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Leading students to make sense of and explain phenomena is central to 3D science learning, so it is critical that teachers are able to recognize educationally productive phenomena. Yet, anything that occurs in the natural world is a phenomenon. A classroom phenomenon might be a case (pine beetle infestation, building a solution to a problem), something that is puzzling (why isn’t rainwater salty?), a wonderment (how did the solar system form?), a data set that reveals an important pattern (how have the number and types of species changed over time?), a discrepant event (how can a balloon stick to a wall without adhesive?), or an engineering problem (how can we design a chemical system to produce maximum product?).
So, how can you tell a good phenomenon from an unproductive one? You should strive to select phenomena for your students to explore that meet as many of the following criteria as possible. However, you should realize that few phenomena will meet all these criteria. Criteria listed in bold italics are especially critical, though, and you should avoid phenomena that do not fulfill those particular requirements.