Phenomenon Project Based Learning Series: Learning From The Past

Phenomenon Based Learning (PhBL) is a multi-disciplinary form of learning that approaches a topic (phenomenon) initially from a bird's eye view. PhBL was developed as a means to address the growing need for learning experiences which encounter and solve real-world issues while being aligned to 21st century skills. The topic or concept is deconstructed into distinct yet interdependent aspects. The learning then spirals full circle to encompass the topic or concept holistically.

PhBL SPOTLIGHT: Learning From the Past

We are SO thrilled to share this PhBL concept that emerged from a design team collaboration here in Washington State as we support the opening of Cascade Charter School. Our design team developed multiple concepts for PhBL experiences before involving students and community members in selecting the most relevant concepts and contributing to their continued development for what will become the 9th grade PhBL curriculum.

We hope these concepts will seed some ideas with you!


  • Cycles (short term / long term) v. linear time

  • Identity / Place

  • Indigenous v. industrial

  • Childhood / Adulthood

  • Rites of Passage / Coming of Age

Guiding Question(s):

What can we learn from indigenous peoples?

What can we learn from the past to inform us as we move forward?

Who am I?

How can our identity inform our present-day community/region/country/decision making?

Possible essential/driving questions:

  • Who am I?

  • Who do I want to become? (or - How do I want to evolve?)

  • Who are we? (family/community, social/political/religious structures)

  • What is my/our role in the community… nation… world?

  • When are you an adult? (biological, social vs. political, legal)

  • How do you know you’re an adult?

  • What’s a good adult?

  • What happens to adults?

  • Do some groups have to grow up/adult faster than others?

Enduring Understandings

  • First, in the 9th grade we want our students to explore themselves in relationship to community… in the 10th grade we will work to understand how our identity relates and overlaps to other collectives or groups.

  • Culture is not monolithic, there are collective and individual frameworks in culture, community, and identity.

  • Culturally responsive education/community/society knows there are both going on

Context Anchors:

Religious texts


The history of precision

Section on “time keeping”

Visit reservations

Duwamish storytellers

Story Corps episodes

Creation myths


Rights of passage

Cultural sensitivity training

Densho Project

Volunteer @ nursing/assisted living homes


Interview: questions/recording

Text analysis


Compilation of oral history/research on website

“I Am” poems/poetry unit


Science: genetics, epigenetics

ELA: speaking/listening, writing process. themes, poetry

Social Studies: Regions, culture, migration, government systems


Web design/other tech

Adult World Connections:

New Zealand Maori

Oral histories from community


Personal narratives/examples


Truth/reconciliation movements in Canada/Maine


Website designers

Tech guru