It is important to engage students at the beginning of a unit by presenting them with an observable and puzzling event, or a phenomenon. Often the events are so puzzling for students that it causes some cognitive disequilibrium which students will strive to work through until they figure it out. The phenomenon will be the context for their learning while also serving to anchor the students around a shared experience that they can work to understand over the course of the unit. After the anchoring phenomenon is presented it should not be forgotten. It is essential that the students revisit the anchoring phenomenon several times throughout the unit as they work to understand the puzzling event via investigations, readings, and activities. It takes some perseverance to build understanding around phenomena - they are not meant to be figured out in a single lesson.
When puzzling real observable events are presented to students, it is usually engaging for students. This presents the teacher with an excellent opportunity to elicit students’ current understanding which can be used for directing the inquiry cycle of instruction. For more ideas on eliciting students initial thinking read “Engagement through Elicitation is Key to Beginning Scientific Inquiry” from Tools and Traits for Highly Effective Science Teaching (p. 40) As a follow up check out “Helping Student Change ‘Why’ Questions Into ‘How’ Questions to Make Testable Questions” from p. 50-51 of the same text.
A case for using anchoring phenomena:
Using Anchoring Phenomenon with the 5E model
Tips for using Phenomena
In the Phenomenal Science Units, there is a phenomenon for each instructional cycle within a unit. The phenomenon will be revisited several times throughout the instructional cycle. Students should develop their explanation of the phenomenon by the end of the cycle but sometimes sooner. The same phenomenon can be used for the cycle assessment, or a different related one. A summary table is a great tool often used to track understanding towards the phenomenon / focus question.
Additional information about using phenomena can be found at: