Identifying Engaging Phenomena
“Phenomena does not have to be phenomenal.”
Natural phenomena are observable events that occur in the universe and that students can use science knowledge to explain or predict. And while it is true that phenomena does not have to be phenomenal, some phenomena are more effective than others. The Criteria for Evaluating Phenomena checklist from the NSTA is a great resource to help evaluate if your phenomena will help to effectively drive learning.
Keep in mind when identifying a phenomena to use in your classroom, engaging phenomena:
- Leads students rich student questions, and typically can’t be answered by a quick internet search.
- Sparks student curiosity because it is relevant, meaningful to students' lives, their community, and their culture.
- Is observable to students in their daily lives as well as through a variety of means including video, photo, authentic datasets, demonstrations, interactive labs.
- Can be a case (emerald ash borer infestation, building a solution to a problem) or something that is puzzling (why isn’t rainwater salty?) or a wonderment (how did the solar system form?).
- Requires students to develop an understanding of and apply multiple performance expectations while engaging in acts of reading, writing, communication, and mathematics.
- Move students towards “doing science” rather than memorizing facts and content.
Keep your eyes open to opportunities, make authentic connections. Phenomena are all around you! The Identifying and Capturing Your Phenomena guide can help you as you are capturing and editing your phenomena, but when you are ready, capture or gather your phenomena with the following tips in mind:
- Ensure you are capturing not only the phenomenon itself, but also any surrounding context that may be important to understanding the phenomenon. For example, if you are capturing a “sundog” light refraction in the sky, is there snow on the ground that could give a sense of the weather?
- Conversely, exclude anything in your photo that might “give the answer away.” For example, if you are capturing a pond with an algae bloom, be sure you aren’t also capturing a park sign that says “Warning! Pond closed due to cyanobacteria”
- Review the photo to ensure the subject is clearly in focus, you have adequate light.
- When capturing video consider not only lighting of your phenomenon subject, but also any sound. Does the audio provoke any additional curiosity to the event?
- Chart, graph, or dataset:
- Chart, graph or data modeling of phenomena is a great way to engage students in using math or computational thinking. If this is data you have obtained from another source, be sure you have appropriate permissions to use and remix the information.
- If you or your students are collecting the data yourself, be sure you have adequately documented your data collection methods, sources, etc.
Keep in mind: When capturing any phenomena it is important not to “give the answer away.” Give enough context and clues to drive questioning without providing direct instruction or explaining to the students.
Are you ready to share your phenomena with other teachers?