Science Learning

Phenomenon-Based Science Learning from OpenSciEd


Name: Tracey Ramirez
Role: K-12 Professional Learning Facilitator
Years with Dana Center and/or in this field:
12 years at the Center; 35 years in education


Can you give a brief overview of OpenSciEd?

OpenSciEd is a multi-partner initiative to develop middle school science curriculum aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and the National Research Council’s Framework for K–12 Science Education.

With development funded by grants from major U.S. foundations, the OpenSciEd project course materials, when completed, will include 18 high-quality units and related resources that have been vetted and improved from field testing by almost 300 teachers in 10 states.

The units are open-access, available to educators for use in their classrooms at no cost. And the materials provide support for implementing science teaching and learning that focuses on phenomenon-based science, student engagement in scientific and engineering practices, and authentic science discourse that gives students opportunities to learn science concepts while making sense of real-world phenomena.

OpenSciEd also develops and provides engaging and meaningful professional development for science teachers in numerous school districts around the country. These materials are also freely available.

A woman holds a pair of _____ while seated at a table with others.

An educator attends the OpenSciEd Facilitator Training in June, 2019. Photo by Phil Swann.

What issues in education does OpenSciEd address?

OpenSciEd is designed to address multiple issues currently found in science education. These include:

  • The OpenSciEd curriculum provides phenomenon-based science materials that integrate the Next Generation Science Standards’ three dimensions of science learning—disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices.
  • The units promote coherent, student-driven learning that connects to the interests and identities of students. They help to create inclusive classroom cultures that attend to students’ experiences and build their authority as science knowledge constructors
  • It provides supports and guidance for teachers in implementing what research has shown to be best practices in science education, such as defining problems and planning investigations.
  • Finally, the OpenSciEd curriculum is intentionally designed to focus on fewer disciplinary core ideas so that students learn how to think and work like scientists (to explain phenomena) and engineers (to solve real-world problems) rather than learning discrete facts about science with little to no coherent understanding of the overarching concepts and context.

How does OpenSciEd provide more equitable opportunities for students?

A make middle school teacher holds the components of a hand-build audio speaker as he speaks to several students around a table.

Chris Newlin, a science teacher at Wooster Middle School in Stratford, Connecticut, demonstrates the components of a hand-built audio speaker to students as part of the OpenSciEd “Sound” unit. Photo by Erich Pelletier.

OpenSciEd materials include multiple strategies and supports that help teachers open up science learning for all students, especially those in traditionally underserved populations.

The OpenSciEd writing teams focus on developing lessons that are challenging, engaging, and motivated by students’ own questions. They also give teachers strategies and scaffolds for students from a wide variety of diverse backgrounds so that multiple ways of knowing and expressing understanding are valued and every student feels a sense of belonging to the scientific community.

What makes you excited about the future of OpenSciEd?

The goal of OpenSciEd is to expand beyond middle school curriculum to include both elementary and high school units, too. This is the type of curriculum that has been talked about in the science community since the mid-1990s with the publication of groundbreaking research such as the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Project 2061 reports Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy. We have worked toward this for a long time!

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