Updated: Apr 20, 2019
I have a question for you. Are you confident in your science instruction? Are you unsure about how to make the most impact in your lessons? Does phenomena-based science instruction leave you with giant cartoon-like question marks floating over your head? It's okay, we've all been there. Thankfully, there is a super-simple way to create awesome science lessons with almost no extra planning thrown in.
So let me just say this first... whether you are a science-lover like me, or you are timid to test the waters of inquiry-based instruction, science is THE PERFECT subject to create true engagement in your classroom. I'm not talking about that "well, everyone is doing what I asked them to, so they're engaged right?" kind of engagement... I'm talking about students who are genuinely compelled to want to learn what's next, how something works, and the true concepts behind what they observe. You see, every kid that walks into your classroom is a science rockstar. Curiosity is a child's first talent. Children come into this world trying to figure out how it all works. Their favorite question is "WHY?!" If that isn't the most defining characteristic of a scientist, I don't know what is.
So here's the deal guys, let's capture that! Let's use that to drive instruction. Please, please, please, throw away those worksheets and vocabulary lists in which students have to memorize definitions. Let's create lessons that allow students to learn science concepts authentically, and here's how:
START WITH THE LAB.
Whaaaaaa?! But how will they know what to do? What if they get a wrong result? They won't even know why they're doing it! It's okay. That is all part of the scientific process. The whole purpose behind phenomena-based instruction is to provide students with a compelling situation that they want to figure out. Now I get that phenomena can be a big, scary, somewhat confusing word, but in reality, phenomena can be a simple lab experiment, demonstration, video, or photo that you weave throughout the lesson or unit. Take what lessons you already have, and flip the order. Instead of teaching all of your content, then ending with a lab experiment in which students are expected to get specific results, flip it.
By starting with a demonstration or some sort of intriguing experience, you're creating a foundation for your students to rely on. Even if they never knew a thing about chemical reactions or fault lines when they step in the door, they'll want to know more once they've seen the reaction of mentos in diet soda or shown an image of a city after a devastating quake. By providing them with something they can refer to throughout the lesson series, you've put them in a leading position. No longer is the teacher "the knower of all content"... it's a shared experience.
And it's as simple as that... well, of course there's the rest of the lesson to plan, but if you can catch them, inspire wonder, give them something to ponder, then you become the science rockstar. Ride that high-energy wave that's been created to dive into your science content.
Have your students draw models of what they think is happening. Encourage students to explain it out loud and listen to them... I bet they'll attempt to describe your core idea, and if they fumble, be there to provide the science term they are attempting to define. Give them the textbook, diagrams, videos and articles that will help them clarify their ideas (and acknowledge their misconceptions). As teachers, we get to facilitate and guide our student's learning.
With a simple flip of the traditional instructional model, we put students in charge of their learning. They'll create questions of their own that they might just follow through on trying to figure out. I'm telling you, this has been the best advice I've come across and it's always the advice I give when it comes to creating true engagement and student-focused science lessons. Try it out and just see what happens.