Once you have engaged your students, there should be a natural transition into the Explore phase of the i5E Instructional model. At this point, introduce students to the driving question. The driving question, also called an overarching question, is a clear statement of the question or problem that students must either answer or find the solution to. A good driving question focuses and guides student learning throughout their investigation.
Engage and Explore will overlap to some extent and there may not be a clear delineation between both phases. Remember, all of the phases in the i5E instructional model can and often do recur throughout the learning process.
What is the purpose of Explore?
Explore is meant to be a time where students begin their research to answer or find the solution to the driving question. Students will be resourcing and synthesizing different sources of information, which may include sites on the internet, books, each other, and empirical data (such as measurements and observations). Our job as teachers is to provide student access to various information sources and empirical data while pushing students to synthesize, infer, and use this information arrive at their own ideas and conclusions. While we can help guide students through this research journey, teachers do not supply students with definitive conclusions or answers. For example, rather than telling students the definition of a vocabulary word, teachers can use a guiding question such as, “Where could you go to find the answer?”
You will want to nurture your students’ curiosity and encourage investigative conversations through a series of guiding questions without directly instructing them or leading them to solutions or conclusions. Explore is a time for students to figure out how to solve problems on their own.
What does Explore look like in the Classroom?
We mentioned the chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar lesson in our last blog, and we will continue with that example for simplicity’s sake. Once you’ve engaged the students by having them study the chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda, you can now introduce a driving question (or series of questions) such as: “What causes matter to change into a different state?”
From the engage stage, students may have mentioned the change in temperature (vinegar and baking soda is an endothermic reaction in which the substance gets cold), changes of the baking soda from solid to liquid and gas (from bubbles that form). Now, you can provide a variety of demonstrations and resources based on what you’ve learned as students observed the vinegar and baking soda. For example, you may provide students with a video, such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMUmQRgJAo0, a book on the states of matter, such as this one: https://smile.amazon.com/dp/0062381954/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_Z7XJCbEJZMJ7W, and a series of other simple demos and experiments. For example, having students sprinkle salt onto ice cubes, a demo where they observe an unopened bottle versus an opened bottle (the closed bottle will not have gas bubbles, but the opened bottle will), a scoop of ice cream that melts at room temperature, etc). Rather than having all students watch the video or read the book together, students may individually explore different information sources, then come together to discuss and synthesize from what everyone has learned.
If you want to probe further exploration, you can ask questions like:
- Describe what happened. What do you think it means?
- Why do you think this happened?
- What questions do you want to know/investigate and why?
Challenges You Might Face
As teachers, we are often trained to point things out and correct our students if they get something wrong, so stepping back from that role can feel foreign at first. Instead of pointing out what you think your students should be learning, try to focus on questions that help students voice their own discoveries. You are guiding them as they come to their own conclusion or solution, not providing the solution for them.
At this stage, students may head in the wrong direction and come to the wrong conclusions. Leave room for that in your lessons — give them time to test and discover that their proposed solution may not work. Working through flawed solutions is a big part of the scientific process. If we correct students directly, it may discourage them from continuing to explore — whereby letting students discover on their own that their solution does not work will more likely cause them to reevaluate and find other solutions.
Please check out our other blog posts for a more in-depth look at each of the 5Es: