Can Phenomenon-Based Learning Help Students?

We are proud to partner with our suppliers to provide you with the best products for your classroom, and we are also please to share this blog post from our partners at GSC International. 

Can Phenomenon-Based Learning Help Students?

As someone with a lifelong love for science, I always did well in science class at school. I don’t say that to brag. Quite the opposite, actually. Recently, while writing some instruction sheets, I found myself struggling to recall subjects I had remembered learning in high school physics class almost eight years ago. I remembered drawing free body diagrams and being able to dissect each force like it was my job. I also remembered easily solving algebraic equations for any variable I needed. When it came time to recall these skills, however, I was getting things wrong left and right and finding it difficult to do my job and create a successful teaching aid to supplement our product.

This had me wondering: could I have learned these skills way-back-when in a way that left them more ingrained in my head and easier to recall? After some research, I found that the World Economic Forum has most recently ranked Finland first in “Quality of Primary Education” and second in “Higher Education and Training” in their 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Index. Though I’m not saying Finland is the end-all-be-all of international education (their OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, scores have slipped in recent years compared to their past performance), this did give me some interest into researching what Finland might be doing right. One aspect of their educational program that piqued my interest was their recent addition to their educational system of requiring at least one “phenomenon-based learning” module. And, while I ultimately treasure my experience in the United States educational system, I can’t help but think that I would have enjoyed, and perhaps benefited from, a touch of phenomenon-based learning in my educational system.

Phenomenon-based learning, as explained by Helsinki’s city manager Pasi Silander, studies phenomena “as complete entities, in their real context, and the information and skills related to them are studied by crossing the boundaries between subjects.” This means that students will take a topic, say climate change, and investigate it from all relevant angles and disciplines. This differs from traditional subject-based learning where knowledge is divided by its individual components (i.e. math, science, history, etcetera). And, as pointed out by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), phenomena are at the core of science and engineering professions. People observe problems first, and then hypothesize ways to address those problems. They don’t walk around thinking about rote memorized formulas and concepts that fit into the problems they see in front of them. The NSTA points out that this sort of contextual, constructivist learning leads to “deeper and more transferable knowledge.” The NGSS have a provided a great jumping off point for understanding phenomena-based learning and how it is used to engage students in their scientific education here.

I remember my physics teacher in high school teaching a particular lesson as follows:

We walked into class and took our seats. There were a few formulas on the board and a free-body diagram. He sat us down and explained to us how these formulas would help us to properly assess the forces on the object in the free-body diagram. We would manipulate variables in the equation and do the math until we were able to plug in any values we wanted and could tell him which behavior the object in the free-body diagram would follow given its current state. I became pretty good at this and passed the tests fine. Applicable skills to this lesson like trigonometry and algebra were both separate classes that I took at different times in different semesters.

About ten years later, the memory of the experience is about the only thing I remembered from these lessons. After reading about phenomena-based learning, I wonder how well I would have retained this lesson had it been taught in a more engaging way. If the lesson were instead introduced to us by asking us to explain a car coasting down a mountain, or a tow truck lifting a car up into its bed, or something similar, would my investigation of the phenomena had yielded a more permanent grasp on the science behind the mechanical forces? After raising questions of our own relating to these phenomena, we could have simulated these situations in the lab to answer the questions we came up with. Could these lessons have been used to jump start or completely encompass my trigonometry education as well? I can never be sure. High school only happens once.

None of this was said to disparage my science teacher. He was actually one of my favorite teachers that year. That doesn’t stop me from questioning whether or not a different approach could have had a different long-term effect on my education. I can’t even guarantee that my retention would have been better and that the knowledge would have, in turn, helped me in my quest to write a useful piece of technical writing. It is fun to wonder, though, and I’m interested to see how its requirement in the Finnish school system effects student outcomes into the future. If you want a more in depth look at the changes to the Finnish education system, this article in The Straits Times, a publication from Singapore (who also does incredibly well in international education metrics) explains a lot of said changes.

Are you a teacher? Have you tried using phenomenon-based learning in your classroom? Or are you a student who has had experience with it? If you are either, I would love to learn more about your experience with this teaching method. Please comment below!


-Jacob Monash, GSC Go Science Crazy

Experimenting with Small Metal Samples

We are proud to partner with our suppliers to provide you with the best products for your classroom, and we are also please to share this blog post from our partners at GSC International. 

Experimenting with Small Metal Samples

Hi, all. Today I wanted to try a little something different for our blog. Recently I was uploading our Electrode Disc Set product, and I realized that the instructions for its use are rather generalized. I thought it would be a cool idea to come up with and share some experiments that are possible with it.

This exercise is two-fold. For one, it will provide you with a jumping-off-point on how to use this product. Secondly, however, I want this to illustrate that many items are able be used to investigate various scientific principles. Though we offer many experiments geared towards investigating specific theories and principles, as you learn more about science and the inter-connectivity of what you observe in the world of science, you may find interesting and unique ways to explore a concept using a product in an innovative manner. Though safety should always be your top concern, science is all about discovery and observation through any means possible. Try some of the experiments in this blog and use them to consider scientific experimentation more broadly.



  • S38992
  • Materials for different environmental conditions (Water, Salt, White Vinegar, Baking Soda, etc…)
  • Glass Jars


  • You will be observing how the various metals in the Electrode Disc Set corrode in different conditions. Buying the Electrode Disc Set will provide you with ten separate sets of metals, allowing you to run this experiment with one control group and up to nine experimental groups.


  1. Create your control group. Lay out one electrode disc set in the open air.
  2. Take a picture to document the appearance of each electrode in your control group.
  3. Create your experimental groups. As stated above, one kit will allow you to have one control group and up to nine experimental groups. Each experimental group will be testing the effects a given solution has on each metal. This experiment works well using tap water, salt water, white vinegar, and a basic solution of baking soda and water. By filling four separate jars with the solutions just explained, you will have four experimental groups. You can stop at just five groups for your experiment (one control and four experimental), or you can use varying acidic (vinegar), basic (baking soda), or salt concentrations to create additional independent variables. Fill a jar with your chosen solution for each experimental group you wish to experiment with, and place a full set of metal electrodes in each jar.
  4. Label each jar with its contents and the date that you began the experiment.
  5. Take a picture to document the appearance of each electrode in each one of your experimental groups.
  6. For a period of two to three weeks, observe the electrodes in each group for changes. Photograph them as regularly as possible, labelling each picture with the date it was taken, the material of the electrode, and group it belongs to.
  7. After your experimental period is over, make your observations. Which solution corroded each metal the most? Does a higher or lower pH have an effect of the corrosion of your metals? Looking back on your pictures, did any solution corrode your electrodes at a quicker rate than the others? Did you notice any other interesting transformations for your electrodes? Based on your results, do you have any follow-up experiments that you may find interesting to do?

Potato Battery:



  • You will be creating a chemical battery just using two electrodes and one potato. This experiment will help you to understand the components of an electrochemical battery, as well as reduction and oxidation reactions. All that a battery requires to work is an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte solution. In the case of our potato battery, the phosphoric acid within the potato facilitates chemical reactions with the two electrodes. In our example below, the zinc anode undergoes an oxidation reaction and loses electrons into the electrolyte solution, and the copper cathode undergoes a reduction reaction where free electrons from the solution combine on the surface of the electrode with hydrogen ions in order to create an uncharged hydrogen molecule.



  1. Take your copper electrode and your zinc electrode. Place them halfway into the potato, roughly an inch apart.
  2. Connect a red cord to your copper electrode and a black cord to your zinc electrode. Also, connect two leads to your voltmeter.
  3. To show a baseline of zero volts, touch the two leads coming off your voltmeter together.
  4. Use your voltmeter to test your potato battery now. What is its voltage?
  5. Using new potatoes, test out different batteries made from other anode/cathode combinations (from other dissimilar metal combinations from the Electrode Disc Set). Which combination yields the highest voltage battery?
  6. You can expand on this experiment in several ways. Do other fruits or veggies create better batteries? Does connecting two or three potato batteries in a series circuit increase the voltage? How about connecting two or three potato batteries in parallel circuit?

Potato Battery Experiment


Thermal Conductivity:


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  • Hot Plate with a low-heat setting, or another low-heat heat-source (such as a pan on a low stove-top)
    • (Warning: Be careful when handling any sort of heat source. Do not burn yourself. Use supervision.)
  • Wax or Butter
  • Stopwatch


  • You will be comparing the thermal conductivity of the electrodes in our Electrode Disc Set.


  1. Take one set of room-temperature electrode discs and top them with a small amount of material that can melt. This can be five equally-sized pads of butter (smaller than the electrode discs) or two dried drops from a melted wax candle per disc.
  2. Slide all five discs onto a cool hot plate and turn it onto its lowest setting. Watch the discs to observe which melts its material fastest.
  3. Allow the hot plate to cool completely before running the experiment again.
  4. In five separate runs (or with the help of four other friends with stopwatches), time how long it takes for each electrode to melt its material. For each electrode, gather three different times to average your results.
  5. Plot your results. Which material conducts heat the best?

Thermal Conductivity Experiment


Science is only limited by your imagination and your curiosity. The above experiments are by no means the only possible experiments with this kit. Do you have any other experiments that you can think of with these metal electrodes? Let me know in the comments below!

CREDIT: GSC Go Science Crazy and Jacob Monash

Happy Pythagorean Theorem Day!

pythagoras-sketchDid you forget to get a card?  We don’t know if the card store will have something for today, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate!

Pythagorean Theorem Day or Pythagoras Theorem Day is celebrated when the sum of the squares of the first two digits in a date equals the square of the last digit in the date. In this case: August 15, 2017 (8/15/17 or 15/8/17): 8² + 15² = 17². The next instance of this special day won’t happen until December 16th, 2020…so don’t miss your chance to celebrate today!

So let’s refresh…what is the Pythagorean Theorem?

From Wikipediareal-life-applications-pythagorean-theorem_672e4a5e3a2f7d7 In mathematics, the Pythagorean theorem, also known as Pythagoras’s theorem, is a fundamental relation in Euclidean geometry among the three sides of a right triangle. It states that the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. The theorem can be written as an equation relating the lengths of the sides a, b and c, often called the “Pythagorean equation”:  a2+b2=cwhere c represents the length of the hypotenuse and a and b the lengths of the triangle’s other two sides.

Although it is often argued that knowledge of the theorem predates him, the theorem is named after the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BC) as it is he who, by tradition, is credited with its first recorded proof. There is some evidence that Babylonian mathematicians understood the formula, although little of it indicates an application within a mathematical framework. Mesopotamian, Indian and Chinese mathematicians all discovered the theorem independently and, in some cases, provided proofs for special cases.

The theorem has been given numerous proofs – possibly the most for any mathematical theorem. They are very diverse, including both geometric proofs and algebraic proofs, with some dating back thousands of years. The theorem can be generalized in various ways, including higher-dimensional spaces, to spaces that are not Euclidean, to objects that are not right triangles, and indeed, to objects that are not triangles at all, but n-dimensional solids. The Pythagorean theorem has attracted interest outside mathematics as a symbol of mathematical abstruseness, mystique, or intellectual power; popular references in literature, plays, musicals, songs, stamps and cartoons abound.

So how to celebrate?  Try these ideas:

  • earn more about the Pythagoras Theorem and its real life applications.
  • Celebrate the day by eating foods that are cut in right angle triangles. Make a pizza or bake a cake or cookies in the shape of a right triangle. Or just your PB&J will work too!
  • Since the holiday depends on a unique date pattern, why not spend the day learning about other special date patterns- sequential, repetitive, or palindrome for example?

The Best of the Olympics, told by Twitter

With the Olympics in Rio officially over, we wanted to take a look back at the most memorable tweets referencing the iconic event. From Neil deGrasse Tyson, to Leslie Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, here are the best of the 2016 Summer Olympics told by Twitter.

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These memes perfectly describe teachers going back to school

Well it’s that time of year again, a time where you can no longer lose track of the days and
use the restroom at your leisure. Yep, it’s back to school time. While some of you may have already started back (which is completely unfair, who changed the rule to starting before Labor Day anyways?) the rest of you may only have a couple more weeks before it’s back to the grind of grading papers and attending faculty meetings. To know that you are not alone in this journey, here is some humor to get you through the beginning of the school year.

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Demystifying De-Extinction

Every species becomes extinct eventually. Animals such as the woolly mammoth and passenger pigeon are one of the many species who failed to leave behind descendants that could adapt to their surroundings and carry on their genetic lineage. But what if there was a process that could bring extinct species back to life? Scientists are getting closer to making this a reality thanks to de-extinction. Continue reading “Demystifying De-Extinction” »

What Makes Fireflies Glow?

Pretty soon, when you look outside at night you will notice the intermittent glow of fireflies throughout your backyard. This is one of the sure-tell signs that summer is finally here and while these twinkling bugs can keep us in awe for what seems like hours at a time, there is some serious chemistry happening in their bodies. Continue reading “What Makes Fireflies Glow?” »

Small ways to thank your teacher for an awesome school year

During Teacher Appreciation Week, we compiled a list of some easy yet thoughtful gifts to show teachers just how much we appreciate all of their hard work. Now as the school year is coming to a close, it’s the perfect time to remind teachers just how much they’re valued and that all of their efforts don’t go unnoticed. Here are some small ways to thank your teacher for an awesome school year! Continue reading “Small ways to thank your teacher for an awesome school year” »

Some humor to get you through the end of the school year

I remember having to wait until lunch and the end of school.: It’s (finally) that time of year where school is starting to wind down and hopefully your schedule is filling up with some time for you to enjoy the warm weather! This time of year also makes for some awesome humor that perfectly sums up how everyone is feeling in these final weeks before the summer break you all deserve. We gathered some of the best quotes and memes to help you get through your final days of the school year, and for those of you who are lucky enough to already be done, here’s a good laugh anyways! Continue reading “Some humor to get you through the end of the school year” »

Thermo Fisher employees inspire students to take flight for Innovation at Tech Challenge

More than 80 employees from six of our California sites demonstrated their commitment to
STEM education by volunteering at the 29th Tech Challenge in Silicon Valley. The Tech Challenge  is an annual engineering competition set out to inspire students to combat a certain issue using engineering and design principles. This year’s theme was “Taking Flight” which challenged students to design and build gliders that could deliver supplies to a remote location.
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