Anchoring Phenomena: Three Common Mistakes

Anchoring phenomena is one aspect of the NGSS that I really struggled with.  I couldn’t wrap my head around what it was, what it was used for, or what it should look like in my classroom.  While I wrote a blog post about anchoring phenomena a few months ago, I’ve learned even more since then as I delved deeper into the concept for the NGSS Your Science Class course.  So what do I know now?

1. Anchoring Phenomena Are Not Questions

Anchoring phenomena are not questions. They are not explanations.  They are events or processes — things students can observe or experience.  Students can observe layers on a cliffside.  They can observe a cell beneath a microscope.  They can rearrange data to observe a pattern.  Students use these experiences to generate questions.

So again, anchors are not questions.  They are the experiences that drive the questioning. (PS – creating questions is one of the SEPs!)


2. Anchoring Phenomena Are Not Just The “Hook”

Anchoring phenomena are meant to literally anchor a unit.  They tie all the concepts that the students will learn together.  For that reason, the anchor is not just the hook you use at the beginning to capture student attention.  It isn’t something you just introduce once and forget.

You should be returning to your anchoring phenomenon throughout your entire unit.  Each concept students discover should lead them back to the anchor and their expanding explanation of it as a phenomenon.

Anchoring phenomenon is not just a “hook” — it is the big idea that ties it all together.


3. Anchoring Phenomena Don’t Need To Be Phenomenal

Anchoring phenomena don’t need to be phenomenal.  They don’t need to be flashy or showy. They don’t need to get your students running around or jacked up on candy.  Students don’t need to have a great time for it to be a great anchor.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating fun activities for your science class, it’s important to recognize the difference between engagement (fun) and intellectual engagement (actual learning).  Our anchors must intellectually engage our students.

It’s not enough to throw basketballs around or play “snowball” to share student thoughts.  Students should be actively engaged in puzzling out the phenomenon presented, and that isn’t always fun and games.

Along those lines, the best anchors tie to what students already know or have experienced.  When students have a personal connection to the material, they are much more likely to engage with the content and come to the table with better questions, ideas, and perspectives.


Looking For More?

What makes a great anchor? How can you find anchors? How do you use them? You can get all of these questions answered at the NGSS Your Science Class course.  Learn more here.