BONUS: Using Phenomena In Your NGSS Classroom
One of the big shifts with the Next Generation Science Standards is that you are no longer teaching content for content’s sake — science instruction is no longer based around a list of facts, but rather, the focus is on the broader concepts that connect those facts together and the skill development necessary to investigate and understand those concepts. One way of focusing students on the “big picture” in a unit is to present an anchoring phenomenon that students work toward understanding and explaining.
Phenomena, in general, are puzzling things — could be events, could be processed. However, they are things happening at a specific time or under specific conditions. The water cycle as a whole is not a phenomenon. Water disappearing (due to evaporation) on a hot day IS a phenomenon.
Photosynthesis is not a phenomenon. Stomata on leaves opening and closing IS a phenomenon.
On a large scale – phenomena can be anchoring phenomena. An anchor is essentially that puzzling thing — could be an event, could be a process — that requires the coordination of a bunch of different science ideas to fully explain. It is not something you can easily Google an explanation for. It is something that students work toward understanding throughout the entire unit, so throughout your unit, you are explicitly connecting your students learning back to it. Students should be able to understand and explain the anchor by the END of your entire unit. (A few ideas for anchors might be: a change in hurricane patterns; the persistence of genetic diseases, our vestigial tails).
But that isn’t the ONLY place phenomena is used. Throughout your unit, investigative phenomena are used to engage your students and advance their learning. These are smaller events or processes — a little less complex than the anchor — that help students understand specific concepts that then build toward students’ broader understanding.