Thu Jul 06, 2017 1:53 PM

I really like the emphasis on phenomena in NGSS, especially that they are engaging AND the phenomenon is what is to be understood and explained by the students. I have attended many excellent web seminars on using Phenomena to structure lessons. I encourage people to view the archived web seminars. 
I do wonder if many of the people presenting on Phenomena at NSTA are missing a connection to the Engage phase of Bybee's 5E and to the really well constructed Problem-Based Learning and Place-base Learning activities that some people have been doing for decades. I have yet to hear anyone presenting on NGSS make overt connections to these structures. Really well constructed PBLs (both kinds) and Engagement activities started with phenomena and the phenomena was what needed to be explained. I do like that we are now making the criteria for an effective phenomena more overt. Tricia Shelton has done a good job of this in several of her web seminars - 

  • Phenomena aren't always phenomenal

  • they elicit student questions

  • have layers of complexity

  • connect directly to DCI

  • are interesting and accessible to ALL students

  • aren't just a hook - they are what students are explaining

But this was always true of the really good PBLs and Engagement activities.
Can anyone see a good reason for not connecting to these older learning structures? It seems we run a risk of alienating more experienced teachers who have used phenomena successfully for many years.

Donald Boonstra
Donald Boonstra
8215 Activity Points

Fri Jul 07, 2017 10:20 AM

I’ve seen workshops on Phenomenon-Based Learning where connections were made to the other PBLs and to the 5Es. These connections were made in workshops using the Phenomenon-Based Learning “Gizmos and Gadgets” books from NSTA Press.


> aren't just a hook - they are what students are explaining

I would go further and say that the phenomena aren’t just what students are explaining; they are what scientists are investigating and explaining. When you’re doing Phenomenon-Based Learning, you’re doing real science.

One of the great things about Phenomenon-Based Learning is that the activities can be done at any level, so either the lower-level or the high-performing students can start from wherever they are, get a lot out of the activities, and end up higher than where they started.

This link

will get you to all editions of the books — elementary, middle-school, and high school. There are also kits of materials designed to go with the books that are sold by Arbor Scientific. You can see them here: (Click on any book to see the kits.)

The kits are expensive, but they provide enough materials for dozens of activities and would be a great investment for any school.


Iris Lee
Iris Lee
150 Activity Points

Tue Jul 11, 2017 2:17 PM

I am delighted to hear that you have attended events in which the connection between Phenomena and PBLs and 5E were made. I have attended several and the connections were not made. I think it is good to make the connections, but others may have reasons to approach Phenomena as a new thing.

I agree that the best phenomena are the ones that scientists are researching themselves. I have seen exemplar phenomena that would not have that distinction, but I personally like the phenomena that involve the students in authentic research. I am currently coordinating the Mars Student Imaging Project that involves students in authentic research. When I was working for NASA I developed "Tracking a Solar Storm" and "Winters Story" and both involved students in using the same data and data sources that were available in real time that scientists used. The students could develop their own research projects. Alas, NASA canceled both projects. But the idea of involving students in authentic research using authentic data is powerful

Donald Boonstra
Donald Boonstra
8215 Activity Points

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