CCC7: Stability and Change

Stability and Change

Image Source: San Diego County Office of Education

For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study. (NRC Framework 2012, p. 84)

Introduction to CCC7

from NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

Stability and Change are the primary concerns of many, if not most scientific and engineering endeavors. “Stability denotes a condition in which some aspects of a system are unchanging, at least at the scale of observation. Stability means that a small disturbance will fade away—that is, the system will stay in, or return to, the stable condition. Such stability can take different forms, with the simplest being a static equilibrium, such as a ladder leaning on a wall. By contrast, a system with steady inflows and outflows (i.e., constant conditions) is said to be in dynamic equilibrium. For example, a dam may be at a constant level with steady quantities of water coming in and out. . . . A repeating pattern of cyclic change—such as the moon orbiting Earth—can also be seen as a stable situation, even though it is clearly not static. 

“An understanding of dynamic equilibrium is crucial to understanding the major issues in any complex system—for example, population dynamics in an ecosystem or the relationship between the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide and Earth’s average temperature. Dynamic equilibrium is an equally important concept for understanding the physical forces in matter. Stable matter is a system of atoms in dynamic equilibrium. 

“In designing systems for stable operation, the mechanisms of external controls and internal ‘feedback’ loops are important design elements; feedback is important to understanding natural systems as well. A feedback loop is any mechanism in which a condition triggers some action that causes a change in that same condition, such as the temperature of a room triggering the thermostatic control that turns the room’s heater on or off. 

“A system can be stable on a small time scale, but on a larger time scale it may be seen to be changing. For example, when looking at a living organism over the course of an hour or a day, it may maintain stability; over longer periods, the organism grows, ages, and eventually dies. For the 
development of larger systems, such as the variety of living species inhabiting Earth or the formation of a galaxy, the relevant time scales may be very long indeed; such processes occur over millions or even billions of years.” (p. 99-100)

K-12 Progression for CCC7

from NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12
Students observe some things stay the same while other things change, and things may change slowly or rapidly. Students measure change in terms of differences over time, and observe that change may occur at different rates. Students learn some systems appear stable, but over long periods of time they will eventually change. Students explain stability and change in natural or designed systems by examining changes over time, and considering forces at different scales, including the atomic scale. Students learn changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part, systems in dynamic equilibrium are stable due to a balance of feedback mechanisms, and stability might be disturbed by either sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time. Students understand much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable. They quantify and model changes in systems over very short or very long periods of time. They see some changes are irreversible, and negative feedback can stabilize a system, while positive feedback can destabilize it. They recognize systems can be designed for greater or lesser stability.


from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 100-101)

Even very young children begin to explore stability (as they build objects with blocks or climb on a wall) and change (as they note their own growth or that of a plant). The role of instruction in the early grades is to help students to develop some language for these concepts and apply it appropriately across multiple examples, so that they can ask such questions as “What could I change to make this balance better?” or “How fast did the plants grow?” One of the goals of discussion of stability and change in the elementary grades should be the recognition that it can be as important to ask why something does not change as why it does. 

Likewise, students should come to recognize that both the regularities of a pattern over time and its variability are issues for which explanations can be sought. Examining these questions in different contexts (e.g., a model ecosystem such as a terrarium, the local weather, a design for a bridge) broadens students’ understanding that stability and change are related and that a good model for a system must be able to offer explanations for both. 

In middle school, as student’s understanding of matter progresses to the atomic scale, so too should their models and their explanations of stability and change. Furthermore, they can begin to appreciate more subtle or conditional situations and the need for feedback to maintain stability. At the high school level, students can model more complex systems and comprehend more subtle issues of stability or of sudden or gradual change over time. Students at this level should also recognize that much of science deals with constructing historical explanations of how things evolved to be the way they are today, which involves modeling rates of change and conditions under which the system is stable or changes gradually, as well as explanations of any sudden change. 

Performance Expectations Associated with CCC7

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



Additional Resources for CCC7

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 98-101)

NGSS Appendix G - Crosscutting Concepts

Bozemanscience Video