Using a Notice and Wonder Activity to Introduce Phenomena

January 17, 2021 No Comments

One of my favorite ways to introduce phenomena is to use a notice and wonder activity.  During a notice and wonder activity, you present students with your phenomenon and ask them what they notice and what they wonder.

Students write the observations and questions in an interactive notebook, or in an online journal.  Then students would share their responses with the group.

In this blog post, I go through the ways that this strategy can be used and improved in your classroom.  If you are presenting this in a remote learning environment, I have also included possible modifications at the bottom of this post.

Why should I use a Notice and Wonder Activity for the Science and Engineering Practice of Asking Questions?

Students struggle with asking questions.  This is especially true at the middle and high school levels.

Too often, when you ask your students to come up with questions, they respond by saying that they don't have any.  I believe that this happens, in part,  because students believe that asking questions means that they don't understand the content or what they are being asked to do.

Students do not equate questions with being curious.  Being curious is a critical piece in any scientific discovery.  This is why Asking Questions was included as one of the Science and Engineering Practices.

The term wonder implies curiosity.  Students do not associate wondering with a lack of understanding in the same way that they do with asking questions.

This strategy also requires that students spend several minutes observing a phenomenon.  It strengthens students' observation skills.  Notice and Wonders are also a great way to help scaffold student discussion in your classroom.

Getting More Meaningful Responses from a Notice and Wonder Activity

I have recently spoken to several teachers who have expressed that their students do not produce meaningful responses to a Notice and Wonder activity.  There are several strategies that can be used to improve student responses to Notice and Wonder activities.

The Superficial Responses

When students start thinking about a phenomenon, their first observations are likely to be superficial.

Earlier this week, I introduced my daughter to this phenomenon.  Since we are stuck at home, I am writing a Force and Motion unit for her to work on.

Bowling GIF
Bowling Knocking Down Pins for a Strike – From Giphy

The first thing that she wrote down was that the ball traveled down the lane and knocked down the pins.  While this is a superficial response, there wasn't a lack of effort on her part.  Most students need to make these initial simple responses before they can make more careful observations.

Think-Pair-Share then Think and Share Again

Think-pair-share activities are vital for students for many reasons.  For me, I need to discuss something so that I can process the information. Speaking to my peers sparks new ideas for me.

After students have the opportunity to share with the group, its a good idea to take a break and give them more quiet thinking time.  Many students will come up with more thoughtful responses during the second thinking session.

Differentiating the activity

Your students will respond very differently to this activity.   Some of my students will write down one or two things and be done.  Other students will come up with a long list of things that they notice in a short period of time.

When I notice that students are not making careful and considerate observations, I give them a requirement.  For example, if a student has 2 superficial responses, I write three more bullets on their paper and ask that they come up with three more.  This number will vary based on the grade-level, ability, and curiosity of your students.

When students are asked to make more observations, they must look at the phenomenon again.  Most students will produce more careful observations after they have come up with the more superficial ones.

Revisiting the Notice and Wonder

In many classrooms, a Notice and Wonder activity doesn't feel meaningful.  This is often because the activity is introduced at the beginning of the lesson sequence and then not revisited.  Consequently, it can feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the lesson sequence.

Using Wonders in Your Storyline

It is important that the questions that are generated during this activity are revisited.  I suggest incorporating these questions into your storyline.  For more information about how to easily use student questions in your storyline, check out this episode of the Teaching Science in 3d podcast.

Tracking the Wonders that Have been Answered

It is also important for students to track what they are learning and generate more questions throughout the lesson sequence.

Consider including a “What I have learned, What I Wonder Now” style activity.  I like to call this a Learned and Wonder activity.  Students can track these both in their interactive notebook.  Take a look at this setup in the picture below.

Learned and Wonder

Updating a Notice and Wonder for Remote Learning

I have updated my notice and wonder activities for remote learning in a few different ways:

Making sure I have Digital Phenomena

The following formats work well for Digital Phenomena

  • Video (make sure that they don't include spoilers for your storyline
  • GIFs
  • Maps and Graphs – Read this blog post about how I use Google Slides for digital graph annotations.  It works great for maps too.

Using a Hyperdoc or Google Form for the Notice and Wonder Activity

You can add a GIF or Video to a slide or a Google Form so that students have the phenomenon in front of them when they write their observations.  I like to create a document that students can fill in.  I add a link to my slide that contains the phenomenon.

Notice and WonderIf you would like to see an example of how I have updated this activity for remote learning, check out this Freebie that I created for my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.  This is the Notice and Wonder Activity that I created for my daughter.  Although it is a third-grade resource, it can easily be used with any grade level (as long as students are familiar with using Google Apps.)



What questions do you have about using the Notice and Wonder strategy in your Classroom?

Resources and Other Useful Posts:



Erin Sadler

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