The 5E Instructional Model is a science learning method that’s held relevancy and usefulness for over three decades – here’s what it is, how you can use it, and how the 5E model is being updated to meet the demands of today’s classrooms.
A brief history of the 5E Instructional Model
In 1987, a team of science educators were tasked with developing a new program for elementary science and health. The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) team were taken to a Colorado retreat to develop the new program along with a new instructional model.
Based on the Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) Atkin-Karplus Learning Cycle – Explore, Invent, Discover – the BCSC wanted to expand and deepen these concepts when developing their own instructional model.
The result was the 5E Instructional Model; a learning method that has shaped science learning around the world for over thirty years.
What is the 5E Model?
The 5E Instructional Model is a five-phase approach to teaching science concepts. The phases are:
First phase – Engagement
The first phase is to get students engaged; capture their interest and curiosity and have them focus on the task, object, situation, problem or event at hand.
A key part of this phase is finding out the prior learning and possible misconceptions held by your students – what past experiences do they have with what’s being covered? What do they think about it? What ideas do they already have?
To kick-off the engagement phase, you could demonstrate something that captures their attention and stimulates questions, show them something that contradicts their expectations, or simply ask a direct question about the topic they can throw themselves into.
Outcomes of the engagement phase: Prior learning and misconceptions have been drawn out and your kids are hopefully fizzing with puzzlement, intrigue and motivation to find answers.
Second phase – Exploration
Finding answers requires exploration – this might come in the form of a mental pursuit or physical adventure.
With either approach, it’s important that exploration is concrete – physical and hands on. This reinforces engagement and encourages kids to experiment.
Organise students into groups and get them to explore the concepts and skills before forming questions that can be investigated. Encourage them to present and defend their strategy of approach between themselves and the other groups before they begin to explore.
In this phase you could take the opportunity to work on collaborative learning skills. Ensure group members take individual responsibility for their role in achieving the group goal and encourage rich discussion between group members.
During the exploration phase, students should be noticing patterns, establishing causal or correlative relationships, identifying differences, and questioning why they’re experiencing the results they find. Your role is to initiate activities, provide resources, listen, prompt, question and facilitate students as they begin to construct conceptual understandings and develop new skills.
Outcomes of the exploration phase: You’ll want your class to be able to discuss what they experienced and any patterns or phenomena they observed during their exploration phase. This is a great way of both hearing others’ observations and initial explanations but also having the information solidified for the next phase.
Third phase – Explanation
Here’s where everything your kids have taken from the engagement and exploration phases come to light.
Starting this phase is simple – ask your students for their explanations of what they experienced and observed during their engagement and exploration phases. Were their initial expectations or hypotheses correct?
After this discussion, you can introduce the technical and scientific explanations directly and explicitly, giving your kids a way to frame their experiences within the formal explanation.
Remember to be imaginative with your explanation! It can be more than verbal; use a video, audio-clip, or software to help your class come to grips with the concepts. Be sure to refer back to the students’ prior experiences in your explanations!
Outcomes of the explanation phase: Don’t be surprised if students aren’t immediately able to fit their experiences to the explanation – science understanding takes time! At this stage, if they can make connections from their experiences to the explanation, that’s something you can work with.
At the elementary level, science instruction is about planting seeds of understanding and developing scientific thinking skills.
Fourth phase – Elaboration
With experience and explanation in hand, your kids can take their new understandings and skills and expand on them!
The aim of this phase is to help students transfer their understanding of new science concepts and skills to new contexts or experiences using a variety of sources such as written material, simulations, videos, hands-on activities or other digital sources.
This is also the phase where cross-curricula activities are useful. Connecting scientific understanding with mathematics, art, technology and so on, can deepen understanding.
Outcomes of the elaboration phase: You’ll want your students to have a broader and more generalised understanding of the concepts, skills and processes.
Fifth phase – Evaluation
This phase can be brought into the mix at any time in the learning process, and it’s not up to you alone!
Evaluation includes both students and teachers gauging the level of conceptual and procedural understanding gained. Although formative assessment and evaluation can occur at any point in the instructional model, the evaluation phase specifically aims to obtain evidence of understanding in relation to the learning outcomes of the lesson.
Formative evaluations might be informal observational notes or short questions, where summative assessments may be more formal assessments such as tests or assignments.
Outcomes of the evaluation phase: You’re looking to understand how your class and individual students are progressing – What scientific thinking needs improvement? What new conceptual understandings have they developed?
What’s next for the 5E Instructional Model?
Two letters – I and A.
To help the 5E Instructional Model meet the demands of today’s science classrooms, it’s been given a little extra support through Intervention and Acceleration.
Want to find out more?
Check out STEMscopes Science through the link below to see how best practice methods are being made even better.
BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Origins and Effectiveness – Report by BSCS for the Office of Science Education and National Institute of Health