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Equity for all with the 5E instructional model and technology

A science educator explains how to extend student learning through the 5E instructional model

5 min read


Equity for all with the 5E instructional model and technology

Unsplash/JJ YIng

Prince William County is the 19th wealthiest county in the US, as determined by median household income in 2016. Based on that, our school system must be the land of plenty! Looking deeper, our data tell a far more complex story. Over 40% of our 90,000 students are economically disadvantaged. Nearly 26% are English-language Learners. Almost 13% of our students have disabilities. The rich diversity of our student body is what makes it so wonderful, but we still have equity gaps we have yet to fully close, especially for our most vulnerable students. National data indicate that my school division is not alone.

As a science professional development specialist, I work to support teachers and help expand their practice. This frequently involves building comfort with educational technology. Much of the PD I design is centered around the BSCS 5E Instructional Model. One of the technology resources we have available is Discovery Education Experience, a platform that provides access to teaching strategies and streaming media sources aligned to our curriculum. I will talk about the platform and how I combine it with 5E during my presentation at Discovery Education’s upcoming Fall VirtCon.

The 5E model was originally developed for the biological sciences. Although it nicely complements the tenets of science inquiry, it is based on principles of constructivism that apply to any academic discipline. Learning does not happen unless the learner constructs meaning, and the learner’s experiences are the construction materials. Considering equity alongside those ideas, this casts teachers as engineers of the common experiences with which they intend students to construct learning.  Here are some ways educators can combine the 5E Framework with Discovery Education resources to deepen student learning.


The 5E cycle beings with piquing students’ interest and encouraging questions. In a science classroom, a discrepant event or demonstration might be the perfect stimulus, but science teachers are not the only ones who want kids to ask “Why did that happen?” Educators from any discipline might rely on a thought-provoking quote, image, music, or video to get things going. One of my favorite options through Discovery Education is their Virtual Field Trip series. Providing students with an insider view of a place they may never otherwise go creates an opportunity to ask questions. What do I already know? What else can I learn?


If we are going to encourage students to ask questions, we need to devise ways to help them find answers. An Inquiry Chart is one of the DE Spotlight on Strategies (SOS) teaching resources. Designed to scaffold students’ investigative efforts, it also helps educators point kids down the path we ultimately need them to go by curating different sources. Ever-versatile, an I-Chart pairs well with both DE streaming media and other internet sources. Students process the information, organize their findings, document observations, and record new questions before summarizing what they have gained from each source. Students are naturally curious, and the I-Chart keeps their curiosity organized.


In the Explain stage, students rely on previous experiences, observations, and findings to demonstrate their conceptual understanding. Additional direct instruction from the teacher may provide deeper knowledge or context, but the end goal is for students to explain the concept. The DE Studio Board feature provides an easy way for teachers to deliver information for students to consume at their own pace, complete with interactive components. Similar means could be achieved with virtual assignments like a webquest and the interactive capabilities of Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams.


Modern learners require relevance, and one could easily argue that constructed knowledge is not actually relevant to the learner unless they can do something with it. The Elaborate phase extends students’ conceptual understanding and skills while challenging them to apply it to a new situation. Armed with a performance task and their own creativity, students can show what they know with a self-created DE Studio Board, or any variety of presentation tools. Why not give them a choice in how they might prove their capability of using knowledge in new ways?


Teachers should not be the only ones evaluating students. If we wish for them to develop self-efficacy, they must learn to self-evaluate. The Evaluation phase requires students to assess their own understanding and skills, while teachers evaluate students’ progress towards achieving learning objectives. An innovative way to capture student performance is through video. Platforms like Flipgrid allow teachers to assign a specific task to be recorded by students. Combining a Flipgrid video with an SOS strategy like the aptly named Act it Out provides easy avenues for educator feedback. Plus, when a student can watch their own work in action, self-assessment is inevitable. The camera doesn’t lie.

These are just a few of the ways you can combine the 5Es and digital resources to enhance teaching and learning, but don’t just take my word for it.  Join me during the upcoming 2019 VirtCon to learn more.  For the full schedule of sessions and to register for this free event, visit the Discovery Education Virtcon website.

Meghan Waymire is a Science Professional Development Specialist with Prince William County Public Schools in Manassas, Va. Meghan will present at Discovery Education’s Fall VirtCon, a free, virtual professional learning conference where educators can learn new strategies for creating dynamic digital learning environments. The event is scheduled for Saturday, October 19.


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