A recent #SciTeachJC was spent discussing a paper extolling the virtues of the 5Es. It’s also known as the 7Es, slightly confusingly, and many teachers will be familiar with the process if not the vocabulary. It was pointed out during the session that both CASE and Wikid follow some similar principles. I thought that as it’s the season for (re)writing schemes of work, that it would perhaps be useful to put together a quick ‘how to’ guide. Linked resources are going to be mostly science-related, so apologies to teachers of other subjects.
If, of course, you are involved with York Science you may already be using this approach! If you’re not, I strongly recommend you check it out – I would still be contributing if I had time, but I’ve managed to over-commit myself with all kinds of teaching-related stuff. Oops.
Anyway, the 5/7Es. The original version, as put together by an American curriculum development group, started with the backward design concept. They identified five useful stages for a lesson which contributed to effective learning. These – or the overlapping seven Es, if you prefer – can be used as a checklist for a scheme or lesson which works. Here’s my interpretation of it, apologies for any misunderstandings/oversimplifications (and please comment to identify my mistakes!). Ideally we as teachers should start at the end, asking ourselves the question:
How will my students demonstrate to me and themselves that they understand this idea?
EDIT: A simplified, quick-reference version of this quick-reference post is now available in a single page pdf – Hope it’s useful!
Engage (and Elicit)
Get their attention and find out what they know. This will mean in some way making it relevant to them. Invoke curiousity, excitement, wonder. Make them feel as well as intellectually recognise the relevance. It will often mean identifying pre- or mis-conceptions. This will probably be your lesson starter, perhaps in the twin stages of setting the scene and gauging their current level of understanding.
- video clip, perhaps from BBC Class Clips or similar.
- quick demo, ideally one with a surprising outcome (eg dropping a nearly empty and a full water balloon from the window to test the ‘heavier objects fall faster’ assumption).
- This is the equipment, what might we be doing today?
- This is a scientist who did this experiment, what might have been his/her reasoning?
- Label the apparatus and identify the control variables.
- Two minute discussion of how X idea links to Y (mobile phone, internet, what they had for lunch…)
- Surprising statement to make them question something (eg diagram of atom labelled ‘This is a lie’)
- Unusual prop (radioactive rock, rusty nail or a brick with a piece of string attached for them to prove isn’t ‘alive’)
- Question and three answers for them to grade as Good, Okay and Wrong, then justify choices and/or correct mistakes.
I’m in the process of putting together a powerpoint for these starters to cover every topic in KS3. It’s ongoing, for obvious reasons, but by adding a bit a week I’m making something with a variety of activities that wil be there as a back-up. It’ll stop me having to invent a question on the spur of the moment
The ideal method for students to learn science is by discovery, right? Hmm. Well, I’m not disagreeing – but it’s very important to remember that we need to give our classes just the right conditions so that they ‘discover’ the right things. If you doubt what I’m saying, think about the times you’ve had to finish a practical with “And what was supposed to happen was…”
Nevertheless, all good science teachers will try to make sure that as much as possible, students are exposed to real-life situations which demonstrate or illustrate scientific principles or facts. Of course they can’t ‘see’ everything with their own eyes during their own practicals. But we give them tasks which allow them to explore the ideas, with as much ‘hands-on, minds-on’ activities as possible:
- designing and carrying out their own investigations
- taking part in demonstrations
- considering hypothetical situations (thought experiments)
- discussing advantages and disadvantages of methods or technologies
- observing the natural world
- describing events and experimental results
- drawing conclusions from recorded material, whether sample data, industrial processes or BBC documentary footage
Our role is to help them put these facts into a useful context. As much as possible, we should not be giving them answers – instead, we give them the language to describe what they have found out. This might be the literal words, such as current or evaporation. It might be more figurative, helping them to turn the patterns they have identified into clear mathematical relationships. This is scaffolding, supporting the students – who will demonstrate a wide range of understanding in most classrooms – to turn facts into knowledge. We relate it back to previous lessons or topics, hopefully drawing these connections from them whenever possible by the questions we ask and the reminders we offer. We may reword their ideas to produce a ‘class definition’, or have particular students share their explanations (which we have discreetly checked while they’ve been exploring).
Using the constructed understanding – a synthesis of what they have explored, put in the context and language of our explanations – students check that they grasp the concepts. This may consist of straightforward exercises, or more open questions. It could be something more imaginative – to explain their ideas in a podcast or video, or produce a poster summing up the main points. To challenge them this should include parallel examples which require them to base their examples on concepts, not just words or mathematical methods. During this time some will realise that they don’t understand it as well as they thought, and will (or should) ask for help. You may use the 4Bs method here to encourage independant problem solving, or have some students assigned as mentors. Further explanations may be needed and sometimes you may have to pause their work to give more examples to some or all of them.
Homework can be an effective way to continue this checking, but if they have not been able to identify difficulties with you there thay may hand in a blank sheet of paper. This is where encouraging self-assessment and being clear about feedback in terms of steps to progress, rather than scores, is essential.
In many ways this should be the focus of the lesson (or series of lessons, more often). Students should be able to describe their progress, and tell you how they can measure their improvement. A ‘split-screen’ plenary where they can comment on both content and methods means that they start to consider how they progressed, not just whether they did. I find it useful to have them grade themselves in terms of confidence and competence – the latter based on data. This can be particularly powerful if they started the lesson with a similar self-assessment, so can articulate their progress. This automatically tells them what they need to do next, setting themselves targets for further lessons.