The Five E's Model

Teaching/Learning Cycle

In the early 1960's, Robert Karplus proposed a teaching/learning model for instruction based upon the work of Piaget. This cycle was later used in the Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS), where it represented a systematic application of psychology to science education materials. The information that follows represents an extension of this teaching/learning cycle from the original SCIS materials. The information is based upon the work of International Business Machine (IBM) and Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) as presented in New Designs for Elementary Science and Health (BSCS, 1989).

In recent years, cognitive scientists and science educators have focused on the constructivist model of learning. Constructivism views human learning as an outcome of a dynamic, interactive process. In the constructivist model, students reconstruct core concepts, or intellectual structures, through continuous interactions within themselves and with their environment, including other people. Through these interactions, students redefine, reorganize, elaborate, and change their initial concepts. For an individual, the learner "interprets" objects and phenomena and internalizes the interpretation in terms of current concepts. Changing and improving students' conceptions often requires challenging their current conceptions and showing those conceptions to be inadequate. If a current concept is challenged, there must be opportunity, in the form of time and experiences, to reconstruct a more adequate concept than the original. In conclusion, students' construction of knowledge can be assisted by using sequences of lessons designed to challenge current conceptions and provide time and opportunities for reconstruction to occur.

A number of different models of instruction are conducive to fostering a constructivist approach in the classroom.
Among them is the 5 E's model. The following sections contain a description of the five phases (5E's) of this instructional model. Teacher and student lessons follow the Five E teaching/learning cycle [Trowbridge, L. W. et. al.,1990].


The first phase (the first E) is designed to actively engage the student in the learning task. The student mentally
focuses on an object, problem, situation, or event that can be related to the world of the learner.The activities of this phase make connections to past and future activities. The connections depend on the learning task and may be conceptual, procedural, or behavioral. Asking an authentic question, defining a real problem, showing a discrepant event, and acting out a problematic situation are all ways to engage students and focus them on the instructional task. The role of the teacher is to present the situation and identify the instructional task. The  teacher also sets the rules and procedures for establishing the task.
Successful engagement results in students being puzzled by, and actively motivated in, the learning activity. Here, we use the activity to access prior knowledge levels of students. Most engagement activities will fall into the 5 -15 minute range.


Following the engagement phase, students have a psychological need for time to explore the ideas. Exploration
(the second E) activities are designed so that students have common, concrete experience upon which they continue building concepts, processes, and skills. Engagement brings about disequilibrium; exploration initiates the process of restoring equilibrium. The aim of exploration activities is to establish experiences that teachers and students can use later to formally introduce and discuss concepts, processes, or skills. During the activity, the students have time in which they can explore objects, events, or situations.  As a result of their mental and physical involvement in the activity, students establish relationships, construct mental pictures, observe patterns, identify variables, and question events. The teacher's role in the exploration phase is that of facilitator or coach. The teacher initiates the activity and allows students time and opportunity to investigate objects, materials, and situations based on each student's own ideas of the phenomena. If called upon, the teacher may coach or guide students as they begin constructing (reconstructing) their explanations.


The "explanation" (the third E) means the act or process through which concepts, processes, or skills become
plain, comprehensible, and clear. The process of explanation provides the students and teacher with a common
use of terms relative to the learning task. In this phase, the teacher directs student attention to specific aspects of the engagement and exploration experiences. First, the teacher asks students to give their explanations. Second, the teacher introduces scientific or technologic explanations in a direct and formal manner. Explanations are ways of ordering the exploratory experiences. The teacher should base the initial part of this phase on students' explanations and clearly connect the explanations to experiences in the engagement and exploration phases of the instructional model. The key to this phase is to present concepts, processes, or skills briefly, simply, clearly, and directly and move on to the next phase.


Once students have an explanation of their learning tasks, it is important to involve them in further experiences that elaborate (the fourth E) on the concepts, processes, or skills. In some cases, students may still have misconceptions, or they may only understand a concept in terms of the exploratory experience. Elaboration activities provide further time and experiences that contribute to learning. Typically, elaboration activities are interdisciplinary in nature and involve reading, writing, mathematics, and social studies.


At some point, it is important that students receive feedback on the adequacy of their explanations.  Informal
evaluation (the fifth E) can occur from the beginning of the teaching sequence. The teacher and student can complete a formal evaluation after the elaboration phase. As a practical educational matter, teachers must assess educational outcomes. This is the phase in which teachers administer tests, read student journals, and audit group interactions to determine each student's level of understanding. This is also an important opportunity for students to use the skills they have acquired and evaluate their understanding.




Engagement Establish an interest in and develop
an approach to the instructional task.
Provide the experiences necessary to engage the learner. Identify the
instructional task.
Exploration Complete activities directed toward
learning outcomes.
Facilitate and monitor interaction
between students and instructional
situations, materials, and courseware.
Explanation Describe their understanding, use
their skills, and express their attitudes.
Direct student learning by clarifying
any misconceptions, providing vocabularyfor concepts, demonstrating
skills, modifying behaviors, and suggesting further learning experiences.
Elaboration Present and defend their explanations
and identify and complete several
experiences related to the
learning task.
Provide an occasion for students to cooperate on activities, discuss their current understanding, and demonstrate their skills.
Evaluation Examine the adequacy of their
explanations, behaviors, and attitudes
in new situations.
Use a variety of formal and informal procedures (journal, drawing, lab sheets, etc.) for assessing student understanding.