No curriculum is perfect, and one-size-fits-all curricula will never fit every student. That’s the art of teaching, right? One of the biggest components missing from the curriculum my school is using is the *anchor experience.* Yes, there is an anchor phenomenon, but it is “presented” as opposed to “engaged” with — which made sparking curiosity and questions (the point of the phenomenon) a bit tricky. Soooo I created my own anchor experience, and in this post, I’ll walk you through my anchor phenomenon example lesson!
An Anchor Phenomenon Example Lesson For A “Canned Curriculum”
While I am lucky (and that’s a sad reflection on the state of education) that my school has purchased curricular resources for our science classes, one-size-fits-all curricula don’t really fit all. [See my thoughts on that here!] There’s always things we wish were included (and parts that we’re like, what were they thinking???), and the curriculum I’ve been provided is no different.
I truly love having something to draw from, but I don’t totally love the choice and I absolutely tend to modify it.
One of my biggest complaints at this point is the essential lack of an effective anchor experience. While technically the units are built around an anchor phenomenon, when it comes to engaging students in that phenomenon… there’s just nothing there. While having an anchor is a step in the right direction, we also need to move beyond presenting the anchor to actually engaging students in it.
Half of the goal of an anchor phenomenon is to activate student curiosity, cultivate intrinsic motivation to learn, and spark student questions that are necessary for a student-driven storyline. Simply presenting the phenomenon (via a single paragraph letter-to-students) does not truly give students the opportunity to do any of that.
So I created an anchor experience to supplement my out-of-the-box curriculum — a collection of resources that presented the issue (an unexpected and unexplained increase in a population) and an activity that allowed them to begin digging in.
The Anchor Experience Plan
First, I showed this YouTube video (see below) and asked students to record a few things they noticed and a few things they wondered. (Even just one or two!) I kept it simple — this was the day’s warm-up, and my students are just getting used to making observations and asking questions. That said, they dug into this task and came out with some great ideas and questions.
Then, I divided students into groups and gave each group the “case file” I created, which also included the fictional-letter provided in our curriculum that posed the task (understand why this population had increased).
While the activating-curiosity component was lacking in the phenomenon the curriculum provided, the fictional-letter they used was really important because it did define the “mission” and set boundaries for our learning. Because student questioning can sometimes take them anywhere — which isn’t a bad thing! — it’s very helpful to embed in the anchor experience something that establishes boundaries that students can use to evaluate their questions. Students can ask themselves, while I might be curious about something, does it help us achieve our mission? (More on this process to come!)
Anchor Phenomenon Example Lesson: Digging In
Next, students used the case file to create a profile of moon jellies using the Meet & Greet Profile Page template from a different lesson, Organisms And Their Interactions. (You can also find this lesson inside Spark Science.) My intention for this task was for students to center the species/population under investigation and begin to see how it “fits” into its ecosystem. Through this task (and the following), students started putting together ideas and theories about resource availability, food webs, and environmental issues entirely on their own! These are ideas we will be returning to through this unit, so for them to already be thinking about and exploring them — it was just perfect!
Sprinkling In New Content
To further help students understand the role of the species within its ecosystem, students used their Meet & Greet Profile Page to explore how that species interacted with other Arctic ecosystem organisms. Each group had one organism assigned and used the curriculum-provided texts to understand how the species (ex/ Orca whales) “crossed paths” with jellyfish. (Ex/ Orca whales eat organisms who prey on jellyfish!). We called this activity our Arctic Ecosystem Party Night, and students used the organizer provided in Organisms And Their Interactions to log their ideas about their specific species. Then, students regrouped so they could share their notes with classmates until all students had all the notes!
(Looking for an alternative to this regrouping? Instruct students to submit their information to a class organizer via Google Classroom or a similar learning tool, and then have students record the interactions from the completed class organizer.)
Anchor Phenomenon Example: Time For Student Questions
Finally, we used our notebooks and then Google Jamboard to brain-dump everything we knew about the issue, as well as all of the things we wondered about the change in the jellyfish population! At this point, there were definitely some irrelevant questions, rabbit trails, and even nonsense ideas. But also at this point, (as long as we’re still school appropriate) it doesn’t matter. My students are still learning to question (and learning the value of this task), so for the most part, I didn’t really comment on any questions or thoughts they had logged. We would address those — and focus our investigation — in the next activity.
[Stay tuned for what comes next!]
The Resources You Need
- Watch & Wonder: Jellyfish Video
- Moon Jelly Case File
- Organisms And Their Interactions Within Ecosystems