Using Phenomena to Engage Students in Science

Michael Comer
Michael Comer
9 Nov
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Phenomena — observable facts or events — are the ideal basis for lessons in the science classroom. From meteorology to sports to nature, phenomena are everywhere. The ubiquitousness and versatility of phenomena make them ideal: Because they’re discoverable in the daily lives of our students, they are very relatable.

As an instructor, I’ve taught countless examples of phenomena that have resonated with students at many grade levels and in different subjects. By connecting experiential phenomena to lessons in your classroom, you won’t just instill scientific fundamentals in your students — you’ll inspire them to see science everywhere around them.

First, I recommend thinking about topics that have already captured your students’ attention: a new style of music or dance, a record-setting athlete, a severe weather event and so on. Consider the scientific phenomena that appear in that context. Then, build lesson or unit plans that will leverage this familiarity as well as the classroom structures you’ve already put in place.

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Phenomena-based instruction is all about putting inquiries into the hands of your students: Allow them to question, research and discover. You’ll encourage them to commit to investigation and take ownership of their learning.

At all grade levels, student-generated questions — coupled with structures that empower them to explore and answer those questions themselves — are key to learning. When studying phenomena, students are able to jumpstart their own thinking at the beginning of their journey as they begin to address the purpose of the lessons rather than at the end.  How you create that framework to organize your students learning journey is a subject for another time.  

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a helpful guide for building strong problem-solving skills in the classroom. When you design classroom activities that actively engage students, they’ll have the understandings they need to demonstrate mastery of a topic to themselves, to their classmates and in summative assessments. They’ll also have the skills to take that knowledge with them and apply to it other areas of science, both in your classroom and as they progress from elementary school to middle school, high school, college and beyond.

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