Phenomena and Design Problems
- Phenomena and design problems are central to NGSS instruction and are the context through which three-dimensional learning occurs
- Phenomena and design problems that are at an appropriate level of challenge and are tied to students’ interest will help students engage in sense-making and problem solving and make connections with the phenomena and design problems in meaningful ways
- Not all phenomena and design problems can initiate and sustain student engagement, but the MDPs can be used as a lens for choosing phenomena and design problems that will be motivating to students and organizing instruction around them once selected
The NGSS are composed of a set of learning goals (e.g., Performance Expectations [PEs]), of what students should know and be able to do at the end of a period of instruction. Each PE weaves together at least one element of a DCI, SEP, and CCC. Phenomena and design problems are central to NGSS instruction. Figuring out phenomena or solving design problems should engage students in three-dimensional learning that ultimately results in students being able to demonstrate proficiency in the PEs. Asking students to engage in three-dimensional thinking is made easier when it is embedded in the quest to better understand a phenomenon or design a solution to a problem. Centering instruction on figuring out phenomena or solving design problems is both more reflective of the work that real-world scientists and engineers engage in and more motivating to students.
However, not all phenomena and design problems are well suited to maintain student engagement throughout an instructional unit. The MDPs provide a lens for choosing phenomena and design problems as well as organizing instruction around them once selected. A well-chosen phenomenon or design problem also serves as a motivational support -- it can grab and hold students’ interest and drive student sense-making and problem solving (see the EQuIP Rubric1 for additional guidance on selecting NGSS-based instructional materials). Thus, there is a reciprocal relationship between the MDPs and NGSS-based instruction centered on phenomena and design problems, which we describe below. As noted elsewhere in this toolkit, all five MDPs work synergistically to support student motivation and engagement. However, for clarity, we discuss phenomena and design problems through the lens of each MDP separately.