TMC6 Harris

Participatory Learning through Phenomenon Based Learning: Moving from the Learning Commons into the Classroom 

By Greg Harris

In this engaging paper you can read about one school’s successful journey of implementing Phenomenon Based Learning – “real-world phenomena providing the starting point for learning”. Students experience continuous, deep learning and the author includes an interesting selection of student projects as exemplars. Successes, challenges and steps to implementation are provided.

Read the Paper

Greg Harris retired from 28 years of teaching; nearly 18 years were as a teacher-librarian, Greg was a resource teacher for all TL in Simcoe County DSB for 2 years. Greg is an instructor at Lakehead University - Education Orillia where he instructs first year teacher candidates in Language and Classroom Management, Planning and Assessment. Recently, Greg presented to all 200+ first year teacher candidates that teacher-librarians are their allies and collaboration superheroes. Both groups applauded … there is hope for collaboration! Second year teacher candidates are next.


  1. Hi Greg,

    (Side note: I still find it hard to wrap my head around the idea that you are retired!)

    I saw your OLA SC presentation on phenomenon based learning and I really appreciate this paper, as it gives me time to re-read, have all the steps listed for me, etc.

    I loved your student's comment on "so why are you getting paid if we do all the work?" How brutally honest!

    I needed that explanation of the difference between Genius Hour and Phenomenon Based Learning. Why is the former so much more well known than the latter?

    Thank you for also sharing what *didn't* work, and ideas on why it didn't work. It makes more a much more realistic portrayal of what it's like to experience.


    1. Hi Diana,

      I am working harder in retirement. Yet, I love my work at Lakehead Orillia Education, so it's really not work.

      Genius Hour has been around. It's relatively easy to plan for. Students tend to love the freedom. When we started to investigate Phenomenon Based Learning in 2017, Google searches turned up very little information. What we did find was similar with pretty much all info coming from Finland.

      See you soon,

  2. Hi Greg
    Another new term for me at TMC - phenomenon-based learning. Never heard of it but certainly familiar with Genius Hour. I would have appreciated a bit of background on your school - grades, location, population. I was trying to wrap my head around how this would look in a small school as opposed to a larger one. I didn't realize until the end that you also had non-phenomenon learning cycles. If your teachers were choosing the themes anyways in the phenomenon time, why is it not possible to still cover the curriculum during this time? Can this type of learning not be integrated with a critical inquiry format where some teaching of curriculum occurs to build background knowledge mixed in with inquiry challenges with criteria for success established by students and the teacher. I'd definitely like to talk to you more about this project.

  3. Hi Jo-Anne,

    Ardagh Bluffs PS (Barrie, Ontario) JK to Grade 8 with 650 +/- students. Higher socio-economic area compared to many Barrie and Simcoe County areas.
    It would work in a small school or single classroom the same way. Having a teacher librarian or another teacher will make the growing pains much easier to deal with.

    The curriculum is too prescriptive. For example, Ontario Grade 7 History has two strands:
    A. New France and British North America, 1713–1800
    B. Canada, Conflict and Challenges, 1800–1850
    My colleagues and I know students will NOT find enough engaging topics to go deep in. (We learned this years ago when I gave Grade 7 students free choice for Canadian Heritage inquiries and my colleague had his students stay within the curriculum.
    That said, we do provide some background information/mini-lessons and we do required some of these elements to enter the student inquiries/presentations. Typically, this seems artificial -- similar to putting in a visual graph for the sake of showing you know how to do a pie chart.
    We tend to see the Phenomenon work as a vehicle for providing insights to learning skills and communication skills; which do fall into various curriculum reporting requirements.
    As a group, we prefer to teach the subject content within its own space. This does lend itself to student inquiries that are confined much more to the curriculum -- a very different approach than Phenomenon Based Learning.
    A former superintendent at SCDSB said, "There are no curriculum police." We ran with that. Yes, content is important. We believe knowing how to learn is more important.

    Please introduce yourself Friday evening or Saturday.

  4. GReg I’m really envious of your experience in his mode. I have tried projects like this and find personal conferences and observation criteria developed in conjunction with the classroom teacher to be most effective in giving timely and descriptive critical feedback. Could you talk a bit more about how you developed your criteria and any tools you used for your conference and observation feedback? Thanks for this!

  5. Hi Alanna,

    I am looking forward to our conversation and recording period tomorrow.



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