Phenomenon-based science lessons may be the new catch phrase in science education, but it is relevant to consider when you’re planning your instruction.  I’ve spoken to many teachers who are intimidated by the phrase “phenomenon based” and aren’t sure how to organize their science lessons around a phenomenon.  I’m here today to break down that barrier.

STEM Teaching Tools suggest that a good phenomenon, or anchor, builds upon everyday or family experiences and is just out of reach of what students can figure out without instruction.   For example, I might use the hand full of rocks in the picture above as the phenomenon to launch a series of lessons exploring the rock cycle.  Why are they all different when I picked them up in the same place?  Why does one have holes? What are the stripes?  TJ McKenna has started a website, Phenomena for NGSS, as a place to collect and share these organizing ideas.

Videos can be another source for phenomena, or when searching for images to support your ideas.  I was having a conversation with 4th grade teachers last week about the Space Systems unit.  We were talking about how shadows might fit into the launch of the unit.  A quick search yielded this video and many other time lapse videos showing shadows changing.  An open-ended question, “What’s happening?” can encourage conversations and engage students in the content.  There are also several YouTube channels, such as Veritasium,  which use phenomenon to engage learners.

I know you’ve heard the questions, “Why do we have to learn this?”  Using a phenomenon (or anchor, or discrepant event…whatever you call it) helps engage students in the learning and it helps lend a relevance.  A phenomenon should be within the grasp of students, should be familiar and yet just out of reach as far as their ability to explain, and a phenomena should push them to wonder, to ask questions, to be curious.

If you’re still wondering, here’s one more way to think of phenomenon-based science lessons…

What’s going on in your classroom?  Leave a comment or send an email!