Phenomena-based learning is a form of learning where students study a topic as a whole through the exploration of the concepts within it.
Typically used in a science setting, students examine a real-world event, like changing seasons, the water cycle, or even an experiment performed in class, like a chemical reaction or a test of physics. They then apply their knowledge of the scientific method and concepts to explain why something occurred.
The teaching method has many benefits, namely the ability to apply learned concepts to the real world, increased literacy and understanding, development of critical thinking, increased engagement, personalized learning, and greater long-term retention.
Moreso, these curricula leverage virtual experiences, providing students the opportunity to directly interact with the phenomena being studied. They can view telescopes in real-time, giving them a live look at planets, stars, and galaxies. Students can even conduct virtual experiences in a lab-like setting, engaging them with game-based elements that inspire them to explore science.
As a Texas educator, you can use OpenStax and OpenSciEd to bring phenomena-based learning to your classroom. With them, you introduce your students to many benefits, including a greater real-world connection, increased scientific literacy, development of critical thinking skills, more motivation and engagement, personalized learning, and better long-term retention.
1. Real-World Applications in the Classroom
First, and perhaps the most obvious benefit of phenomena-based learning is the direct connection to the real world. As students explore a real-world event, they can better understand the context in which their knowledge is applied.
This creates a more relevant, and engaging experience that allows your students to apply scientific principles and explore broader concepts than just a singular event. It also helps them see the practical applications of their learning and how it relates to their lives.
OpenSciEd employs a story-based approach within phenomena-based learning to maximize the connections between the classroom and the real world. This model includes established routines to provide consistency and predictability for students as they explore these new concepts.
To fully capture this benefit, educators should guide students through scenarios students likely have encountered in their everyday lives, but keep the event broad enough so that they can apply multiple theories.
- The Seasons and their Changes: The Earth’s orbit around the sun and the tilt of its axis and how that impacts light and temperature. Students can discuss weather patterns, climate, and the Earth’s movements
- The Water Cycle: The journey of water through evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. They can explore clouds, wind, weather, and environmental shifts, as well as the impacts of terrain and vegetation.
- The Ocean and Currents: Students can explore waves, how they occur, the movement of water through the oceans, and currents. They can dive into marine life, water temperature, salinity, and the layers of the ocean.
2. Increased Scientific Literacy
With phenomena-based learning’s real-world application of principles and broad scope, students develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and principles. The outcome is greater scientific literacy, as students can apply more of their knowledge in a less structured format.
When you leverage phenomena-based curricula in Texas, students can form hypotheses, design experiments, collect data, have discussions amongst themselves, and draw their own conclusions. This hands-on and in-depth approach encourages students to apply more of their learning, reinforces concepts, and internalizes processes.
Kiddom offers virtual experiments from OpenSciEd and OpenStax. This allows students to experiment in a risk-free environment where they can explore without the risk of something going wrong.
OpenStax states that when using a virtual telescope, Ohio State University and the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia found that well-designed simulations offer an easy-to-use representation of the universe. It allows students to make precise observations of scientific phenomena using simulations. The students can collect their own data, make measurements, and observe complex 3D relationships and movements quickly and conveniently.
Students should be encouraged to explore a particular event, design an experiment to examine it, create a hypothesis around the outcome, and then collect data, draw conclusions, and discuss the result. They can then present their findings to the class to build communication skills.
3. Development of Critical Thinking Skills
Phenomena-based learning is excellent for developing critical thinking skills. Students must gather data, analyze the evidence, and draw conclusions based on their scientific knowledge and reasoning. It is the application of their scientific knowledge to real-world situations and is crucial for problem-solving and decision-making.
In Texas, students should be encouraged to investigate, ask questions, explore, and analyze on their own. Educators should try to choose phenomena that contain multiple scientific concepts so students can identify them on their own and make connections on how one may impact others.
Users of OpenStax and OpenSciEd have stated that their students have, “learned how to ask pertinent questions and define relevant problems.”
For example, students can explore how seasonality impacts climate and precipitation, or how ocean temperatures impact the life within them.
4. Engagement and Motivation in the Classroom
Phenomena-based learning helps students be more engaged and motivated to explore the topics to which they are exposed.
This not only creates a more positive attitude toward learning, but it fosters interest in the subject and encourages the students to discuss the concepts, share ideas, and collaborate to solve problems.
The key is to focus on authentic and intriguing phenomena, as well as those that students likely have experienced in real life. Teachers should incorporate interesting experiments that grab students’ attention, but connect directly to the concepts being covered.
Students tend to be more actively involved in formulating hypotheses, drawing conclusions, building inquiry-based skills, and exposing misconceptions. This helps improve their self-confidence.
Students can be encouraged to hypothesize why an event occurs or determine the data needed to reach a scientific conclusion about the outcome. They can apply multiple scientific concepts to explain why something happens and draw on their knowledge to explain a real-world event.
5. Flexible and Personalized Learning Experiences
Texas is BIG, which means there are many different types of learners. Thankfully, Phenomena-based learning allows for flexibility in how students approach and explore a topic. It allows for an open space to apply their knowledge in the manner that works best for them.
This allows students to form their own processes, develop their own path to results, and to explore at their own pace. The experiential aspect of phenomena-based learning means students can explore outside of the typical structure.
This type of learning can accommodate different learning styles and preferences, especially when educators encourage students to explore on their own and draw their own conclusions. Students can then be encouraged to share their opinions and processes with others in small groups.
6. More Inquiry and Long-Term Retention
Actively exploring phenomena and connecting concepts to real-world examples enhances the long-term retention of scientific knowledge. When the classroom is tied to tangible and memorable experiences, students are more likely to remember and apply what they have learned long-term.
Phenomena-based learning encourages a sense of curiosity and inquiry. Students become active participants in their learning, asking questions and seeking answers, which helps build better retention and understanding and sets them up for greater academic success.
They then apply this knowledge through critical thinking and problem-solving, creating a broader sense of the concepts they have been presented.
Teachers should keep students actively involved in the learning process and ensure their phenomena-based learning scenarios are connected to real-world experiences.
These examples illustrate how phenomena-based learning can cover a range of scientific concepts and provide students with opportunities for inquiry, investigation, and critical thinking. The goal is to connect classroom learning to real-world phenomena, making science education more engaging and relevant.
If you’d like to learn more about integrating OpenStax, OpenSciEd, or phenomena-based learning into your classroom, feel free to contact us at any time!
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