Episode 406: Ask The Kids: Engaging Students With Phenomena-Based Mathematics And Science
Hey teachers! Want to learn how to harness the powers of observation and bring content to life? Join us in conversation with Dr. Megan Higgins and Cori Colbi to learn about the power of phenomenon-based instruction.
Ashley Mengwasser: Hello educators. Welcome back to Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. I'm Ashley Mengwasser, your host in this place for educators to share and learn. Classroom Conversations is an award-winning podcast series presented jointly by the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia DOE, and Georgia Public Broadcasting, GPB. Today is your tactical training, soldier. We will prepare you to be attention grabbing, learner centered, immersive, authentic, and made you look engaging before a student audience. Now drop your burdens and give me 20 deep breaths. This training is going to be intensively relaxed. We're running chill drills for the classroom with the combined powers of our two teacher guests. Today's training in just three words: Phenomenon-based instruction. By harnessing powers of observation, phenomenon-based instruction brings content to life. For a first look at this, just go back and listen to Episode 310: What Does Phenomenon Look Like in Math and Science? That's what we're exploring today, and why tell you when I can show you? This is the way of phenomena. I've got two phenoms beside me, actually. She's a doctor of chemistry. Dr. Megan Higgins is going into her 25th year in education. Megan is a celebrated high school chemistry teacher at Cartersville High School in Cartersville City Schools District. She's paired with beloved 24-year teacher, Cori Colby, whom I keep trying to call Colbie Caillat. But Cori has the upper hand in high school math where she teaches in Gwinnett County Public Schools at Central Gwinnett High School. Cori has taught in multiple states, so like Colbie Caillat, she's basically been on tour. Welcome, Megan and Cori.
Cori Colby: Hello.
Ashley Mengwasser: How are you?
Cori Colby: Good.
Ashley Mengwasser: You doing well?
Dr. Megan Higgins: We are.
Ashley Mengwasser: My first prompt is to ask you to say phenomena based instruction 10 times fast. Just kidding. We're not going to actually make you do that. One of you were telling me this is a really big mouthful, phenomenon-based instruction, phenomena or phenomenon? How should we say?
Dr. Megan Higgins: If it's plural or singular.
Ashley Mengwasser: If it's plural or singular. Phenomena for plural, phenomenon for singular. Okay. Now, Megan, the mascot at your school, is it the hurricane?
Dr. Megan Higgins: It is.
Ashley Mengwasser: Of course.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Go Canes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Go Canes. So you're teaching at a school with a phenomenon for a mascot?
Dr. Megan Higgins: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: It's very fitting. Awesome. What compelled you to become an educator?
Dr. Megan Higgins: My family. I grew up with parents, both educators. My sister's an educator. My uncle was a principal. My grandparents worked in the schools, so I thought that was the only job I could have at one point. I just happened to also be good with science.
Ashley Mengwasser: And as you told me before, education is hard. What do you mean by that?
Dr. Megan Higgins: You're dealing with a lot of different aspects. As an educator, you're not just teaching up in front teaching chemistry. You're teaching your kids almost every aspect of their life.
Ashley Mengwasser: All the hats. And you, Cori, what compelled you into education
Cori Colby: Growing up, you have those make believe games of playing house, playing dress up, and mine was playing school with my brother.
Ashley Mengwasser: With your brother.
Cori Colby: Yes. So different ways of torturing the younger sibling. But no, I just fell in love with helping people and wanting to continue that and being inspired by a couple of teachers in high school. So when I went to college, I just didn't know exactly what I wanted to teach and then fell in love with more of the math side versus the language arts, and so that's where I am today now.
Ashley Mengwasser: Here you are 24 years later.
Cori Colby: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Cori, you are somewhat of a celebrity, I think I can say. I looked you up and I found you in a YouTube interview. Who was that with?
Cori Colby: That was Dr. Kristopher Childs. He's a math educational consultant out of Orlando, Florida. He had reached out to her, but she was no longer in the classroom, and so she had given him my name and he just reached out.
Ashley Mengwasser: You had a nice one-on-one.
Cori Colby: I did.
Ashley Mengwasser: But it was a wonderful interview and I learned a lot more about you.
Cori Colby: Well, thank you.
Ashley Mengwasser: One thing I would like to know that I don't think was covered fully by that interview is what is your favorite thing about teaching mathematics?
Cori Colby: It's getting kids to enjoy it. After years of having not the best experience with math that I hear multiple times that they enjoy the class, they've enjoyed how I've taught class and just the different things I do in the classroom to help them have an enjoyable experience.
Ashley Mengwasser: Their engagement, which we'll talk a lot about today. Megan, what is your favorite thing about teaching science?
Dr. Megan Higgins: It's basically the same thing. With science, you have the ability to do so many different labs and experiments instead of just sitting or talking. And to me, just you can use things hands-on, all the hands-on activities and letting the kids have a little bit of fun where sometimes they look at me and, "Really, we're going to light a Bunsen burner? We're going to play with fire? Oh my gosh. Are we going to get to blow up anything?" No, but hopefully not the new building.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Making it engaging. Well, let's dig into that, what a phenomenon is. You'll define this for us soon, but in short form, is a phenomenon all of these things? Feel free to chime in with a yes or no to each bullet. First, a phenomenon is visually intriguing, yes or no?
Cori Colby: Yes.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Most times.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. Okay. A phenomenon is easily understood, yes or no?
Cori Colby: Not necessarily.
Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, cool. We want it to be?
Dr. Megan Higgins: Reaching.
Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. Complex. We want to understand and explore. Third, a phenomenon is a fictitious occurrence. It can be something fantastical.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Oh, god no.
Ashley Mengwasser: "Oh, god no," She says. This is real life.
Cori Colby: Gosh, no.
Ashley Mengwasser: What is it then? It's naturally occurring instead. Okay. And fourth and finally, a phenomenon is interdisciplinary.
Cori Colby: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. Yes. Obviously. We've got math and science wrapped here in the room. It could be any subject though.
Cori Colby: True.
Ashley Mengwasser: It should be any subject.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Correct. Bring in the literacy, bring in the history. Obviously with me, I have to bring in math.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, you do. What phenomena are you interested in real life? Professionally or personally?
Dr. Megan Higgins: I try to go more towards the natural stuff. Lately my habits have been going towards the farming and sustainability or climate type stuff or environmental. So if I'm looking at, on my farm, even last night I was having a conversation about why I add apple cider vinegar to my water collection system for my chickens.
Ashley Mengwasser: Look at that.
Dr. Megan Higgins: That's all science-based. That's all chemistry. But when you look at just natural phenomenon out in the earth, there's the pink lake out in Australia that has pink bacteria and algae that's growing or the... I forget what it's called. It's like a blood red river that comes through Antarctica and it's all the iron deposits that are coming up. So it's bringing in the chemistry, but it's like people don't understand why it looks the way it is, but it's eye capturing.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's the entry point into the exploration. What about you, Cori? What phenomena are you interested in?
Cori Colby: A lot of it's the patterns in nature. Looking at a sunflower and seeing the Fibonacci sequence within that.
Ashley Mengwasser: Spoken like a true math teacher.
Cori Colby: Or the golden spiral in seashells. I've always also loved fractals, which is think about a snowflake. And I always wanted to explore that. I just unfortunately never had the time to, I feel like, in my studies and stuff. So I feel like I need to do something of that nature.
Dr. Megan Higgins: You need to look up. What are they called? Ice candles. It's like how the ice will fracture over the surface of the water. And then there's another one, it's like the ice finger of death.
Ashley Mengwasser: Now we're talking.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Because that frozen... It gets really cold and it comes down, it shoots all the brine out of the water, but it just keeps going down. But it keeps growing and the growth pattern would be really neat with the crystals.
Cori Colby: Oh, cool.
Ashley Mengwasser: No, thank you.
Cori Colby: We're nerding out.
Ashley Mengwasser: For that illuminating tip. I think for me, I'm very interested in anything astronomy. If there's an eclipse, lunar or solar, phases of the moon. Love that stuff. Also really into decomposition. Maybe a fascination with the macabre. Disturbing. I know, we'll move on. But as phenomenal people. I want to know what your hobbies and fascinations are. Megan, we'll start with you. You said you live on a farm. Do tell.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Yes. We just recently bought a hobby farm, and so we are raising fiber goats. We have angora goats and baby doll sheep.
Ashley Mengwasser: How many sheep?
Dr. Megan Higgins: Right now, currently two, but I pick up my third on Monday.
Ashley Mengwasser: Then you'll be three sheep to the wind, as they say. A little adaptation of that expression. Oh, that's awesome.
Dr. Megan Higgins: You are funny.
Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, thank you. You have sheep, you have goats. Who else lives there?
Dr. Megan Higgins: We have-
Ashley Mengwasser: Chickens.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Chickens. We are up to about 16 chickens. Hens. Hopefully they're all hens at this point. We have a couple livestock dogs, Pyrenees. We have German shepherds and then recently, a poodle and a Bernese mountain dog.
Ashley Mengwasser: Oh my gosh. We need to visit your farm. Cori, what are your hobbies?
Cori Colby: Oh, I'm kind of the opposite and take a relaxed, enjoy the summer break of a teacher life.
Ashley Mengwasser: I like that. Now we know how you spend your summer breaks.
Cori Colby: So yes, between reading and crafting and spending time with my adorable grandson. That's the extent of my free time.
Ashley Mengwasser: And you are a Netflix champion, I also understand.
Cori Colby: I pride myself, yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Master a lot of content there. Is there an inspiring expression for each of you that captures the crux of your work in the classroom that you really just resonate with?
Dr. Megan Higgins: The quote of, "Chance favors the prepared mind."
Ashley Mengwasser: Chance favors the prepared mind.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Just the idea that we don't always know what's going on out there, but we need to have enough background knowledge to help explain it and to be able to jump with possible solutions for what's going on.
Ashley Mengwasser: Cori?
Cori Colby: After our conversation earlier, I was like, "Oh wait, no, this is a better one." Mistakes are expected in my classroom. So I want them to mess up because that "messing up" helps them learn and realize that life is about those times where you mess up and you make those mistakes. And how do you learn from that? What lesson can you take from it and move forward? How can you use that situation in the future?
Ashley Mengwasser: I'm seeing an unexpected entryway sign at your door in my mind now. Mistakes welcome here.
Cori Colby: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Inviting students to... What do they say, fail forward? Kind of propelling their learning. That's wonderful. Well, let's let that transition us into our conversation about each of your classrooms. What is a phenomenon in math and in science? Can we start with you in math, Cori?
Cori Colby: Teaching AP statistics that give the chance for the kids to hopefully find those topics that they are interested in and then dive into the data and then of course, use that to become more statistically literate. So that's where we're using different graphs and different nature, whether it's something that they're interested in at school or in the environment or in their lives or just society. So getting them engaged in that. And then hopefully throughout that process of our statistical process, getting them more statistically literate.
Ashley Mengwasser: They can offer up the fodder. So what does that look like? Can you give us an example?
Cori Colby: Oh, use a variety of tools. But one, they just open up that engagement with a graph. There's a couple of sources the what's going on in this graph with the New York Times where you can pull up a graph and just show it to the kids and just get them engaged and asking about, "Well, what do you see in that graph?" And without even telling them what the graph's about or what data was collected or anything, just getting that entry point into and getting them engaged in what they're seeing.
Ashley Mengwasser: Before you actually dive into the nitty gritty. Well, that makes sense. And for you, Megan, what does a phenomenon look like in your science classroom?
Dr. Megan Higgins: I use it a lot for introducing an inquiry lab or just introducing the content that we're looking at where I can use a picture to bring up, and the picture connects into what we're learning about in the classroom. I'm trying to think of an example that would help. We were starting at atoms and every kid will start to groan in high school when they hear atoms because you have to now learn about protons, neutrons, and electrons, which you have done since probably fourth grade. My mom's a fourth grade science teacher, and she did this.
Ashley Mengwasser: My dog ate that science project in elementary school actually. Yes, I recall. All the pretzels gone.
Dr. Megan Higgins: I introduced it this year with different types of nails and being on the farm and being the person that's always out there building everything either inside, outside, I've gotten into the realm of learning what type of nails to use for different situations. So I just kind of browsed and just brought it up on topic with the kids. Who's ever worked on a construction project with your parents or you've been out there building something and a couple of the kids, their heads are down, they're like, "Oh, this is going to be horrible. I got to talk about proton being positive again." They all perked up like, "I have. I've done this." And then they start to actually make that connection to something. And then we started to build on to, "Well, why do we use certain nails outside versus the nails that we're using inside instead?" Cost comparative, how much they're going to react with different things. It just helps them make those connections to what and why they're doing things. I do a lot of the labs later. Then we'll actually look at the activity series and we'll pull the different metals and they'll start to play with that and try to determine the why of it.
Ashley Mengwasser: It really piques interest, it sounds like. Well, onto the how of this, the process of harnessing this type of instruction. How do you draw phenomenon into your science and math instruction? Is it something you're thinking about all the time? Is there a guidebook you use? How do you do this? How does a teacher start?
Dr. Megan Higgins: Who wants to go first?
Ashley Mengwasser: Go ahead, Cori. In math.
Cori Colby: In math, I mean one of the first things I always ask the kids. There's always a beginning back to school survey questionnaire that I give them and always ask them different things that they might be interested in or where they've traveled or just a whole variety of questions that could gather some data that we could then use later on. Or if there's topics that they're interested in, that could be something that they could put on there. And then once we have that, there's a couple sources that are like my go-tos, at least in AP Statistics, Stats Medic and Skew The Script both have been developed by some experienced AP Statistics teachers and they use that idea of engagement where they have a prompt and then it kind of builds from that prompt using it to then give you the instruction and learn the main ideas that you're trying to get across.
Ashley Mengwasser: So for you, it's really about first looking for those points of intersection, which I think a math teacher can appreciate that pun. All right onto you, Megan. The how. How do you harness phenomena in your science instruction?
Dr. Megan Higgins: I'll talk parallel to what she's saying here is the same exact idea of, again, using that questionnaire. Get to know your kids, get to know what they're interested in. And like she said, perfect point, see where they've been because you're going to have kids who maybe haven't been outside of that town, but they may have also been to different places in the town at least so that you can make those connections. Where do they work? Draw some connections to work. But then second is not every teacher... And this is one of those helpful hints for later with teachers is not every teacher knows all this stuff off the top of your head. You got to go in and you do some research. You go to those websites. I really hate to say it, but TikTok has some amazing little things you can follow.
Cori Colby: They do.
Dr. Megan Higgins: If you stay with what you're following, you can hit a bunch of different great sources.
Ashley Mengwasser: Just for a little spark of an idea.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Exactly. That spark can then lead you to something else.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Once you're looking at one, then you start to spur off and you go down the rabbit hole and you can be going down there for a while. Hopefully Alice comes and gets us eventually.
Ashley Mengwasser: Before you become a mad hatter.
Dr. Megan Higgins: I hate to say, well, we're all a little mad I think around here, but you kind of cheat. I hate to say cheating it, but you do. You go out there, use resources that other teachers have prepared, and people have sites out there based on this for you. But you got to do a little legwork.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, and see what works. But you're starting with student background, which I find very interesting. How do you effectively plan for phenomena based teaching? How much time does it take? When do you do it? What is your planning routine?
Cori Colby: That's what summer is for. Sometimes it's more sometimes on the cuff. So it's like something maybe they brought up the day before, a question they may have asked and I'd be like, "Oh, that sounds like a great topic for tomorrow." In which case then spend some time after school looking for maybe some graphs or data sets that have already been compiled, research that's already been done. And then we can then use that in the classroom or use that as a future idea for a project that they can then do on their own to show their understanding of the material.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. How do you plan, Megan?
Dr. Megan Higgins: I do some of the same and then it's mostly I'm looking back at their standards, what is essential to me and what is my core idea? And from the core ideas, I start to brainstorm what are some of the connections I can use? Once I have those connections and I can bring them back to that standard for them, then I go in and I look for my labs. Any science teacher most likely has a binder or binders full of labs, but we don't do them all, but we can go in and we can edit some of those to make it more inquiry-based easily or make it more phenomenon, like an engagement, just something to get them started and to make a connection back to the standard. So it's not stuff that you're reinventing the wheel, but you're just going to go in and tweak. But it's a constant... I mean, you're constantly doing it. If you're watching Netflix, you're looking at that and you're like, "Oh, I have something." Yeah.
Ashley Mengwasser: So it's just an ongoing openness. You're kind of receiving that stimuli from your world and taking it into your classroom. I know with just each of your subjects, there's quite a bit of cross-pollination between math and science in your classrooms, I can imagine. Can you give me some sample lessons that you've used, Cori, Megan?
Cori Colby: There was an article that I had been given at a workshop, and so it talked about the number of deaths and seatbelt use. So looking at that data that was collected, and so it just sparks the conversations in class about the experimental piece of it. How did they go through that? Was it an actual experiment? Did they have people-
Ashley Mengwasser: Megan's nodding. She agrees with this.
Cori Colby: Yeah. Crashing their cars and harming themselves, which is not humane.
Ashley Mengwasser: No.
Cori Colby: Or was it more observational where they were kind of standing off to the side collecting their data that way? So it just sparks all of those initial conversations about gathering data as well as seeing how it kind of combines with the experimental process that they also see in science.
Dr. Megan Higgins: And I'll piggyback off of Cori's seatbelt lab where we have a mole ratio lab that we do, and the kids have to go through and use just basic vinegar and baking soda and try to get the proper ratio so they know how much vinegar, how much baking soda is reacting together. We can gather all the results as a class and then the kids can look at that data that they've looked at a class and try to figure out what the best ratio is for that. Then they build basically an airbag in a little Folgers coffee cup container and drop an egg. Not one from my hens. I'll buy those from the store, but they drop an egg and try to make the perfect airbag based on that proper ratio that they've looked at with the class data.
Ashley Mengwasser: But I bet that there are some sort of partners in this. What people should you seek to be a thought partner in your planning process?
Cori Colby: Mine is all online, honestly.
Ashley Mengwasser: Online people.
Cori Colby: Yeah, there's been a huge community of math teachers on Twitter, and it's MTBOS if you do that hashtag. And it's just over the years, that group, that community that has been established. So it's one where I can just ask a question or even some of those conversations can happen on other social media platforms as well. There's just a lot of support, at least in the AP statistics community online. I know those are available. So if I have an idea where it'd be like, "Oh, has someone tried this or does someone have data that could support this?"
Ashley Mengwasser: They're like your think tank.
Cori Colby: Exactly, because I don't know about Megan, but I know I'm kind of isolated teaching what I teach, and so I do have to find those other people, those other resources. So that's where I've gone is online.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Yeah. Same in chemistry. I'm usually one of the only chemistry teachers in a school, so I go online. Online groups have saved me the last few years with technology and everything, with increased stuff, sharing. We've all just become a huge sharing group. Then getting out and looking at your CTA teachers, they have a world of knowledge and sometimes the academic and the vo-tech get separated, but you've got to make sure you go out because a lot of those, especially at the school I'm at right now, they have had other careers. They've been out there doing the real stuff while we're just teaching it and they can share-
Ashley Mengwasser: That bridge.
Dr. Megan Higgins: I hate to say it, but the kids a lot of times will tell me that kind of thing, what they're doing in other classes. My last go-to person is my husband. I know-
Ashley Mengwasser: Shout out. Shout out to hubby.
Dr. Megan Higgins: I'll have to make sure he listens to this. But he's worn so many different hats. He is gone from one career to the next and he's probably one of the smartest guys I know.
Ashley Mengwasser: Wow.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Yeah, he has probably more college credits than I do combined.
Ashley Mengwasser: And you're a doctor.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Yeah. And I tell him that too. He thinks he's just not that smart, but he has a plethora of just ideas and knowledge, talking about sonar tech and how we can relate that even into the pressure under the ocean and everything else. It's just he ties a lot back for what I can do in the classroom.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's a great lead to think of people with just other careers, community partners around you that you have access to. You might know somebody who works in meteorology or somebody who does this, and then you can use their expertise to weigh in on the subject. Being such a highly demonstrative experiential approach, what shifts in instruction must be made in order to utilize phenomenon-based teaching? It's a bit of a paradigm shift.
Dr. Megan Higgins: You have to be comfortable getting off the stage. You have to be able to let the kids just question, try not to give them answers. Because as teachers, we try to always tell everybody what we know, but you've got to sit back and let the kids figure it out. Question them and let them work it through. I think to me, I have to always reign myself back in. Don't give them too much information. And then you have to be ready to fail. Even one of the phenomenon I used this past year, I completely failed, but we sat and we worked it out and we tried to figure out what... Because I used a phenomenon of the orange with the balloons and trying to pop it going into different types of bonding and stuff, intermolecular forces, to be honest. But we worked it out and the next day the kids came in, "All right, did we figure out what we were doing with this?" And I'm like, "Okay, well, we got some more. You told me to get some more balloons. You told me to get this." Because I had old balloons. So we tried a bunch of different things and went through it. We still didn't get it. But then again, a couple days ago, I saw on one of the Facebook groups that I'm in, someone actually proposed an explanation. I was like, "That is exactly what I think I was doing wrong."
Ashley Mengwasser: There you go.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Unfortunately, I don't have those kids anymore. And I wish I could go in and be like, "This is what we're doing, guys. We figured it out."
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. Well, it's the lesson of tenacity, the stick-to-it-ness that is part of this. Even you stuck in there and they kept coming back each day asking for follow-up.
Dr. Megan Higgins: And it's embarrassing because you are an educated person in front of them. Honors kids, a lot of times too, and it's like, "Oh man, I can't believe this is not going the way it's supposed to go."
Ashley Mengwasser: But like you pointed out, this has to be naturally occurring. It is not fictitional, so we have to make it happen.
Dr. Megan Higgins: And in nature, things don't always go as planned.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's exactly right. Because unfortunately, we don't control nature. It's just talk to the mosquitoes.
Dr. Megan Higgins: You just have to have to be prepared to explain and figure out why.
Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. Well, mistakes we know are welcome in Cori's classroom. What shifts have you had to undergo to teach this?
Cori Colby: A lot of what Megan said and big thing is my own mindset. And then realizing that the whole changing the approach in classroom is that if I was bored delivering material at the front of the room, how boring was it for them to sit-
Ashley Mengwasser: To receive it.
Cori Colby: Exactly. So I needed them to be more engaged to take that ownership in their own learning. So just become more responsible in the classroom. So again, those life skills that they can transfer to anything that they may do after high school.
Ashley Mengwasser: What are the benefits to engaging phenomena based teaching for students and teachers? Can you think of one for each?
Dr. Megan Higgins: More relevant. You're figuring out why you have to learn this. Instead of just learning it to learn, you have that connection and it's like, "Oh, okay. That's why that happens." I always joke to the kids, I'm like, "Someday you might have kids and you're going to have to explain why this happens." They're going to ask you why, why, why 15 times and you got to be prepared, so you might as well learn.
Cori Colby: Exactly, to answer the why question, but then just to give my own self the spark of learning new things. If I'm enjoying learning, I want to transpose that to the students as well.
Ashley Mengwasser: Right. It's the whole bring to life piece of this. How does phenomenon-based teaching support authentic teaching and learning? I feel like this type of instruction is uniquely authentic.
Dr. Megan Higgins: I mean, I don't know how it's not. When you're looking at something that's real life and it's connecting straight back to prior experiences that they've had, they have that real connection, whether it's cultural or a prior experience and like a job, somewhere they've been, visited, it connects straight back to them. I don't even know how else you can explain that.
Ashley Mengwasser: So it gets over that hump of why do we have to learn this? Which these days it's expected that there has to be some relevance.
Cori Colby: Exactly. But it also gives them that ownership of their own learning so that they can, like you said, answer those why questions for their kids in 10 years, or who knows what they're going to end up having as a job or something might spark their interest in college and be like, "Oh, I remember something that was said in my stat class or in my chemistry class." Maybe that could lead them down those paths that they just didn't know.
Ashley Mengwasser: To their career.
Cori Colby: Exactly.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's amazing. Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for our teachers listening who may not have tried phenomena-based teaching yet? What do you have to say?
Dr. Megan Higgins: I mean, we've said a couple. One is be prepared to fail. You've got to be comfortable learning from your own mistakes too in front of kids. Don't be afraid to use things that are already prepared. That's why teachers are putting it out there is to help others.
Ashley Mengwasser: One of the things that I think of is be prepared to make a mess, which makes me very uncomfortable because I'm a neat freak. This could get messy, phenomenon-based learning, right?
Cori Colby: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Your classrooms could get a little messy. Do you keep a broom on hand?
Dr. Megan Higgins: Oh gosh, yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. Absolutely.
Dr. Megan Higgins: And a broken glass container.
Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, yeah. Yeah. In the science classroom.
Dr. Megan Higgins: And it's usually me breaking it.
Ashley Mengwasser: What words of encouragement do you have, Cori, for math teachers?
Cori Colby: Along the lines of what Megan said is change your mindset. So if your mind isn't there to try to do what's better for the kids in your classroom, then they're not going to benefit. Then seek out those that are like-minded. I know I have found my own little community online, various social media platforms. So within that community have also established real life in-person relationships as well. So I can pick up my phone and text and be like, "Wait a minute, I don't know that answer. Let me text my friend real quick and see if she knows." So just having that support to make the mistakes, but yet also encourage the students that mistakes is part of their learning.
Dr. Megan Higgins: I was going to say, that's funny, because I actually tell the kids a lot of times, "Oh, I'm just going to ask my little Facebook group hive here." And they're like, "What? You have a Facebook thing of all teachers?" I'm like, "Yes, we do." But my last thing I was thinking is start with a unit you really like.
Ashley Mengwasser: That's a good tip.
Dr. Megan Higgins: You were talking about bringing your enthusiasm. If kids can see you liken it, so dive into that unit that you really have a passion for and you know already love to teach it. Start with that one because you probably already know a lot, then you can build on it, and then take it every other unit. Don't think you're going to do every single unit in one year, especially as a newer teacher. Go every other and then start to build more in. And as you get more comfortable, you're going to start to see all the ideas just start to... You'll actually have too many, and you'll have to actually sit and say, "Okay, which ones do I really want to do?"
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Well, that's a wonderful problem to have. Let's leave them with something prescriptive here at the end, a tip or a cool trick to kick off a phenomenal phenomenon-based classroom. Anything in mind? You can point to your resources.
Cori Colby: I would say, like Megan said, pick something that you enjoy and it's not something you have to do every day as well. So it's like when you go into using these different learning techniques with your children and you think that, "Oh, I've got to do X, Y, and Z every day with every class period." And it's just unrealistic.
Ashley Mengwasser: Right. Have realistic expectations.
Cori Colby: Exactly. And then find that common group. Find your people. So whether that be the person next door to you, across the hall, even someone in a different discipline-
Ashley Mengwasser: There's a good idea.
Cori Colby: ... that could help you. Because I know math and science are very relatable to each other.
Ashley Mengwasser: Salt and pepper.
Cori Colby: Exactly. So to go down the hall and talk to my chemistry friend or the physics person because that's where they're seeing the application of what we're learning in class.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Any last words, Megan, about phenomena-based instruction for you? Dr. Higgins?
Dr. Megan Higgins: No.
Ashley Mengwasser: No. I've said it all.
Dr. Megan Higgins: I was going to say, come back around to her little mistakes are expected.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.
Dr. Megan Higgins: The whole last year until about March, I was taken down a bulletin board and I looked at it and it was like, "If at first you don't succeed, you're normal."
Ashley Mengwasser: I like that.
Dr. Megan Higgins: And I'm taking it down. And this is March. I put it up in August and I start noticing, "Oh, I didn't spell succeed right."
Ashley Mengwasser: That's for the English episode.
Dr. Megan Higgins: And I was like, "Yeah, that's mistakes, you guys. You're going to be good at one thing. You're not going to be good at everything."
Cori Colby: You've both mentioned a variety of sources that you use to support phenomena-based instruction. Some is social media. How do you know what's a good resource and what's not?
Dr. Megan Higgins: I think it's one of those things we still need to be also teaching our kids is you need to make sure that you are finding reputable sources and how you go in and actually dissect what is a proper source and what's not a proper source. I mentioned TikTok. Obviously everything on TikTok is true, right? Yeah. According to our students. So it's how to-
Ashley Mengwasser: Well, you're just getting ideas there.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Right. It's how to get a lot of those and make sure that we're making them actually being... What's the word? True, but-
Cori Colby: Unbiased.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Unbiased opinions and something that's factual, research-based, evidence-based that we can use. Then the other thing is for new teachers, use the DOE website. Between GPB, DOE, there's a lot of resources out there already for teachers that are trying to find some. Those sources have already been vetted for us-
Ashley Mengwasser: And are ready to use.
Dr. Megan Higgins: And they are ready to use. So you do not have to go in... I mean, you can eventually make it your own if you want to put your own spin on it. But that's always there for you. And that's what they're there for, is for you to use them and abuse them.
Cori Colby: That's true.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Well, maybe not abuse them.
Cori Colby: Yeah.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Definitely use them.
Cori Colby: Yes. I can attest, the math ones I've worked with, so I know that those are there as well. Then especially with the no updated standards they did for math. Those are available, which are free, which is great for teachers when we hear that word free.
Ashley Mengwasser: Free online, meaning you can access it on any of your smart devices. Thank you, Dr. Megan Higgins and Cori Colby. Thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Megan Higgins: Thank you.
Cori Colby: Thank you.
You both definitely put in the reps on this skill, and I'm so glad, Megan, you ignored your mother's warning about becoming an educator. And Cori, thank you for experimenting on your brother as your first ever pupil. The state's education system thanks your family for their sacrifice, and we thank you for your service. So may you rest honorably until your next day in the classroom. We need you. And to our teachers listening out there, soldier on. Keep your instruction lively and captivating immersive by drafting phenomena-based instruction into the fold. Your students will love you even more with bigger smiles and better understanding that says, "You're a great teacher." I'm Ashley, and you're dismissed. Report for duty next Tuesday 09:00 hours for more classroom conversations content. Goodbye for now. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.