Written by Amy Gensemer and Haley Adams Mangum, authors of Discovery Education Science Techbook
Perhaps now more than ever, it is important that all students are able to objectively evaluate the world around them to make sense of global issues such as climate change, pandemics, and human impact on the environment. With a solid foundation of scientific ideas, students can critically appraise multiple sources of information, including social media, in order to figure out driving factors behind real-world phenomena and events. However, delivery of scientific facts in the classroom does not always build the necessary foundation for students to analyze data, evaluate information, and uncover reliable evidence to help explain the situations around them.
The Framework for K-12 Science Education states, “Learning science depends not only on the accumulation of facts and concepts but also on the development of an identity as a competent learner of science with motivation and interest to learn more.” Today’s science classroom must allow all students the opportunity to figure out instances of real-world phenomena that are relevant to their everyday lives and emphasize the value each student brings to the collective understanding of their local and the global scientific community.
Phenomena-based learning harnesses students’ natural curiosities and empowers them to take ownership of their learning. By rooting instruction in relevant phenomena, students focus on figuring out the “how” and “why” behind their observations, while building their understanding of core science ideas along the way. As teachers engage students with phenomena, they need to consider that the “phenomena must be compelling to students based on their experiences in their homes and communities” (Lee, O., 2020). Not only does the selection of phenomena need to encourage students to dive deep into scientific ideas, the presentation and unpacking of the phenomena needs to respect and acknowledge diversity and relevance to a student’s background and provide opportunities for all students to share their cultural funds of knowledge as they approach how to figure out each situation alongside each other in the classroom.
Immediately grabbing students’ attention and motivating them to make sense of the world around them, phenomena are the foundation of Discovery Education Science Techbook. At the unit level, anchor phenomena serve as observable, relevant, and often puzzling events that drive students to want to figure out the science behind their observations. Careful selection of these phenomena allows teachers to respect the experiences that all students bring from their backgrounds (National Research Council, Appendix D, 2013) while presenting global issues through engaging, high-quality content. Each unit intentionally builds in opportunities for students to share their own views and to recognize and value each student’s contributions to the building of scientific ideas. Exciting, complex phenomena beg for student sensemaking, pushing students to use their everyday experiences to form their own questions, which then serve as a roadmap for their learning throughout each unit.
As students progress on their journey of questioning, investigating, and explaining the unit anchor phenomenon, they are presented with investigative phenomena in ways that pique their curiosity. Investigative phenomena are additional real-world phenomena that directly connect to the anchor phenomenon. They are introduced at intentional moments within the learning sequence to align with students’ natural curiosities. Making sense of the investigative phenomena assist students to figure out scientific ideas related to the unit’s anchor phenomenon, providing consistent engagement and culminating in greater conceptual understanding of each topic.
This blend of thought-provoking anchor phenomena and investigative phenomena throughout Discovery Education Science Techbook presents numerous opportunities for students to transfer their knowledge and understanding across domains. Students are encouraged to apply what they’ve figured out in one unit to subsequent units in the program, and then to events they encounter in their everyday lives. The “Wow to How” phenomena-based learning approach kickstarts student curiosity and supports students in explaining the real world in a way that makes sense to them, both now and in the future.
Lee, O. (2020). Making Everyday Phenomena Phenomenal. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.nsta.org/science-and-children/science-and-children-septemberoctober-2020/making-everyday-phenomena
National Research Council (pg. 285) National Research Council. 2012. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/13165.
NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.