Anchor Phenomena and Investigative Phenomena in Twig Science

In Twig Science, every module has a storyline that sets its module anchor phenomenon in a grade-appropriate context. The storyline is introduced near the start of each module through a module trailer video. This video is not a replacement for complex observable events that students must investigate to solve or explain, but an engagement tool to get students excited about the challenges and phenomena they are about to explore.

Every module’s anchor phenomenon is scaffolded through a sequence of smaller investigative phenomena and problems, known as Driving Questions in Twig Science.

In every grade and every module of Twig Science, observing and explaining phenomena and designing solutions provide the purpose and opportunity for students to engage and drive their own learning.

Grade 4, Module 3: Time-Traveling Tour Guides

For example in Grade 4, Module 3, students make sense of the module anchor phenomenon: How have weathering and erosion sculpted some of Earth’s most interesting landscapes?

As per our instructional design, the investigation of this anchor phenomenon is resolved over several weeks of instruction. The students’ first exposure to it is carried out at local level in the module’s first lesson, when students take part in an outdoor investigation in their schoolyard, recording their observations for changes that might have occurred over time.  Afterward, in a class discussion, they connect their findings to the first investigative phenomenon (Driving Question):  What makes landscapes change over time?  They begin to understand how landscapes change, and they identify water, wind, and ice as possible agents of those changes.

In Lesson 4, the scale of what they’ve seen and discussed changes both in terms of size and time as they explore geological features of the Grand Canyon.  Students observe 360-degree photographs of the Canyon. They generate wonderful questions about this phenomenon.   The module trailer video is shown in Lesson 4, introducing the storyline in which students take on the role of tour guides and explain what they learn about the Grand Canyon to visiting tourists.  

Students continue their investigation to explain the geological features of the Grand Canyon in subsequent Driving Questions.  

In Driving Question 2 (Why do we see different rock layers in the Grand Canyon?), students make physical models of layers of rock at the Grand Canyon containing different fossils within different layers.  Students come to understand that rock layers represent different periods of geological time and that layers further up the canyon are more recent.  They figure out that fossils help us understand what landscapes used to be like. Students begin to connect the component parts of a landscape and the evidence available to them as to how it was formed.

In Driving Question 3 (How did the Colorado River sculpt the Grand Canyon?), students make stream tray models to observe the phenomenon of how the movement of water causes erosion, connecting it to nature by looking at satellite photos. They figure out that water can change the land (including carving river channels) by modeling the water flow of a river in a stream tray and making observations. They figure out that there are variables (stream flow, steepness of slope) that affect the rate of erosion. Students have now investigated one of the key agents of erosion that sculpted the Grand Canyon. 

In Driving Question 4 (What other amazing landscapes have been sculpted by weathering and erosion?), students extend their investigations of landscape change beyond the Grand Canyon.  They explore the investigative phenomena How do wind and ice change the land? They use physical models to help investigate natural phenomena such as Yosemite Valley and connect their findings to real-world examples. They figure out that the movement of ice and the wind can dramatically change landscapes, finding evidence for this in the models they create: observing changes in clay when a block of ice is moved over it and in sand when blown by a fan.

In exploring these anchor and investigative phenomena in Time-Traveling Tour Guides, students revisit the topic of landforms, explored in Grade 2 in Twig Science, and investigate erosion and weathering. They also look ahead to the H2O Response Team module in Grade 5, in which they build on their Grade 4 ideas about how water and wind affect Earth.

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