The word phenomenon is something that can be observed to happen or exist. So in science we get to draw upon the natural world around you and connect your students. If you have children or worked with young children you likely remember the question stage. Why this? Why is that? And recall the excitement when they observed something for the first time. This is where you get to drive the natural curiosity of your students, rather than seeing that curiosity dwindle with age. Something we so commonly observe in education is students stop asking the questions. In science we want students to be curious, ask questions and discover. Old school science was to tell students, have them memorize and regurgitate it again. Phenomena-based science education breaks this habit and builds curiosity and overall the ability to think.
What is Phenomena?
In short phenomena is taking an observable event that allows you to build a student-centered connection and relevancy that allows students to be driver’s of their curiosity, ask questions and create their own knowledge with your guidance. A phenomena can be as simple as a storm that appeared and disappeared one afternoon, the change in a shadow, or the ash that fell from a fire 400 miles away. Taking these events and using them to get students talking, asking questions, and developing ideas is the heart of what it means to do science. My favorite quote is: “Science is trying new ideas, discarding those that don’t work and building on those that do. In science one must search for ideas. If there are no ideas, there is no science.” This is the center of my classroom beginning on day 1.
Phenomena-Based Science Units
Don’t overthink this. By using the world around you there are phenomena everywhere. Rather than spending all your time trying to write an outline of content, simply take a natural event to build your unit from. To be honest, it is a breath of fresh air if you love science. You yourself get to rediscover your own curiosity and scientist within.
All you need to do is start with a question like: What can a shadow tell you about time and the motion of celestial objects? You can take this question and build an entire unit on celestial motion around it. By making this shift you easily are setting students up to become investigators in the behavior of scientists with the science and engineering practices, providing multiple sources with the disciplinary core ideas and naturally building in the crosscutting concepts.
My Phenomena-based Science Resources
While I believe that I have always strived for this, it really wasn’t as well developed and organized until NGSS brought it alive for me. Over the past 10 years my colleagues asked me to share my resources and units with them and I did. But the truth of the matter is that if I shared my slides or activities it was not the same.
What truly makes it come alive is the things that are not typed and rather experienced and discussed. So I struggled with this, but finally bit the bullet and began to figure out how to organize it in such a way for other teachers, which led me to launch my TPT store only a few years ago with individual inquiry-based activities that teachers could easily integrate into any unit. But this still was not enough, there was a push for me to support teachers with unit planning as both classroom teacher and instructional coach. So after much thought I have recently begun to figure out how to organize my phenomena-based units of inquiry in a way that supports middle school science and I began with my two favorite topics: Weather and Climate and Celestial Motion. Be on the lookout for more as they are developed!! These two phenomena-based units were born during Covid-19 shutdown and therefore have a fully digital version with everything for anyone to follow and classroom version which can be implemented whether you are digital or paper-based or combination of both.
I hope you enjoy them as much as my students did. I truly put my heart and soul into them as I balanced my belief in inquiry science education. These units are broken into learning sequences using the 5E Model.
Phenomena: This unit will help anchor students’ learning of celestial motion and its impacts to life. Rather than learning about the facts of celestial motion, seasons and moon phases, students discover how celestial bodies move and their impacts to habitable life as we know it and the future of humanity.
Question: How does the motion of the Earth, Sun and Moon impact our daily lives, time and the future?
The largest difference is we are not providing students with the facts (earth rotation, revolution, etc). Instead students “discover” how celestial bodies interact and move and ultimately lead to life on Earth versus elsewhere.
Phenomena-based science shows students that science is not a subject to learn about, but is an ongoing process of discovery of the world around them. And the work is never done.
Looking to try with phenomena based science units or try to start small with some awesome inquiry based science resources, visit my TPT store.