Phenomenon Based Learning

The world doesn't break down into academic silos - use the news to help students understand why their thinking shouldn't either.

Photo of Richard Lapidus
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Kids, rightfully, loathe when they don't see the practical applications of what they're learning. Most lessons that I've seen (and that I've taught) tend to start from, Here's what I want you to know, and then, at the end, we try to explain why whatever it is they've learned is applicable in the 'real' world. 

Start the other way. Ask your students what their favorite section is of the newspaper and then pass it out. International, Science Times, Sports, Business, whatever. 

Have them pick an article they're curious about, and then put them in pairs to start to figure out what they'd need to know to actually understand what they care about. If it's a player's batting prowess, it isn't just a matter of whether he's a good clutch hitter or not. Rather, it is, but that's immensely complex. (Do psychologists believe that there is such thing as clutch? Statistically, what's the expected deviation between hitting with runners on base and bases empty? You can keep going for a long way.)

You can do the same for just about anything interesting. But instead of going from our expected outcomes, what if we went from a student's - to understand more about something they care about and to have that drive an hour, a day, a month, a semester...

How does this idea help to spark student curiosity?

Giving kids agency can activate learning. In Daniel Willingham's book "Why Don't Students Like School," he pretty strongly makes the case that "making" things relevant to kids, which for years was the fundamental tenet of my educational philosophy, such as it was, simply doesn't work. Okay - in that case, let's go from their pre-existing curiosity. What are they already curious about, before we went in and made any suggestions? Maybe from that pre-existing interest, we can build out together.

What grade level is this idea most appropriate for?

  • High School (9-12)

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Do you love this idea?

Yes! I love it. - 100%


Join the conversation:

Photo of James Campbell

Hello Richard
I love this idea. I like that students are driving the learning and they feel empowered. I wonder how teachers who use the idea will connect to school learning outcomes. What if you allowed students to connect their initial discovery to a choice project.

Photo of Richard Lapidus

Hi James,
I know there are a lots of practical problems with my idea, and we are wedded to the disciplinary way of investigating learning at most schools, so I'm kinda going big here...anyway, thanks for reading. Best.

Photo of James Campbell

Think it is great that you are going BIG, can't wait to hear updates.

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