Lesson Planning and the Learning Cycle

By Amy Perry

Writing a lesson plan is sometimes a daunting task. How does one include every part that is essential to learning all within one lesson? It is valuable and vital to have ways that we can scaffold students to think through the five E’s of the learning cycle—engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. These are ways that the students can connect the process of science with the content and nature of science. The learning cycle is important to help students think beyond the simple activity to something much more—the nature of science. How does this actually work? How does it work in the real world? What other things does this apply to? These are all questions that need to be thought through in order for students to really grasp a concept.

Considering that many lesson plans have been written at this point in my education I have learned that many things do not go as planned. It is so important to have thought through the process along with the process and nature of science that is happening in the classroom. Thinking these things through and putting them in a document like the CoRe document is extremely helpful. I am a big believer in the fact that good planning allows one to be flexible. Planning well for my lesson on electricity was the first step to success.

Thinking through the engaging, exploring, explaining, elaborating, and evaluating was really helpful as I was teaching my lesson. Being thrown into a situation where I did not know how far the kids had gotten in the last lesson, did not know what resources would be available to me, amongst other challenges, I found it helpful that I had thought through the learning cycle. I had a whole different lesson planned than the one that I actually ended up teaching, but simply because of the fact that I had thought through different ways to get the students engaged allowed the lesson to start off well.

Starting a lesson well is a way to get the students hooked. It is important to grab their attention and use that to launch a lesson. Allowing the students to explore is helpful because they can look for the content of science amidst the process and they are aware that is happening. The students in this classroom began by exploring different things that would be good conductors and insulators around the classroom. They walked around the room and had to think outside of the box to recognize that some materials can be used for several purposes, this being one of them.

Explanation is something that most students struggle with. Focusing on this is a gain for both students and teachers because they have to think through why science makes sense in this experience. “How and why does this actually work?” is a question that needs to be answered. After the students had explored different materials that would work for conducting and insulating electricity, the class came back together and discussed. Explanations were given as to why fabric would be a bad insulator and rubber could be a good insulator as well as why water was a conductor and a wooden piece of furniture was not.

Elaborating is important because students need to know beyond the simple activity that was done in class. The elaboration is helpful to think through as a teacher so we can scaffold these experiences and allow the students to think beyond the process and into most of the content and nature of science. A discussion that the students were able to inquire about with each other was “why would it be a bad idea to throw your television into a lake?”, and “how come do the lifeguards blow the whistle to get out of the water in a lightning storm?”.

Finally, evaluating is most important for a teacher because it allows data to be gathered and progress to be assessed. It is important to know whether it is okay to move on or not yet. Having the students write in their journals what they learned about conductors and insulators was valuable for me as a teacher. Not only did I begin to understand that they were only starting to understand the value of each of these pieces, I understood that they did not know how to communicate their value. This showed me as a teacher that there were still questions needing to be answered. The evaluation was beneficial to me because I could plan where to lead the next lesson based on that.

Analyzing the lesson with these five E’s of the learning cycle in mind was extremely helpful. Not only did it allow me to be more effective as a teacher when I taught this lesson, it also allowed me to think through these questions for myself. Putting myself in the students’ position is always a thought in my head. “How would I receive this knowledge?” is a question I appreciate asking myself as a teacher. This frequently changes the way that I am teaching.

Processing through the five E’s of the learning cycle was important because it created a level of flexibility in my lesson that I would not have had otherwise. It forced me to think of the concept beyond what I had done initially because I had to think of how the students would explore and elaborate. I also had to process through how I would evaluate them based on the lesson. It is so easy to evaluate using the concept as a whole rather than just a lesson, but lesson by lesson assessing is just as important.

The CoRe document provided scaffolding to me as a student that was helpful. There were things to think through, and ask myself before I even took this lesson to the classroom. Analyzing the lesson using the core document was helpful because I recognized several things that did not tie together and were not part of the 5 E’s that I could take out and things that I came up with that could be put in part of the 5 E’s that would be helpful as a student.

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