Using Anchoring Phenomena

Using anchoring phenomena in your middle school science classroom can be a great way to implement NGSS. It helps students formulate questions and can tie entire science units together. However, when diving into using anchoring phenomena, it may seem confusing, or you may have some misconceptions like I did when I first started implementing them in my classroom.

To take away some of the confusion, I’ve explored some of the biggest questions you may have about anchoring phenomena, including what they are, how to use them, and examples of what they have looked like in my real life classroom.

Using anchoring phenomena pin showing middle school science classroom

What exactly is anchoring phenomena? (and what it is NOT)

When I first started using anchors, I used them more as a “hook” to my unit, rather than referring back to them throughout the unit. This took away the relevancy for my students, because I wasn’t taking the time to put our lessons back in a real-world context. I also initially thought of anchoring phenomena as a question for students to answer. However, anchoring phenomena is not a hook, or a question to be answered. Instead, it is a real-world, relevant experience that drives questioning by students throughout a science unit.

You can really look at it as the glue that holds your lesson together. It gives you a basis to build your lesson around, and it gives you an experience to refer back to as lessons progress. It can also be thought of as a spark that ignites curiosity in students and engages them in the lessons that are going to follow.

How do you use anchoring phenomena? 

In order to use anchoring phenomena, you first provide students with a phenomena experience. This causes students to wonder about what they just observed in a way that makes it easy for them to formulate questions. Then, as the unit progresses, we as teachers can refer back to the questions students had and let them know which specific questions we are addressing with specific lessons. Overall, it just brings a relevance to the learning experience for students, because it turns everything that you are teaching into a response to the students’ curiosity.

Why use anchoring phenomena?

Aside from making science lessons relevant for students, there are many reasons to use anchors in your science classroom. One reason is that it makes units feel more cohesive to students. Oftentimes, we as teachers already know and can see the connection between all the different material we plan to cover within a unit. Students don’t always see it that way. Instead, students can feel like we are jumping from one topic to the next, without making the con

nections between the topics. Because lessons help explain the phenomena that students observed, they often help students see how lessons are related to other lessons.

How can I find experiences when using anchoring phenomena? 

You may be thinking,”Using anchoring phenomena sounds great, but how do you find these experiences that will build curiosity in my students?” I would say first to think about your grade level, and your students interests. Sometimes simple things that we look at as adults and don’t have questions about can make our younger students very curious.

For older students, at the middle and high school level, bringing in a social aspect is often helpful. They are at an age where they are trying to find their place in the world, so they love making connections between a witnessed phenomena and how it affects the world. For example, you may look at a phenomena like evaporating water. This naturally leads to discussions about how gaining access to water is difficult for some people and questions about how that problem can be solved.

After I look at those interest areas for students and see how they align with next generation science standards, I also try to see if I can find any new, relevant information about the phenomena on science news websites, so I can share it with my students. You can also find relevant phenomena by focusing on local occurrences. A great way to find them is by looking at local Facebook groups and seeing what people are already talking about. Erosion at a nearby river, or an observable increasing animal population in their area are two examples of how you could bring in events students are already experiencing in order to have discussions and formulate questions.

What does using anchor phenomena in the classroom look like?

Throughout this post, we have talked a lot about anchoring phenomena being an experience for students. However, being an experience doesn’t have to mean going outside and observing something first hand. I know that isn’t always possible, and it is not always necessary. What you can always do is bring in real world data, videos, and images. For example, if I wanted my students to learn about tornados, I could find a specific tornado occurrence. Then, I could show students real images of the damage that was caused by the tornado, any data that was collected from that tornado, or even a storm chasing video of the tornado.

I think it is also important to note that anchors do not have to be a one time observation. If I was sharing multiple sources of data with students, it is easy to make anchoring phenomena a continued experience with continued questioning as they gain new pieces of information.

I hope answering these big questions about anchor phenomena helped clear up some of the confusion and misconceptions surrounding using them in your classroom. Using phenomenon focused instruction can be difficult at first, but it is a great way to facilitate student questioning, keep science units relevant, and engage students throughout the learning process.

If you still have questions, I am currently hosting a cohort program which is part learning opportunity, part supportive community, where I will guide you to embrace a phenomenon-focused, exploration-based pedagogy designed to truly engage and excite your learners. You can find more about it by going here. You can also get a little more information by listening to the full podcast episode below, where I discuss anchoring phenomena with Erin Sadler from Sadler Science.

Or click here to listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts.