In a about a half and hour, I will be joining in on my second webinar through Rubicon on NGSS. In early June, I caught wind of one, maybe in my Twitter feed and thought that it would be a great use of one of my last professional learning days. This webinar was called NGSS Phenomena and the host or expert was TJ McKenna, who I was unfamiliar with until this point.
He introduced himself and said he was involved with a program called "Science Sunday" and that he was kind of the "Anti-Bill Nye," in that he tries not to just answer questions. I am a fan of Bill Nye and use his resources with my students from time to time, but he is correct in that we often get too much of the "answer" when we watch one of his programs, instead of figuring it out ourselves.
Mckenna's over-arching goal is to use phenomena in "academically productive" ways. He outlined a couple of examples of what he means. At the high school level he talked about the classic egg drop lab that many teachers do for physics. It is an engaging lab generally for students. But what if you gave it more of a purpose? So he talked about connecting the task with the recent epidemic of Ebola. The task then became dropping in supplies to the people in areas with Ebola and this gives a need for designing such an apparatus that takes into account the concepts students would be learning. An example for middle school was the traditional Bird Beak lab. Similar to the egg drop situation, he found a connection to an emergent health concern: Zika. His thought was "does Zika fit natural selection; is adaptation a thing we can see?" That would serve as a lead into the Bird Beaks activity. The take home message about phenomena is that it shouldn't just have a quick easy answer. "You can Google content, but you can't Google knowledge." He through out a couple things to Google: the shower curtain effect, golf ball dimples, drafting in bicycling. If there's something you are wondering about, Google it, get some background and see how you could connect this to content you make work through with students.
As he was closing his webinar, he shared some resources that may be helpful in increasing your use of phenomena-based science. One book he shared was The Theory of Island Biogeography by E.O. Wilson and Rober MacArthur. This book presented an interesting case in that everything was killed on the island, I believe, to find out what happened next, specifically what would be the first colonizer. In this case it was spiders, but they died because of a lack of food. This book spurred much investigation on island biogeography and related topics. He also mentioned a couple of other books, NGSS for ALL Students and Becoming a Responsive Teacher. I have purchased this last one, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. It looks like it will be a worthwhile read, though. Lastly, he shared with us, his website: Phenomena for NGSS, which is a site with mostly pictures and some information about curious things that might make a good phenomenon for a lesson or unit.
I found this webinar to be very worthwhile, and it gave me some ideas about trying out some of the phenomena this year. Hopefully, as I tap into my creative mind, I can come up with more such ideas on my own! Well, my next webinar is about to start!