Integrating STEM: The 5E Model

May 26, 2022 jill Blog


By Dr. Corey Hall

Incorporating STEM into your curriculum means intentionally finding ways to bring science, technology, engineering, and math into instruction and activities. STEM integration provides opportunities for critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, and communication. It also prepares students for the future workforce.

One increasingly popular method for STEM integration is the 5E Model of Instruction. Originally designed by Dr. Rodger Bybee, the 5E model “provides a carefully planned sequence of instruction that places students at the center of learning. It encourages all students to explore, construct an understanding of scientific concepts, and relate those understandings to phenomena or engineering problems.”

Research shows that optimal learning occurs when the steps are presented in order, with sufficient time allotted for each (Fazelian, Ebrahim, & Soraghi, 2010). A full 5E unit generally takes one to two weeks, one class period per “E,” although there is room for flexibility based on the needs of your students. The model provides ample opportunity for remediation and enrichment.

  1. Engage

Activities in this stage should focus students’ attention and also engage prior knowledge. This is a good time to identify misconceptions and generate interest in the upcoming topics. Use the Engage step to present learning objectives, “I can” statements, or driving questions. Keep in mind that the point of Engage is not to present new information or correct misunderstandings; it is to prepare students for future learning.

Sample activities:

  • Provide a demonstration
  • Read a picture book or article
  • Start an anchor or KWL chart
  • Show a video clip
  • Incorporate a movement-based activity, such as a human graph
  1. Explore

In Explore, students investigate and question. They observe objects and patterns and test variables. Students are creating their own knowledge, so avoid the temptation to provide direct instruction or to correct misunderstandings. Let them try to get a sense of the material on their own. Collaboration is key in the Explore phase, as is connection, critical thinking, and sensory-motor integration.

Sample activities:

  • Laboratory investigations
  • Online simulations
  • Create models
  • Conduct preliminary research
  1. Explain

Use this stage to provide information and resources to support student learning. Students should be asking questions and listening critically, presenting their findings from the Explore step, and formulating conclusions. Provide common vocabulary and content concepts, and address misconceptions from the first two steps. Direct instruction is an option in this step, although there are many student-led activities that work well in this stage.

Sample activities:

  • Listen to podcasts
  • Read informational texts
  • Watch tutorials
  • Analyze findings
  • Complete concept maps
  1. Engineer

Now that students have a strong foundation in the concepts you are teaching, they can move on to the Engineer phase. Students apply new concepts and skills in authentic ways, with an emphasis on project-based learning. Real-world problems are the key to a successful extension activity. Engineer activities provide further time and experience that contribute to deep learning and address any continuing misconceptions.

Sample activities:

  • Investigations/explorations
  • Service-based learning opportunities
  • Debates
  • Engineering design challenges
  • Presentations
  1. Evaluate

The Evaluate step may be listed as the final E, but truly effective evaluation is an ongoing practice throughout each of the other steps. Bybee (2009) stated, “The evaluation phase encourages students to assess their understanding and abilities and provides opportunities for teachers to evaluate student progress toward achieving the educational objectives.” Both formal and informal assessment strategies should be interwoven throughout the entire unit, providing opportunities to observe student learning and offer enrichment and remediation as needed. As much as possible, provide students with opportunities to self- and peer-evaluate.

Sample activities:

  • Performance-based assessments
  • Peer-evaluations
  • Rubrics
  • Checklists
  • Portfolios
  • Journals

Dr. Corey Hall is the director of curriculum solutions at STEM Education Works, providing educational technologies, wrap-around curriculum, and professional development,