Using Phenomena in Science Teaching

With the 2015 Iowa Department of Education adoption of the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) / aligned Iowa Science Standards, schools and teachers began a shift in the how and why of science content. Iowa’s new science standards are designed to help students move from learning about science to figuring out science. 

ICEC has been learning along with Iowa’s teachers and several topics at our annual Winter Workshop’s have focused on phenomena and authentic data, to help our formal and informal science educators in this learning curve. The below resources are products of recent workshops:

As we’ve learned, NGSS focuses on helping students use science to make sense of our natural and built environments. Teachers are helping students make sense of the actions and events that happen around us. Natural phenomena are observable actions or events that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict. The goal of building knowledge in science is to develop general ideas, based on evidence, that can explain and predict phenomena. Engineering involves designing solutions to problems that arise from phenomena, and using explanations of phenomena to design solutions.

By centering science education on phenomena that students want to explain, the focus of instruction shifts from learning about a topic to figuring out why something happens. For example, instead of learning about the topics of photosynthesis and mitosis, students are engaged in trying to figure out how a tree grows. This makes science more meaningful to students, which in turn supports accessible, deeper science learning.

Iowa Phenomena Project

In response to this shift in science instruction expectations, Iowa PBS created an online resource, Iowa Science Phenomena. This  website is the repository for curated, user-generated, media-based, standards aligned, science phenomena resources for Iowa teachers to use as they implement phenomena-based and place-based teaching practices.

As phenomena were submitted for review to be included in the Iowa Phenomena Project, the location in Iowa where the phenomena was captured is noted. Using this data, project leaders soon realized there were ‘data deserts’ and set about to focus on these areas of the state with “Phenomena Blitzes.”

Join us for an Iowa Science Phenomena Event in Ida Grove!

The Iowa Science Phenomena website from Iowa PBS offers a growing collection of local standards-aligned phenomena, unique and relevant to the students and teachers of Iowa. You are invited to contribute to this collection by joining this one-day regional workshop!


When: April 27, 2024, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. General Public Event; 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Educator-Only Workshop

Where: Moorehead Park, Ida County

General Public Event: Begin the day by joining outdoor experts and Iowa PBS for an adventure through Moorehead Park! Choose one of two guided hikes through the park to experience the beauty of spring in northwest Iowa as you identify unique natural phenomena. Before the tour we will offer valuable tips and tricks to help improve your own amateur nature photography skills to help you capture these phenomena with your own phone or camera.

Educator-Only Workshop: In the afternoon, bring your laptop and enjoy a provided lunch for an educators-only workshop. This casual workshop, facilitated by science education experts, will allow you to:

  • Review and select phenomena captured in the morning hike;
  • Practice strategies to align that selected phenomena to Iowa science standards;
  • Work alongside other educators to design standards-aligned classroom resources featuring the unique natural aspect of northwest Iowa;
  • Have an opportunity to share your created resources with Iowa teachers and students through publication on the Iowa Science Phenomena website!

Please note: attending this morning hike session is encouraged, but not required in order to participate in the afternoon session.

This event is free, but space in the educator-only workshop is limited so reserve your spot today!

Registration Form

Questions? Contact

Funded by the Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP CEP)