What Are Phenomena?

Author: Christine Ruiz - May 16, 2022

Phenomena are everywhere! You just have to keep your eyes and ears open!

When I was a kid, science was not my favorite subject. I found it boring and not relatable at all. I would ask myself, “Why did I have to learn this?” as I couldn’t find the purpose in it. Times have changed! Science instruction is so much more than when we were kids in the classroom. In addition to the increased usage of hands-on activities and the adoption of more purposeful standards, phenomena are a breath of fresh air making their way into today’s science classrooms.   

But what are phenomena? Many people ask this question. Phenomena can be defined as “observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict.” Phenomena don’t have to be spectacular. While events like that can be intriguing to some students, they are not always attainable for all students to understand. Phenomena need to be something that students can relate to. Tie phenomena to student experiences or even to student cultures. Doing this will help students feel more invested and engaged in their science explorations. 

Look around your community and you will see examples of phenomena everywhere—a bee pollinating a flower, animals changing the environment, weathering and erosion affecting local roads and buildings, or how gasoline makes a car move. Using relatable phenomena in the classroom provides the opportunity for students to explore their curiosity and ask questions. It is important for students to make sense about why or how something happens and not just learn the concepts from their teacher. Science is about doing and playing an active role in learning, and that is much more meaningful for students. 

When thinking about science instruction and how to incorporate phenomena, the developers of the NGSS refer to three different types that help set the foundation for student success and engagement: anchoring, investigative, and everyday. Anchoring phenomena are larger, much broader observable events that can drive student learning across several lessons or an entire unit. Students shouldn’t be able to fully understand the anchoring phenomenon with their current science knowledge. Instead, they should need to ask questions about the phenomenon that they can begin to explore. “A series of photos showing an animal growing from very young to an adult” is an example of an anchoring phenomenon. From here, students can begin asking questions about how or why young animals are different from adults and whether there are different life cycles for different animals.

Once an anchoring phenomenon has been established, it is time to move to investigative phenomena most likely at the lesson level. Here, students can explore their questions through investigations and observations. They may ask questions such as, “How are mammal life cycles similar to and different from bird life cycles? How are all life cycles alike? What stages of growth do insects go through?” All investigative phenomena should be grounded in the anchoring phenomena. The investigations conducted by students should provide the evidence needed to start answering their questions. It is important to remember that much of these investigations should be student-led with students asking the questions and planning the investigations with the teacher as a facilitator. Students don’t always have to investigate phenomena through lab activities. Researching and using media are also effective ways to better understand the world and to answer those burning questions. 

Everyday phenomena can be tied to either an anchoring phenomenon or an investigative phenomenon. This type of phenomenon is something that is relatable to students’ everyday experiences. Students sharing their personal anecdotes about pets and how they grow and change is an example of an everyday phenomenon. It is both relevant and relatable to many students. Even if students don’t have their own pets, many have friends or relatives who do. It is a great tie-in, as it supports the ideas in both the investigative and anchoring phenomena.

Let’s not forget about engineering. Phenomena still play a role when students are using the engineering design process and skills. As students explore phenomena, it is natural that they will come across problems that require solutions. Having a deeper understanding of phenomena and of why and how things happen contribute to producing better solutions for these problems. 

Beginning science instruction with phenomena provides that sense of wonder and purpose all students need to get excited about science. Here at CSA, we can help you bring that to the classroom. Contact us to find out more about our science curriculum offerings.

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