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How to Use NGSS Phenomena to Construct Meaningful Storylines

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Feb 8, 2023

Image of NGSS science phenomena solar eclipse


When we invite students to investigate real-world phenomena as scientists and engineers, we’re giving them the opportunity to link what they learn in class to the world around them. Challenging students to uncover how and why a phenomenon occurs by questioning, testing, and discussing it engages them in deeper learning. When students realize they can use their scientific knowledge to explain and predict real-world phenomena, we are helping kickstart a lifetime love of learning.

Engineers and scientists use their skills and experience to solve problems and better understand natural and man-made phenomena. In Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based classrooms, NGSS phenomena help create meaning and purpose for each lesson. When we introduce NGSS storylines into our lesson plans, we also encourage deeper learning. Students are challenged to take the lead in investigating and connecting their ideas across multiple activities and daily lessons. In doing so, they learn essential skills to understand and communicate their knowledge about the world around them.

What are NGSS Phenomena?

Phenomena provide real-world context to learning science. They are observable events that we can investigate – weather, gravity, or agricultural yields. They can be reproduced, studied, and predicted. Slipping on an icy road and changing water levels are both phenomena that can be observed and studied. Students can study the science behind force and tides during non-fiction reading, Socratic discussion, and hands-on activities. But when we connect those lessons with an overarching theme through NGSS storyline pedagogy, we help students link their classroom investigations to real-world effects.

Investigating NGSS phenomena helps students develop critical thinking skills. An NGSS storyline challenges them to ask questions, test their hypothesis, analyze data, and explain the results while connecting their learning to complex concepts and impacts in the real world. This encourages a more personal connection to what students learn in the classroom and active engagement from all participants.

For example:

  • Why do you slip when walking to school on an icy road?
  • Do the type of shoes you are wearing impact this? How can we test that?
  • How do civil engineering decisions in planning a school, community, or roadway impact the safety of walkers, bikers, and drivers getting to school?
  • Can we design something to make walking to school safer for students during the winter?

When students take the lead in investigating real-world phenomena like these, they develop an understanding of Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs). They are using Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) to do so.

In the example above, students examine DCIs in physical and earth science, as well as engineering, technology, and the applications of science as they investigate force. They depend on CCCs as they bring those ideas together to solve real-world problems. Active exploration helps the students understand how core concepts stay the same across science disciplines and why this is so important.

Finally, when students use SEPs in the classroom, they explore career opportunities in science and engineering. They’re experiencing firsthand the thrill of discovery and the disappointment of an idea disproved. They’re learning to use science vocabulary to explain their ideas to their peers. That’s why student-led hands-on discovery is key to implementing NGSS storylines.

How to Connect NGSS Phenomena to Teaching Storylines with KnowAtom

At KnowAtom, student-led science discovery is powered by hands-on engineering activities and science labs. When we link those daily investigations together through an NGSS storyline, students use their knowledge to explain complex concepts and link them to the real world. The students are the lead characters in their investigation, driving it with questions, experiment designs, and classroom discussions.

For example, students tackling tides and environmental science can investigate the effect of changing water levels rather than just the phenomenon itself. Here’s an example of incorporating real-world events into an NGSS storyline that challenges students to learn more about tides:

  • How are tides measured, and by whom?
  • Why do we predict tides? Who needs to know that information? (i.e., boat captains going under a bridge or docking, meteorologists tracking a hurricane, city planners)
  • How do tides impact our community? How could we measure tides on bodies of water nearby? (If we can’t access that water, what tools are available to track water levels remotely?)
  • When Hurricane Irene hit New York in 2011, was it high or low tide? What storm impacts were predicted? What is the relationship between storm surges and tides?

NOAA information on tides and currents available online is a helpful resource in this NGSS storyline. In the example, students linked learning about tides to the professionals who study them. They explored how tide predictions impacted residents living through a hurricane and investigated how to track changing water levels in their own community. Connecting science to real-world events and experiences sparks the excitement of discovery and gives students their own AHA! moment, just like a scientist or engineer.

Those big AHA! moments take time, however. NGSS storyline pedagogy allows students the time and space to question, discover, fail, and explore together. Tackling problems differently, learning from our mistakes, and going outside our comfort zone are encouraged. Core science concepts are personalized with the stories of people impacted by real-world phenomena and those pushing science discovery forward every day. When students are in the lead, they are more engaged in the classroom and make a more personal connection to the subject matter. They’re also exploring future careers, learning how science knowledge helps explain the world around them and building essential skills like critical thinking and public speaking.

Watch Now - Free Professional Development Webinar on Storyline Pedagogy and Implementing the New Science Standards


Topics: Phenomena-Based Learning, NGSS Storylines

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