In this blog we will take a look at what phenomena are and how they relate to the Next Generation Science Standards. In addition, it is crucial to understand the nature of the science and engineering cycle as well as the traditional versus the next generation models of science instruction.
Phenomena as Observable Events
In order to put phenomena to work for you in your classroom, you need to understand what they are. So just what are phenomena?
A phenomenon is the context that motivates the work of a scientist or an engineer, the events, circumstances or framework that defines what they do, the knowledge they’re looking for and the problems they’re trying to solve. In plain language, a scientist or an engineer doesn't go to work to remember facts or previously learned knowledge. That's not why people hire them.
Rather, scientists and engineers function in a context to actually develop and use that content, generating new ideas and contributing new knowledge to the preexisting body. Specifically, when we talk about scientists, we mean people who are focused on answering questions about observable events. They're answering those questions by developing and using their knowledge to test hypothetical answers to those questions.
A phenomenon, in the scientific context, is an observable event that can range from a seasonal hazard to a technological issue.
For a scientist, a phenomenon is an observable event. If you look at the examples in a K-12 context, an observable event could be an autumn day. It could be the slip and fall phenomenon that we may see on a winter's day. It could be organisms eating. It could be seasonal light patterns. It could be computers crashing. These are all observable events, and provide a context which scientists could then develop and explore. In other words, they could develop a question around the phenomena – the observable event – and attempt to answer that question by testing a hypothesis.
In the engineering context, a phenomenon is a problem that can be solved. For instance, this might be streets that flood frequently or the desire to view objects at ever-further distances.
For an engineer, phenomena have to do with a problem that may be solved by extending their knowledge of science. Good examples of this include street flooding, fuel consumption, how to observe objects that are away, traffic, how to get from one point to another quicker, how to make boats travel faster and so on.
So scientists take their observations of events and ask questions about them, then test hypotheses related to those questions, to create new evidence-based knowledge. Engineers then expand on that knowledge by solving problems observed in the world around us through prototyping – designing solutions then testing them until they find something that works, and typically, continuing to improve solutions over time.