There are 5 steps educators can adopt in their own classrooms to use NGSS phenomena most effectively in the classroom.
Step 1: Find a real-world phenomenon.
Phenomena are observable events where using ideas, based on evidence, we can explain or predict their occurrence. In accordance with NGSS, instructors will begin their lessons by selecting an anchor phenomenon for discussion. Note that NGSS phenomena are complex and based in real-world context. They represent questions we can’t answer in a single experiment or problems we can’t solve in one round of prototyping. They also should relate to one or more of the standards you plan to explore in the lesson/unit.
The phenomenon you select will form a thread through the lesson that guides student learning. Whatever students discuss and investigate should serve the goal of unpacking part of the phenomenon to better understand it.
If you're a KnowAtom user, rest assured that all of our lessons are based around NGSS phenomena examples. If you don't use KnowAtom, that's fine. Steps that follow are all things you can do in your class regardless.
Step 2: Use NGSS phenomena to spark Socratic dialogue.
We want students to become dissatisfied with their level of understanding about elements of the phenomenon. This often occurs as a result of collaborative reflection on the phenomena. That's how students get the value out of it and engage in the practices. It also encourages academic honesty because it may highlight the fact that we may think things for which we lack evidence.
The best way we've found to engage students in the phenomenon so that they become dissatisfied is to transition from the introduction of the phenomenon (such as through nonfiction reading and/or video) into a Socratic dialogue. If you're not familiar with Socratic dialogue, it’s a form of questioning that focuses on higher order questions that require students to create, evaluate, and analyze in order to respond.
The point of Socratic dialogue is to train students to bring their ideas forward, to do so with academic honesty, and to appropriately build on the ideas of others or have a dissenting opinion.
What we're doing is maximizing students’ opportunity to engage with the ideas so they can build on those ideas, find personal relevance in those ideas, and engage in the practices of science and engineering.
Step 3: Facilitate students arriving at a question or problem they can investigate.
After the Socratic dialogue around the NGSS phenomena example, students will come to that dissatisfaction, to the problem that hasn't been solved, or a belief for which there is no evidence yet, and this leads to a question or a problem.
Your role as teacher is to facilitate students arriving at a question or problem that they can investigate. That means arriving at a central question or problem as a group, which you can facilitate by asking the right kinds of questions.
The question or problem becomes the platform for what students investigate.
Step 4: Coach students as they carry out their plan and gather authentic data.
The fourth step is coaching students as they carry out their plan and gather authentic data through investigative phenomena. As students move from their question or problem toward creating a plan, you coach them in that creation process by being an interested skeptic.
Ask questions such as: "Is that how a scientist would do it?", "Is that consistent with what we read about?", or "Do you agree with your partner's idea?"
By asking these types of questions, you start to get students mixing ideas and perspectives. Again, your role is as coach and not expert in this. You're skillfully creating the environment for inquiry here.
There are many decisions that need to be made before students can actually carry out their task. This is why it’s important to put the NGSS phenomena front and center, rather than putting the task first. If you put the task first, it doesn't really have a lot of relevance and it doesn’t require the kind of thinking that is so foundational to these new standards. It's just something to observe.
If the task fits its purpose, and students understand the purpose of it, then what that task yields has relevance. Equally importantly, the investigative phenomena process engages students in almost every science and engineering practice as they're going through all of these elements.
Step 5: Be an interested skeptic as students use their data to form a data-based conclusion and reflect back on the NGSS phenomena.
The last step also involves being an interested skeptic, helping students use their data to form defensible, logical, data-based conclusions. This process creates the opportunity for students with different conclusions to not only engage in reflection of their own work, but also to collaborate and to compare their work to others' work, and to consider others' ideas.
The purpose of going through this whole process is to leave that investigative phenomenon with data that students can use to form an evidence-based conclusion.
Students need to reflect back on the initial problem or question because that's what the conclusion is about, but they also need to reflect back on the overarching anchor phenomena—how this whole process began.
At the end of the day, if you want to prepare students to engage with real-world phenomena and succeed, it starts with bringing NGSS phenomena examples into the classroom and giving students access to the knowledge-building process described on their own terms. They need to feel unfettered and free to make mistakes while learning and contributing as individuals to the world’s knowledge.