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Phenomena Basics

What Are Phenomena?

According to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), phenomena are "Natural phenomena are observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict. The goal of building knowledge in science is to develop general ideas, based on evidence, that can explain and predict phenomena.


How to Use Phenomena?

According to ACHIEVE, "Using Phenomena in NGSS-Designed Lessons and Units":

  • "The point of using phenomena to drive instruction is to help students engage in practices to develop the knowledge necessary to explain or predict the phenomena. Therefore, the focus is not just on the phenomenon itself. It is the phenomenon plus the student-generated questions about the phenomenon that guides the learning and teaching. The practice of asking questions or identifying problems becomes a critical part of trying to figure something out."
  • "There could potentially be many different lines of inquiry about the same phenomenon. 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. In each case, teachers should help students identify different aspects of the same phenomenon as the focus of their questions."

Why Use Local, Authentic Phenomena?

The most powerful phenomena are those that are culturally or personally relevant or consequential to students. Such phenomena highlight how science ideas help us explain aspects of the real world, or lead to solutions to science-related problems that matter to students, their communities, and society.

Resources to Support Phenomena-Based Instruction

NEW! Iowa Science Phenomena Teacher and Student Guide: This guide is intended to help educators grow in their knowledge, understanding, and practice of phenomena-based instructional practices as well as encourage interest in identifying, capturing, and submitting Iowa phenomena to the Iowa Science Phenomena website.

Outdoor Educator Resources to Support Phenomena-Based Education:  Outdoor educators are experts in the natural phenomena in their area of Iowa! From unique species to critical challenges, these educators are valuable resources for identifying phenomena. In collaboration with Iowa outdoor educators, Iowa Conservation Education Coalition, and Iowa Association of Naturalists, we developed this resource to support the unique needs for Iowa's naturalists, conservations, and informal outdoor educators.

Iowa PBS Notice and Wonder and Wonder Printable: Having students ask questions is a key component of using phenomena. One strategy to promote questioning is to ask students first what they notice about a phenomenon and then what they wonder about it. This "notice and wonder" strategy is simple but can be very effective, especially when done collaboratively using a chart format. Iowa PBS has created an Iowa Science Phenomena Notice and Wonder chart that can be downloaded for classroom use. 

Find Out More

Explore more about using phenomena in the science classroom with the following resources.

REAPCorporation for Public BroadcastingAlliant Energy