What are phenomena?

If you’re a science educator, you’ve probably come across the word “phenomena” countless times. Phenomena-based learning is at the core of 3-D science—but what are they, really? And why are they important?

Phenomena can be defined as “observable events that occur in a natural or designed system.” They are everywhere around us, but some are easier to notice than others. Common examples of natural phenomena include lightning, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and similar. 

However, there are also a lot of phenomena that are less dramatic and less noticeable: simple things like light reflecting in a mirror, the way electricity passes through wires to allow you to switch on a lamp, or the simple fact that gravity allows us to walk on the surface of the Earth! 

Some phenomena occur very slowly and can be hard to notice, such as the passing of the seasons, the decomposition of organic matter, or the erosion of mountains. But they are still observable events that can be explained with science and are therefore phenomena. 

Phenomena are important to science education because they give students tangible, interesting examples of science in the real world. They are also good opportunities for encouraging student inquiry: students can observe a phenomenon and subsequently ask questions and do research to find out more about how it works. 

Trying to explain phenomena to your students? This video explains what they are and why they are important—all in just 60 seconds. 

Need a genuine, phenomena-based 3-D science program? Check out Twig Science

What are Crosscutting Concepts? | NGSS

Crosscutting concepts, or CCCs, are one of the three dimensions of the NGSS. They are themes that appear again and again across STEM subjects. In the NRC’s “A Framework for K–12 Science Education,” CCCs are defined as “concepts that bridge disciplinary core boundaries, having explanatory value throughout much of science and engineering. These concepts help provide students with an organizational framework for connecting knowledge from the various disciplines into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world.” (1)

While they can feel slightly abstract, the CCCs are crucial to building content knowledge and understanding scientific processes. As students progress in their scientific education, these concepts will appear in multiple disciplines, again and again, and should become more and more familiar. They will work as touchstones that students return to as they discover new phenomena and make sense of the world. (2)

There are seven CCCs defined in the NRC Framework and in the NGSS: 

1. Patterns

Patterns appear again and again in nature and science—such as the symmetry of flowers, the lunar cycle, the seasons, and the structure of DNA. Being able to recognize patterns is important for many scientific tasks, like classification or analyzing and interpreting data. Students need to be able to not only recognize patterns, but also ask questions about why and how patterns occur. 

2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation

Cause and effect can be seen as the next step after identifying patterns. This CCC involves discovering the underlying cause of phenomena, understanding connections and causation, and finding out why one event might lead to another. This concept will also help students when planning and carrying out investigations, or designing and testing solutions. 

3. Scale, proportion, and quantity

A big part of investigating phenomena involves comparing them using relative scales (e.g., bigger and smaller, faster and slower) and describing them using units of, for example, weight, time, temperature, and volume. Many of the phenomena students study are at a scale either too small or too large to observe, and models can be used to make sense of them—such as comparing the planets in our Solar System to fruits of different sizes. 

4. Systems and system models

To make the world easier to investigate, scientists often study smaller units of investigations, or “systems.” A system contains objects that are related and form a whole. It can be as large as a whole galaxy and as small as the human circulatory system. Or even smaller—a single molecule. System models are useful tools for studying how a system behaves in itself and how it interacts with other systems. 

5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation

Building on the previous concept, this one emphasizes that energy and matter flows in and out of any system—for example, the sunlight (energy) and water (matter) that a plant needs to grow, or the flow of water in the Earth’s atmosphere. Being able to observe and model these flows and cycles is important in many areas of science and engineering.

6. Structure and function

This concept refers to the shapes, relationships, and properties of materials in natural and human-made systems. In engineering, for example, understanding the structure and function of different materials can help the engineer create a more effective and successful design.

7. Stability and change

The final CCC has to do with understanding how change occurs in any system and how we can use technology to control change. It also focuses on understanding concepts like dynamic equilibrium, where the perceived stability of a system depends on constant change, e.g. the flow of water through a dam that is always at the same water level, as well as cyclical change, e.g. the Moon’s constant orbit around the Earth and how it affects, for example, tides. 

Each of these crosscutting concepts contains a wide variety of examples and applications which students work through during their academic career. 

How do you make sure that you cover the CCCs? 

To ensure that you hit the three dimensions of the NGSS, you need the support of a good NGSS program. Twig Science is a phenomena-based science program for Grades PK/TK–8 created specifically for the NGSS, ensuring all students have an interwoven understanding of Crosscutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Practices, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. In Twig Science, students experience dozens of different STEM roles as they become creative problem solvers, making sense of engaging, real-world phenomena. 

Learn more about Twig Science.

  1. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts
  2. Ibid.

What are phenomena? | NGSS

If you’re a science educator, you’ve probably come across the word “phenomena” countless times. Phenomena-based learning is at the core of the NGSS and many other science standards—but what are they, really? And why are they important?

Phenomena can be defined as “observable events that occur in a natural or designed system.” They are everywhere around us, but some are easier to notice than others. Common examples of natural phenomena include lightning, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and similar. 

However, there are also a lot of phenomena that are less dramatic and less noticeable: simple things like light reflecting in a mirror, the way electricity passes through wires to allow you to switch on a lamp, or the simple fact that gravity allows us to walk on the surface of the Earth! 

Some phenomena occur very slowly and can be hard to notice, such as the passing of the seasons, the decomposition of organic matter, or the erosion of mountains. But they are still observable events that can be explained with science and are therefore phenomena. 

Phenomena are important to science education because they give students tangible, interesting examples of science in the real world. They are also good opportunities for encouraging student inquiry: students can observe a phenomenon and subsequently ask questions and do research to find out more about how it works. 

Trying to explain phenomena to your students? This video explains what they are and why they are important—all in just 60 seconds. 

Need a genuine, phenomena-based NGSS program? Check out Twig Science

The Importance of the NGSS

Why is a good STEM education important?

In today’s rapidly changing society, STEM careers are in increasingly high demand. These jobs are crucial to continued development and innovation—whether it’s developing new medicines or finding solutions to tackling climate change. As a result, if we are to prepare today’s students to lead the global economy and pursue the diverse employment opportunities out there, we must equip them with a good K–12 science education.

How has science education in the US changed?

Over the last decade, science education in the US has undergone a transformation. Until the introduction of the NGSS in the 2010s, American schools followed the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council (NRC) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to teach science in the classroom. 

Both of these frameworks were formulated in the early 1990s and quickly became outdated. Students were learning theory without understanding the underlying principles that make that theory work. But to succeed in both STEM fields and other modern careers, the next generation needs to learn important 21st-century skills such as research, communication, and evidence-based critical thinking. 

How were the Next Generation Science Standards developed? How are they different from older standards?

To reflect the new demands of a rapidly changing world, the National Research Council released the report “A Framework for K–12 Science Education” in 2011. This framework details what K–12 students should learn throughout their science education, with a focus on scientific skills and methods and the understanding of processes.

The framework then formed the basis of the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). A consortium of 26 states as well as the NRC, the AAAS, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the nonprofit organization Achieve worked together to develop the standards. Teachers, science and policy staff, higher education faculty, business leaders, and expert STEM professionals were also involved in the development of the standards. 

In 2013, the final draft of the standards was published. The standards highlight the importance of students thinking and acting like scientists and engineers—instead of just learning content, students are expected to understand and apply methods that scientists and engineers use in their daily work.

How many states have adopted the NGSS?

Today, 20 states have adopted the NGSS and an additional 24 states have developed their own standards based on the NRC Framework and the NGSS. As a result, 71% of students in the US receive a science education that follows the NRC Framework. (1)

What are the three dimensions of the NGSS?

The NGSS fills in a demand in education that had previously been left unaddressed, prioritizing methodology and blending content with practice. The framework is based on three overlapping dimensions of science learning, all of which weld practice to theory: Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs), Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs), and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs).

Learn more about the three dimensions of the NGSS.

In short, the NGSS focuses on developing the habits and skills that scientists and engineers use in day-to-day life. The standards are formulated to help students learn how to think rather than telling them what to think. Teachers are there to guide students to draw their own conclusions based on evidence and reasoning. The standards provide students with the space and encouragement to question, investigate, and draw their own inferences based on evidence. Through the NGSS, we are preparing future generations to be independent, responsible, and proactive before they go out into the world. 

Twig Science: a genuine NGSS program

Twig Science is a complete PK/TK–8 program built for the NGSS that connects real-world phenomena with 3-D learning. Twig Science is designed to make delivering the NGSS straightforward even for nonspecialist science teachers and includes comprehensive resources in print and digital for flexible lesson planning, a state-of-the-art 3-D Performance Assessment suite, and an innovative, easy-to-use digital platform. Find out more.

  1. https://ngss.nsta.org/About.aspx

What is Three-Dimensional Learning? | NGSS

Why do we need NGSS?

The fundamental aim of the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was to change science teaching as we knew it. The way that we used to, and many people still do, teach science is not a reflection of how science is being used in the real world—the scientists and engineers of today approach science in a practical, proactive way on a day-to-day basis. With the help of the new standards, teachers will be able to make science more approachable, more engaging, and more reflective of our current society. 

Instead of focusing on rote memorization, the NGSS highlights important skills such as research, communication, and analytical thinking. While content knowledge is still a part of the standards, the focus is on teaching students how to engage with new knowledge, answer questions and solve problems, and make connections between the different scientific disciplines, as well as relating science to the real world. This is where three-dimensional learning comes into play.

Three-Dimensional Learning

At the base of the NGSS are three “dimensions” of science learning:

  1. Science and Engineering Practices (SEP)
  2. Crosscutting Concepts (CCC)
  3. Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI)

Every standard, or performance expectation, is supported by these dimensions. SEPs and CCCs are designed to be taught in context, while a focus on a small number of DCIs help students gain a thorough understanding of the science disciplines. Together, the three dimensions reflect far more accurately how science and engineering is practiced in the real world.

Science and Engineering Practices highlight methods that scientists and engineers actually use as part of their work, such as modeling, developing explanations, and engaging in critique and evaluation. The SEPs require students to learn by doing, thus acquiring skills that can be applied to problems across all STEM disciplines. The eight SEPs are:

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Learn more about the SEPs

Crosscutting Concepts are ideas that appear across several areas of STEM. They give students “an organizational framework for connecting knowledge from the various disciplines” and include concepts such as cause and effect, energy and matter, and stability and change. 

  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and effect
  3. Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  4. Systems and System Models
  5. Energy and Matter
  6. Structure and Function
  7. Stability and Change

Learn more about the CCCs

Disciplinary Core Ideas can be simply defined as “content knowledge.” They are those ideas that are crucial to understanding the science disciplines, and can either be a key concept to a specific discipline or relevant to more than one discipline. They are divided into four content domains: 

  1. Life Sciences
  2. Earth and Space Sciences
  3. Physical Sciences
  4. Engineering, Technology, and the Application of Science

Learn more about the DCIs.

Together, the three dimensions create opportunities for learning how to think and act like scientists and engineers, while covering necessary content knowledge. Three-dimensional learning helps maximize student engagement and improve learning outcomes. 

Need a genuine, three-dimensional NGSS program? Check out Twig Science