It is no secret that one goal of the NGSS is for instruction to be more student-centered, more inquiry-based.  One way to begin making that shift in your classroom is to think about engaging students through a phenomena.

Recently I modeled this idea with a group of elementary teachers.  Each teacher was given paper cup full of, what appeared to be, plain white beads.  They were asked to record as many questions as possible about the beads using one sticky note per question.

The beads were actually UV sensitive beads .  In addition to the paper cups, I provided pipe cleaners and foil squares.  As people started to recognize that the beads could change, I encouraged them to go outside with the beads.

As the beads changed color, I continued to encourage teachers to record as many questions as possible on sticky notes.

Once the initial enthusiasm slowed down, I asked teachers to sort their questions.  The first sort was into piles that were 1) Scientific Questions and 2) non-Scientific Questions.  This gave us an interesting opportunity to talk about the differences and to honor all the questions that were asked.

The second question sort was into piles that were 1) questions that could be tested and 2) questions that could be researched.  The ensuing discussion brought with it increased enthusiasm for the potential investigations that could be conducted.

Finally, I asked teachers to consult their Science & Engineering practices  and consider what might be next steps.  I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the January 2016 edition of Science and Children had a complete investigation and engineering challenge based on these beads called “Made in the Shade”.

Look for phenomena that relate to the units you’re teaching.  How can you use that phenomena to engage students in the big ideas of that topic?  Where will their questions take them?