Do NGSS Phenomena have to be Phenomenal? 5 Myths of NGSS Phenomena...Busted!

ngss phenomena phenomenon Jul 30, 2019

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Myth 1: If it’s something fun, flashy, or involves hands-on activities, it’s a phenomenon

No, a phenomenon does not have to be flashy. A hands-on inquiry lesson is not necessarily phenomenon driven. And not every fun science lesson is phenomenon driven either--but that doesn’t mean phenomenon driven lessons can’t be fun. 

Phenomena (smelling pizza in the cafeteria, mold growing on the fruit in your fridge, going down a slide and getting an electric shock)  are specific examples of something in the world that is happening—an event or a specific example of a general process that we can use our science knowledge, practices, and crosscutting concepts to explain or predict.

Engineering involves designing solutions to problems that arise from phenomena, and using explanations of phenomena to design solutions.

A puddle drying on the sidewalk is not flashy but it’s a phenomenon. 

Myth 2: Phenomena are good to bring in after students learn the science ideas so they can apply what they learned.

One of the main characteristics, innovations, or non-negotiables of NGSS is that it is phenomenon driven- meaning that our students will use the 3 dimensions to make sense of the phenomenon or solve a problem based on the phenomenon. And by doing so, our students gain a deeper understanding of all three dimensions.

NGSS teacher use an anchoring phenomenon or two as the overall focus for a unit. Investigative phenomena can be added along the way as the focus of an instructional sequence (a.k.a. storyline) or lesson. 

 Myth 3:Phenomenon driven instruction is over my students’ heads. It’s too complicated. 

NGSS is not curriculum so there is no set phenomena to use for your students. You get to choose!

Phenomenon need to be explainable using the grade-appropriate DCIs, SEPs, and CCCs. Use evidence statements and the progressions of each dimension (CCC, SEP, DCI) to help choose phenomena. Check for more links at the bottom of this post.

I also like to use Page Keeley’s Undercovering Student Ideas in Science to get ideas for grade appropriate phenomenon. 

Here’s a handy flowchart too: 

Remember, phenomena can vary in the amount of instructional time it is used; different phenomena will take different amounts of time to figure out.  A single phenomenon doesn’t have to cover an entire unit or be complicated.

Also, the same phenomenon could have different directions it could go in. Using the phenomenon of tree growth, a middle school teacher might want middle school students to develop and apply DCIs about photosynthesis and mitosis; alternately, a 3rd grade teacher might want students to learn and apply DCIs about life cycles (see this link.

Guide your students to the line of questioning that leads to your grade level dimensions and no need to panic if their line of questioning goes into directions that are not applicable to your storyline. 

Acknowledge their questions as legitimate and then explain that you’re going to go in another direction.  That’s what’s so cool/frustrating about science--there’s always more questions!!

Myth 4: Phenomena in my NGSS classroom can be generic observations, ideas, or science topics (e.g., ecosystems, “students were doing an experiment”, “volcanoes are…”).

NGSS phenomena are based around specific real world instance or occurrence. Instead of "volcanoes are explosive" have students observe video of specific volcanic eruptions and create a scenario relevant to your students to try and make sense of. 

Myth 5: Phenomena  is “nice to have” as a “hook” for students, but is not central to student sense-making. 

Nope.  Phenomena is a “must have” feature of three-dimensional NGSS science. No phenomenon--it’s not NGSS. 


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