Last time, we discussed why we should be using the 5E Model in our NGSS classrooms. Shifting our instruction is vital to truly shifting our curriculum to the NGSS, and for ensuring our students are learning what we are teaching. But what does this look like in the actual classroom? There are so many misconceptions about the 5E Model — so many people using it the wrong way — that it may be hard to really wrap your head around its structure and purpose. In the article below, I’ve highlighted the purpose of each phase so you can begin to understand how it contributes to the development of scientific understanding for your students.
5E instructional sequences begin with an Engage activity. The purpose of this phase is to capture student interest and spark curiosity. Students should be intellectually engaged by this activity — not just “Oh, this is cool!” but “Oh, this is cool! Why did that happen!?” In an NGSS-aligned classroom, your Engage activity is typically the introduction of a phenomenon – whether your anchor or an investigative phenomenon.
Additionally, it is ideal to incorporate opportunities to assess where students currently are in their understanding during the Engage phase. By asking students to make connections to prior knowledge and experiences, you can begin to identify misconceptions and recognize where students may run into trouble during the instructional sequence. Moreover, by identifying where students are currently, you can utilize activities that are designed to challenge what they think they know.
After you have sparked student curiosity, students need opportunities to engage with the concepts in greater depth. They need to figure out what they thought in the past, why it might not work for them anymore, and begin the process of developing new ideas.
Explore activities are concrete experiences that provide all students with examples to work with. So for example, our jeans probe and water cycle sequence. Students are going to come to class with varied understanding of and experiences with the water cycle. When considering condensation for example, some students may have experienced waking up early and walking outside to find the grass covered in dew. Other students may never have encountered early morning dew. It would be difficult for students to discuss the concept of condensation if they cannot identify a shared experience to generate questions and explanations from. This is where Explore comes in. Providing shared concrete experiences (perhaps watching condensation form on a cold can of Coke, for an incredibly simple example) facilitates student discussion and sense-making.
Explore activities should incorporate tangible materials into the concrete experiences. At least some of the explore phase should engage students in social interaction — group work and discussions. Students need to share their ideas and have their ideas challenged. This is a vital part of reconstructing their understanding.
Keeping that last note in mind is very important as we move into the Explain phase as well, because this is where many teachers get tripped up. So many people believe the Explain phase is where the teaching begins. This is the phase when the teacher provides the explanation of what students experienced during Explore. In actuality, this is the phase where students provide explanations of what they experienced during Explore. Only after students have had the opportunity to share their own explanations do teachers chime in with any additional information at all – and really, the more you can draw out these explanations from the students, the better off you’ll be.
Elaborate is where students are practicing material independently. This means involving students in additional experiences that deepen their understanding of the explanation they reached, as well as opportunities to apply it to new contexts. Activities should be new but achievable — we want students to be successful in the transfer of their understanding to new situations, so think “similar but new.”
Additionally, Elaborate provides an opportunity for students to use different modes of expression to share their explanations. For example, students who had verbally expressed their understanding could engage in tasks that require them to write, use diagrams, graphs, or mathematics to demonstrate the concepts.
The last phase of the model is Evaluate, but it does not actually come last. Evaluate is essentially about feedback, and feedback must be embedded into all phases of instruction. During Engage when students first express their understanding, teachers are making note of these entry points. As students explore the material, teachers are asking questions to clarify student thinking and then offering feedback in the form of observations and additional questions to help guide students to a more accurate understanding. During Explain, students demonstrate their understanding through discussion and “meaning making,” and assignments can easily be incorporated here that provide teachers with data to illuminate each individual’s grasp of the material.
That said, eventually a summative assessment will determine what students learned during the instructional sequence.