Depth and Complexity – the Science of Engaging Lessons

Science is the OG when it comes to multisensory instruction. Through hands-on experimentation and studying real-world phenomena, students can explore with experiments and inquiry-based learning. It is simple and natural for teachers to incorporate the Depth and Complexity Framework into their science instruction to engage students in critical thinking through the lenses of the icons as well as extend their experiences into real-world applications. Look at a few of our favorite ways to integrate Depth and Complexity into science content to create meaningful, rigorous lessons. 


Introducing a unit with scientific phenomena is a relatively new way to engage students in critical thinking and discussion. If you are a science teacher, you are familiar with this fun learning strategy. By presenting the students with an intriguing image or video clip and asking them to make sense of it, you can quickly gather data on students’ schema and drive your teaching decisions. Layering Depth and Complexity into this widely-used teaching strategy is incredibly easy. First, ensure that the phenomena you choose for students to analyze is observable, engaging, and predictable. A great resource for images is Phenomena for the Next Generation of Student Engagement. Next, guide students to fill out a Ponder Sheet to analyze the phenomenon through various iconic lenses. This can be completely teacher directed or driven by student choice. Another option is to have students observe the phenomena in small groups, giving each one a specific iconic lens to discuss their observations. For example, one group may identify the Language of the Discipline used by the experts in the field of study in the image, demonstration, and/or video. Another group might list the most important Details they observe. And a third group could discuss any Patterns or Rules they notice. The groups can then come together and share their findings as a whole class, jigsaw activity, or findings demonstration. The teacher can then invite students to create a list of Unanswered Questions on a driving question board (DBQ)  that will help guide them through the upcoming lesson or unit.


Another widely-used science teaching tool is a CER, or Claim Evidence Reasoning. Simply put, students are presented with a scientific phenomenon or anchoring image, scientific article, video, or other various sources, and asked to claim a statement that attempts to generalize and explain the findings presented within and across sources. They are then invited to give evidence from the sources to prove their thinking, as well as explain the logic behind their reasoning. A simple way to layer Depth and Complexity into this strategy and push critical thinking is using the CER Graphic Organizer created by our trainer/practitioner, Blythe Brown. Students are given a chance to make a claim, support their ideas with scientific evidence, and explain the logic behind their ideas. Using the iconic prompts in this process gives students a specific focus in each step and language to explain their reasoning. For the claim, students are prompted to create a Big Idea statement. Next, students are given a choice of icons to provide at least three pieces of evidence from their observations. Finally, students answer the question How does the evidence point to the conclusion? to demonstrate their reasoning.

Think Like a Disciplinarian

Our favorite science tool to date is one of our newest products. The Think Like a Disciplinarian Cards: STEM Edition. These cards are composed of four sections that provide insight into specific ways in which Thinking Like a Disciplinarian can be leveraged in the classroom: essential questions, Language of the Discipline, Universal Concepts, and scholarly tasks. The Depth and Complexity and Content Imperative icon prompts are woven throughout the essential questions and scholarly tasks. The cards invite students to think critically and in an interdisciplinary way, analyzing and evaluating content just like professionals.

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *