Topics: Science High-Quality Curriculum PhD Science

Build Real-World Science Knowledge Through Real-World Connections

PhD Science

by PhD Science

May 10, 2023
Build Real-World Science Knowledge Through Real-World Connections

every child is capable of greatness.

Posted in: Aha! Blog > PhD Science > Science High-Quality Curriculum PhD Science > Build Real-World Science Knowledge Through Real-World Connections

What are phenomena? Scientific phenomena are observable events that students can ask questions about and that can be explained or predicted through scientific understanding. Phenomena can range from everyday events, such as animals interacting with a tree in the schoolyard, to extraordinary events that challenge our understanding of the world and universe, such as a soccer ball floating on the International Space Station.

Imagine learning a real subject like science through fake phenomena and inauthentic situations. Think about how confusing that would be.

Now imagine learning science through authentic, real-world phenomena and scenarios. Think about engaging in science practices through true, hands-on experiences just as real scientists and engineers do.

PhD Science® intentionally includes real-world phenomena to leverage students’ curiosity and build enduring science knowledge. This knowledge, grounded in the exploration of real-life phenomena and hands-on investigations, is more easily transferable and applicable to students’ lives. PhD Science embraces students’ questioning spirit and leads to enduring science knowledge through authentic phenomena and hands-on investigations.


Picture third graders in a PhD Science classroom. In Module 3 of PhD Science, students study the concepts of individual differentiation in traits, how traits are influenced by growth and the environment, and how traits are passed down from parent to offspring. All of this study happens through the lens of the anchor phenomenon and Essential Question: What makes an individual humpback whale unique?

Six images of varied humpback whales and their tails

Over the course of the module, students examine images of actual humpback whales from real oceans. They make many connections to the real world through the anchor phenomenon and supporting phenomena throughout the module. Students examine different plants, discuss the butterfly life cycle, note how a rabbit’s fur changes color over time, explore how finch siblings compare, and more in service of explaining the anchor phenomenon.

Compare this rich, authentic anchor phenomenon and engaging supporting phenomena to what third graders using another science program encounter as its anchor phenomenon—a national park that doesn’t actually exist in the real world along with manufactured data about a wolf.

That same science program has fourth graders explore a fossil from a canyon in a fictional national park, while PhD Science students explore Earth features through the formation of the Grand Canyon’s features.

PhD Science opts for another real place in a Level 2 module on plants as students study plant recovery around Mount St. Helens. The other program opts again for a fictional place, making it harder for students to make connections and build enduring knowledge. Throughout Level 2 of PhD Science, students explore phenomena at Mount St. Helens along with Niagara Falls, the island of Surtsey, and Mount Everest.


Think about first graders in a PhD Science classroom. Our Level 1 students learn about light through examining wayang shadow puppetry. Another science program has students pretend that they work for a puppet show company. Wayang shadow puppetry is far richer than what students explore in the other program, as students explore the phenomenon in a cultural context and are highly engaged.

PhD Science anchor phenomenon from Level 1: Wayang shadow puppetry

PhD Science students are doing science and engineering just as scientists and engineers do rather than stepping into the role of being scientists or engineers, which engages students more, builds skills and practices that support students beyond the science classroom, and makes the learning stick with more student relevance. Wayang shadow puppetry provides students an opportunity to build knowledge of a new culture and its customs.

In one lesson, as they explore light, students consider how sunlight was brought to Rjukan, Norway, with the use of mirrors. Using a model, students observe and explain mirror placement to determine how engineers used mirrors and sunlight to bring light to the town. Students don't act as engineers but truly practice engineering with PhD Science.


PhD Science students explore authentic phenomena through hands-on investigations as they collaborate on finding solutions to real-world problems, while other programs opt for plug-and-play simulations or sit-and-get videos. PhD Science is much more intentional in its approach in including videos and other media. Technology use is purposeful for students to build knowledge on the concepts and topics being studied. It is not solely for engagement, or worse yet, technology for tech’s sake.

Students are driving their learning when they use PhD Science, not going through prescribed steps while exploring inauthentic data or phenomena. Students conduct and plan their own investigations and may follow slightly different steps to end up at the same or similar conclusions. Data collected may not all be identical, but the conclusions or claims reached will be supported by the evidence that the students gathered and by their reasoning to support. Through this process, students get a better sense of how scientific and engineering practices are applied in the real world.

Learn more about how PhD Science builds student knowledge in science through real-world applications.

Submit the Form to Print

Topics: Science High-Quality Curriculum PhD Science