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What Are NGSS Phenomena?

Dee Dee Whitaker
Product Content Specialist

May 2017

In nature, phenomena are considered observable events that we can use science to explain or predict. A beautiful red sunset, moss growing on a bare rock, a meteor shower, the fizzing of baking soda and vinegar, a sick child running a fever, and seeing your breath on a cold winter morning are all natural phenomena.

They are also learning opportunities. The Next Generation Science Standards* (NGSS) use natural phenomena as the context for the work in which scientists and engineers engage. Scientists build on their knowledge to explain and predict phenomena, and engineers design solutions to problems that arise from phenomena. Phenomena can be experienced and documented. Atmospheric scientists may explain the phenomenon of a beautiful red sunset as the result of smoke particles in the air, while engineers design advanced scrubbers to remove even finer particulate matter, produced by combustion reactions, from the air. In the classroom, phenomena may take the form of pictures, video clips, news stories, and lab demonstrations. Phenomena, along with student-generated questions about the phenomena, guide both teaching and learning. Instructional phenomena should engage all students in learning and achieving instructional goals.


How can phenomena guide instruction?

Phenomena can guide instruction in several ways. Teachers should select phenomena that students find both interesting and relevant. These types of occurrences will facilitate student-generated questions, which lead to the lessons and investigations that produce data that result in developing an explanation of the phenomena.

Anchoring phenomena can drive an entire unit. For example, observing and explaining ice melting into water, then water changing to steam through boiling may drive a unit on phase changes.

Investigative phenomena can be the focus of a single lesson or instructional sequence. Placing an ice-cold glass of water on the desk for observation and investigation of the formation of water droplets could be the phenomenon used to introduce and explain condensation.

Everyday phenomena are culturally or personally relevant to students and are the most powerful instructional phenomena. Students living in hot, dry climates would have personal experience with puddles of water evaporating quickly, while students in cold, wet climates would have personal experience with snowfall. A puddle evaporating, snow sublimating, and snow falling are everyday phenomena that students could investigate to develop an explanation of phase changes.


Take advantage of student-shared experiences

Science teachers can also take advantage of student-shared experiences, which are the phenomena that children have in common. By shifting science education to center on phenomena, teachers can motivate students to explain what they observe happening in their own lives. They take on the role of scientist or engineer by figuring out how and why something is happening instead of just learning about a topic.

Student interest increases as they identify science as a method to understand the natural world and engineering as a method to solve problems. Students engage, develop, and apply all 3 dimensions of NGSS—Scientific and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas—as they learn how to explain phenomena and solve problems. 


Resources

*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.

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