Students Lead Learning with Phenomena

This week I submitted two proposals to present at the 2018 annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association in Atlanta. I am hoping that at least one of them gets chosen for me to present. One of my proposals is about how students can lead the learning in the science classroom by having it centered on the exploration of phenomena.

Here is the definition of phenomenon (plural being phenomena):

phe•nom•e•non (fɪˈnɒm əˌnɒn, -nən) n., pl. -na (-nə) or, esp. for 3, -nons. 1. a fact, occurrence, or circumstance observed or observable: the phenomena of nature. 2. something that is remarkable or extraordinary. 3. a remarkable or exceptional person; prodigy. 4. Philos. a. an appearance or immediate object of awareness in experience. b. (in Kantian philosophy) a thing as it appears to and is constructed by the mind, as distinguished from anoumenon, or thing-in-itself.

A phenomena driven science classroom provides students with the correct tools so they can find answers to questions, rather than a teacher giving out answers. If you pique a student’s curiosity they will want to learn more about something, why and how it works. Students have to ask good questions and questions will serve as a catalyst for them to find and build knowledge. Using phenomena to drive science instruction is a shift brought on by the Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS. This shift changes the focus from science classrooms as environments where students learn about science ideas to places where students explore, examine, and use science ideas to explain how and why phenomena occur. Making this shift means changing focus.

Here are the questions I am asking myself to make the switch to thinking about phenomena driven instruction.

  • What science topic am I going to address?
  • What are the standards that align with the topic?
  • What content do I want students to learn?
  • What puzzling phenomena can I come up with to launch the students thinking such as an event or situation that is specific and or relatable for them?
  • What story line or question will I begin my lesson with?
  • What is my first activity?

Check out this great NGSS resource to get you started.

I definitely like the saying found on the “Why Use Phenomena” tab on this website—

Phenomena do not need to be phenomenal to be academically productive!!


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