What I Know Now: Anchoring Phenomena in NGSS

Tch Next Generation Science Squad

Phenomena can be the special ingredient that brings both intrigue and relevance to an otherwise ordinary lesson. It’s no surprise anchoring phenomena have become a part of the conversation whenever educators discuss NGSS science instruction. This is exciting because anchoring phenomena and driving questions can be the key to student engagement.

When I was first introduced to the importance of anchoring phenomena in NGSS instruction, I remember Googling “NGSS anchoring phenomena” and getting two, maybe three results —  and even they weren’t really what I needed. Today, the same search returns more than 2000 results. In a very short time, knowledge and resources have increased at a breakneck pace. Today, I know I can find the resources I need to help me anchor phenomena to the standards with relative ease. I’d like to share some of my favorite results from my search with you.

NGSS Resources at Your Fingertips

Teaching Channel

A few of the top results from my Google search come straight from Teaching Channel. One links to a piece written by NGSS Squadster Kyla Burns, a high school biology teacher from Iowa. Kyla’s post, NGSS Story-Lining: Using Entry Level Video, describes the connections between project-based learning and anchoring events.

Another Teaching Channel blog, 6 Steps to Coming Up With Engaging Phenomena to Anchor Your Next NGSS Unit, is an excellent post where Alissa Berg walks the reader through her process, step-by-step. In applying this post to my practice, I might tweak the process to begin with the standards and then move to focusing questions, no matter the level of the learner.

Clemson University Media Resources

Clemson University not only has great Inquiry in Motion Lesson Plans, they also have terrific visuals and helpful hints for helping you figure out your own anchoring phenomena. The suggestions I like best consider students’ experiences or interests to create a meaningful context for learning.

Anchoring Phenomenon and Driving Questions Working Together to Improve Instruction

I was surprised to find one of my own blogs in my search for resources. In this post, I explore the importance of constructing good questions to drive instruction. No matter the anchoring phenomenon, questions must be carefully crafted to be meaningful and coherent.

Phenomena for NGSS: Creating the Next Generation of Student Engagement

Phenomena for NGSS is one of my favorite resources. It comes from the work of TJ McKenna at the Connecticut Science Center, a self-confessed “extreme hoarder of NGSS resources.” To find out more about TJ and his work, check out Spark with TJ McKenna: Using NGSS Phenomena to Engage Students.

Tools for Evaluating Phenomena

It’s critical to begin with the standards when planning an instructional sequence or unit, before seeking anchoring phenomena. Sometimes I’m not sure whether my choice of anchoring phenomenon is a good one. When in doubt, I look for tools to help. Two of my go-to resources for evaluating phenomena include Qualities of a Good Anchoring Phenomenon for a Coherent Series of Science Lessons by Bill Penuel and Philip Bell, and Criteria for Evaluating Phenomena by Ted Willard at NSTA. You may be familiar with Ted’s fun rewrite of this classic Muppets’ tune.

I recently discovered a tool from Georgia Science Teachers called Qualities of Good Phenomena to Anchor 3D Learning. I like the narrative introduction to this tool because it sets the context for the lesson. As a teacher trying to decide on productive versus unproductive phenomena, or determining what qualifies as anchoring phenomena and what are simply other phenomena to be included in the lesson, the distinction between “anchoring phenomena “ and “other phenomena” is finally becoming clear. This is something I can say I now know.

I’m sure there are many more NGSS resources out there that I’m not aware of. If you’ve found some that have been useful to you, please share them with us in the comments below. The collection of resources on anchoring phenomena will continue to grow and evolve as our understanding continues to evolve.

When I wrote my first post about anchoring phenomena, my thinking was still fairly cloudy and filled with wonderings. Although I still have wonderings, my understanding of the role of anchoring phenomena and driving questions in science instruction is becoming more clear every day. The critical difference for me is in understanding the importance of relevance and meaningful context to engage students in science learning, and I’m grateful for this growing list of resources to help me along the way.

Kathy Renfrew is the K-5 science coordinator for the Vermont AOE. She has been deeply involved with the development and implementation of the NGSS and is co-developer/presenter of NSTA: Teaching NGSS in K-5 webinars. Kathy earned National Board Certification in 1998 and won the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2000. She taught science for over 30 years. While in the classroom, Kathy won a Toyota Tapestry grant and built a 16×20 foot log cabin with her students outside her classroom window. Kathy’s passion is improving science opportunities and education for all K-5 Students.

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