Learning and teaching with phenomenon

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Why do I need to learn this?

The dreaded question every teacher hates – especially when you don’t have a good answer. Luckily phenomenon-based teaching is here to solve this age-old question, equipping both you and your students with the often-elusive answer.

As Susan German writes in her October 2016 article in Science Scope, “students appreciate knowing the “why” of the lesson. Scientific phenomena can provide a powerful hook to engage your students and provide the motivation for learning the science necessary to explain why and how something occurs”.

Phenomenon based learning starts from “the shared observation of holistic, genuine real-world phenomena in the learning community” (Silander, 2015) in the form of puzzling events and/or questions (ex: Why does a golf ball hit the ground at the same time as a bowling ball?). The phenomenon itself then serves as the anchor for subsequent learning, where students work to understand the phenomenon, building answers as they grapple together.

In this learning process, new information is applied to answering and explaining the phenomenon, which means that the theories and information have immediately evident utility and value to all students. Phenomenon-based learning is the ultimate in project-based learning, as it provides a real-world source of inquiry that must then be decoded, analyzed, and explained by students.

And you don’t have to look very far to find inspiration. Our daily lives are rife with the phenomenon. Here are just a few that come to mind as I gaze out my window on this beautiful fall day here in Connecticut:

  • Why is the moon out even though it is daytime?
  • Why don’t my ducks swimming in the pond get wet?
  • What makes the sunset I am looking at so spectacular – where do the purples, pinks, blues, yellows, oranges, and reds that I see come from?
  • My neighbor has an electric fence for their dog. Why does the dog get shocked but not the child plating near it?
  • What kinds of mushrooms are growing under the tree in my backyard, and why are they only growing there in that one spot?
  • I mixed eggs, flour, and sugar – how does heat help me get cookies out of it?
  • Why does my bearded dragon seem to be slowing down and is not hungry?

Now as a science teacher I do in fact know the answers to these questions (mostly…), but they are all perfectly suited phenomena for elementary and middle school students. You do not need to look any further than your our surroundings to find an entire year worth of phenomena!

Interested in incorporating phenomenon-based instruction but not sure where to start? Check out our Phenomena Quick Start Guide! Purchase includes a clear and concise one-pager chock-full of bite-sized linked resources to help you:

  • learn what phenomena are (and are not!)
  • understand phenomenon-based instruction in the context of the NGSS
  • explore the characteristics of effective phenomena
  • streamline the process of finding phenomena for your lessons (phenomena banks!)

A must-have for any K-12 teacher getting started with NGSS, or for preservice teachers!

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