC6

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 96-98)

NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

Bozemanscience Video