Bybee, R., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., Van Scotter, P., Carlson, J., Westbrook, A., & Landes, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Origins and effectiveness. Colorado Springs, CO: BSCS.
Researchers have described the inquiry process as involving five Es: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. Designed to facilitate the process of conceptual change in science, the 5E model can help students at almost any level engage in scientific practices. This brief correlates the 5E framework outlined by Bybee and colleagues with the science practices described in the Framework for K–12 Science Education.
The BSCS 5E Instructional Model is a way of teaching science that has been developed and tested extensively since the 1980s. The five phases of the model, summarized below, are designed to facilitate the process of conceptual change.
Though the 5Es predate development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), educators across the country are working with the 5E framework to integrate NGSS STEM practices. The ways in which the 5Es can engage students in NGSS scientific practices are highlighted in the summary of the 5E model below.
- Engage. Educators pique students’ curiosity by presenting them with a novel experience or drawing their attention to a familiar, yet puzzling, phenomenon. The phenomenon anchors the conceptual change process. The facilitator draws attention to the phenomenon, helps learners make connections to past learning, surfaces alternate conceptions, and makes the learning goals clear. Students may ask questions and define problems in this phase to drive their sense-making process.
- Explore. Students participate in an activity that facilitates conceptual change. Learners may develop and use models to support their emerging explanations, plan and carry out investigations, analyze and interpret data, use math and computational thinking, and engage in evidence-based argument as they explore the phenomenon. For engineering lessons, learners can design solutions to a problem related to the phenomenon. The facilitator’s role is to help learners reconcile new learning with their existing conceptions, support productive discourse among learners, and organize logistics.
- Explain. Students generate an explanation of the phenomenon. In this phase, learners communicate information through argumentation and explanation. The facilitator may introduce a specific scientific concept or practice to support a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.
- Elaborate. Students deepen their understanding of the phenomenon through new experiences. The facilitator gives learners opportunities to apply new understandings to different situations, based on learners’ explanations of the original phenomenon. Possibilities for elaboration include having learners analyze and interpret a novel data set, use their existing models to explain a related phenomenon, or iterate on a model or design solution. The goal is for learners to extend and broaden their understanding of the science concepts and practices.
- Evaluate. Students assess their understanding of the phenomenon. The evaluation is learner-centered, designed to inform learners of their progress and to provide facilitators with information to guide further instruction. Learners may refine their explanations, obtain and communicate information, and develop evidence-based arguments to publicize their learning.
The 5E model is in contrast to instructional methods in which learners are presented with facts and practices that they need to memorize and apply to novel situations.
The 5E model can include scientific practices for students at almost any level. It was designed specifically to facilitate sense-making through explanation. The use of this model can bring coherence to different teaching strategies, provide connections among educational activities, and help science teachers make decisions about interactions with students.
Implications for Practice
One challenge of implementing the 5E model in informal learning spaces such as afterschool programs and camps is the limited amount of time learners spend in these settings. These programs often emphasize the engage and explore phases of the framework. Bybee and colleagues remind us that, in order to effect lasting conceptual change in learners, we also need to provide opportunities for learners to explain, elaborate, and evaluate their new learning.
Another implication of the 5E model is that informal science educators need deep pedagogical content knowledge in order to support students in their sense-making process. Such expertise is often not available in informal science settings.
Helping students engage deeply with science ideas often entails a pedagogical shift away from content memorization and toward facilitating student exploration and explanation of phenomena. Educators in all settings need strong support so that they can continually develop their pedagogical skills.
National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, D.C: The National Academies Press.