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Using Phenomena to Help Engage Students in Science

Using Phenomena in Science Instruction

An emerging science teaching strategy called phenomena-based learning, backed by the NGSS and Utah SEEd, taps into students’ natural desire to make sense of their world.

Phenomena are observable events that cause a student to wonder or otherwise engage with the process of science. The observations do not have to be seen by the human eye but may be observed and recorded by instruments. Phenomena are specific observable events.  For example, the topic of the weather by itself is not a phenomenon. But if you showed students damage from a severe storm or flooding it could be used as a phenomenon. Why? Because it generates a human problem that requires an engineering solution. 

 
Using Phenomena is Science
 

Phenomena that are high-interest to students can lead students to ask “Why?” or “What’s going on?” Once engaged, students are motivated by deep questions that support investigating and learning about disciplinary core ideas. As their teacher, you can facilitate student thinking in the classroom by helping them refine their questions and providing opportunities to explore and investigate their ideas.

phenomena to engage students
What questions do you have about this picture?
 

This approach encourages students to observe natural phenomena, such as a glass shattered by sound or an animal with the adaptation of camouflage. They can then investigate why it occurs.

phenomena in NGSS sciencephenomena in Utah SEEd
 

Students get to behave like real scientists, finding answers through reasoning and inquiry.

Unlike in a traditional teacher-led lesson, students in phenomena-based learning lead by asking questions.

phenomena NGSS

What questions do you have about this picture?

They also collaborate, discover connections, design models, and ultimately, make sense of what they observe.

using phenomena to engage students
 
What questions do you have about this photo?
Phenomena for middle school science
What questions do you have about what is happening here?
 
It is not enough to JUST have students ask questions.  We need to guide them about how to think about the questions and what questions to ask through the crosscutting concepts. 
 

The crosscutting concepts are:

 
  1. Patterns
  1. Cause and effect
  1. Scale, proportion, and quantity
  1. Systems and system models
  1. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
  1. Structure and function
In a lesson on sound and vibration. I had students make a simple cup and rubber band system. When the rubber band is plucked a sound is made. 
using phenomena to engage students I had students write down some questions. I guided them with some of my own questions. What are the parts of this system?  Is it just the rubberband and cup? Students notice that air and possibly the table are part of the system.  
Using Crosscutting Concepts I get them to refine their questioning.  
I tell them to think about energy and matter in this system.  Thinking about energy and matter, generate some questions.
Examples might be?
Why is the sound produced? 
If the cup had a liquid or solid matter in it would the sound still be produced? 
What if I had a bigger cup?
What if I had a wider rubberband?
Is there a way to see the energy in this system?
Can energy move matter?
Can I see the vibration?
Next, I tell student groups to choose one question and investigate it. This is where it gets really fun and interesting. Students will use Science and Engineering Practices to investigate the phenomena. I allowed some time to investigate and record results. Many students drew a model and diagramed what was happening in their science notebook.
Then each group shared.
I had one group put snow inside the cup. When they plucked the string, the energy produced a dent in the snow! They could see the result of the sound wave hitting the snow.  The energy moved the matter.
Another group filling the cup with water and put a stethoscope on the outside of the cup to explore sound in water.
Another group tried different sizes of rubber bands to see if the pitch was different.
Another group tried different types of cups (glass, taller) to see if it affected the energy and sound.
Using phenomena allowed students to investigate numerous questions.  When students filled the cup with water and plucked the string we could see the water vibrate.  Why?  Students understood that energy in the form of waves was being transferred through the air to the water.  The energy was moving through matter.
After sharing, students went back to their diagrams and models they were creating in their notebooks and refined their ideas.  They added notes and drew arrows and added labels to show their idea of what was happening in this simple system of the cup and rubber band.
 

 Using phenomena is a great way to engage students in science exploration and investigation 

Both the NGSS and the Utah SEEd have a big emphasis on using phenomena in your lessons for inquiry. 

https://www.ngssphenomena.com/

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I am so impressed with this unit which manages to be distance learning and hands-on at the same time.  Really well thought out and engaging activities that allow students to practice each of the eight Science and Engineering Practices.  Really no prep for me!

 
Science and Engineering Practices Distance Education Unit

Tina S

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:05:39-06:00

Tina S

I am so impressed with this unit which manages to be distance learning and hands-on at the same time.  Really well thought out and engaging activities that allow students to practice each of the eight Science and Engineering Practices.  Really no prep for me!   Science and Engineering Practices Distance Education Unit
The elephant article was excellent but I also thought the lab on dissecting a flower was broken down so easily, even telling me where to get inexpensive flowers!  This resource helped me teach this challenging standard in an engaging way.  Worth every penny!

 
Structure and Function NGSS 4-LS1-1 and 4-LS1-2

Richard S

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:07:52-06:00

Richard S

The elephant article was excellent but I also thought the lab on dissecting a flower was broken down so easily, even telling me where to get inexpensive flowers!  This resource helped me teach this challenging standard in an engaging way.  Worth every penny!   Structure and Function NGSS 4-LS1-1 and 4-LS1-2
As always, Lynda provides perfect alignment with the standards.

 
Age of the Earth and Geologic Time Scale NGSS MS ESS1-4

Sharon M

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:24:44-06:00

Sharon M

As always, Lynda provides perfect alignment with the standards.   Age of the Earth and Geologic Time Scale NGSS MS ESS1-4
Thank you so much for creating this resource! It is such a fun and engaging activity for my students, especially during distance learning.

 
Honey Bee Digital Escape Distance Learning

Expedition Fourth

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
2020-11-03T20:44:55-07:00

Expedition Fourth

Thank you so much for creating this resource! It is such a fun and engaging activity for my students, especially during distance learning.   Honey Bee Digital Escape Distance Learning
My students loved this unit. I was able to present different elements of it throughout the month. It is hard to find interesting non-fictional, age-appropriate text for my students that they will enjoy. This was a great unit that aligned well for my students who have very different goals within the same group.

 
Compare and Contrast Two Texts on Reindeer

Heidi J

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
2020-11-03T20:45:49-07:00

Heidi J

My students loved this unit. I was able to present different elements of it throughout the month. It is hard to find interesting non-fictional, age-appropriate text for my students that they will enjoy. This was a great unit that aligned well for my students who have very different goals within the same group.   Compare and Contrast Two Texts on Reindeer
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Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams