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Preservice Science Teachers Practice Teaching Online through 4E Instructional Model

Journal of College Science Teaching—September/October 2021 (Volume 51, Issue 1)

By Ozden Sengul

This article is prepared as part of a “Practice Teaching in Science” course of a teacher education program aiming for developing prospective science teachers’ teaching through inquiry-based instruction involving practices of science and active learning strategies. During the semester, student teachers are required to prepare four 50-minute lesson plans on different topics. The author, a teacher educator, explains how to plan and implement science lessons virtually through the 4E instructional model: engagement, exploration, explanation, and evaluation.


Instructional models, in general, provide curricular and pedagogical guidance to plan and enact the inquiry-based learning that keeps students engaged and active in a science lesson. Previous research shows that the 5E instructional model is successful in integrating cooperative learning, challenging students’ misconceptions, and facilitating the reconstruction of scientific conceptions through formative assessment tasks that enhance students’ involvement and critical thinking (Bybee, 2014). The 5E model is expanded to the 7E model by Eisenkraft (2003) to ensure the elicitation of prior understanding and the extension or transfer of concepts into real-life contexts. However, the 5E and 7E instructional models require more than three hours to implement the whole learning cycle, and science teachers need to modify the 5E and 7E instructional sequences for shorter lesson periods (Sengul & Schwartz, 2020). This article proposes a 4E instructional model for a one-hour online science class in a middle school science classroom on static electricity and provides suggestions for integrating the practices of science.

The learning cycle

A Framework for K–12 Science Education states “knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences” (National Research Council [NRC], 2012, p. 11). To achieve this goal, science teaching should engage learners in the scientists’ practices, in which they can construct and retain science knowledge based on evidence through being actively involved in asking questions, collecting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and communicating results rather than passively listening to the teacher (NGSS Lead States, 2013; Walston & Raje, 2018). Science teaching should also help students appreciate the nature and value of science to determine science-related problems in real-life contexts and design solutions to enhance scientific literacy (Ford, 2015; NRC, 2012).

Science teachers are encouraged to integrate the practices of science into instructional models to organize teaching and learning. Teachers should be supported to use instructional resources that can guide teachers to probe prior knowledge, identify learning difficulties, develop scientific questioning, and enhance motivation (Marshall et al., 2009). Teachers can engage in a dynamic relationship with the instructional models that can be used in different ways: they can follow the instructions on the instructional sequences with strict fidelity or they change certain aspects based on their beliefs, interpretations, students’ needs, and contextual factors (Davis et al., 2016). Some teachers are reluctant to make adaptations since they believe that they do not have authority to change the teaching instructions on the materials (Schwarz et al., 2008) or they make unproductive modifications that do not reflect the goals of the learning cycles (Schneider et al., 2005). Science teacher educators aim to train science teachers to develop constructivist approaches to teach science; but teachers tend to enact teacher-centered instruction due to their previous experiences, their students’ ability, testing and standards, timing, and classroom management issues (Sengul, 2018; Gunckel, 2011).

The 5E instructional model is a learning sequence including “Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, Evaluation” phases within the laboratory activities (Bybee et al., 2006). The 5E learning cycle evolved from other learning models such as the Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) (Atkin & Karplus, 1962). The model addresses the social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978) that supports students’ meaning making through collaboration. The 5E cycle helps teachers uncover their ideas, explore the concepts being introduced through small activities, discover explanations for the concepts they are learning, elaborate on what they have learned by applying their knowledge to new situations, and use appropriate assessments for evaluating students’ understanding (Bybee et al., 2006). The 5E cycle requires a minimum of three classroom hours to complete an investigation activity (Sengul & Schwartz, 2020). Additionally, Eisenkraft (2003) expanded the 5E model to a 7E model to emphasize the significance of eliciting prior understanding. The proposed 7E model replaced the “Engage” phase with “Elicit” and “Engage” and expanded “Elaborate” and “Evaluate” into three components- “Elaborate,” “Evaluate,” and “Extend.” The “Elicit” phase aims to uncover students’ prior knowledge, and the “Extend” phase aims to give students the opportunity to practice their transfer of learning to a new context (Eisenkraft, 2003). However, teachers often find the 5E and 7E instructional models difficult to implement for short classroom periods (Marshall et al., 2009). They need to modify the existing learning sequences to effectively integrate inquiry-based learning strategies in a one-hour class period.

This lesson is designed to help preservice science teachers plan 50-minute science lessons for the fourth-year online internship course. Normally, for the internship experience, student teachers are required to practice teaching, observe their mentor teachers, and interact with students and school administration. Student teachers are required to spend 12 hours per week in the assigned schools, and they must teach four 50-minute separate science topics in a semester. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis in Spring 2020, universities and schools began teaching in the virtual environment, and preservice teachers were not able to follow the online courses in the middle schools. To address the internship requirements, a teacher educator designed this online course where student teachers prepared four separate 50-minute lesson plans on different topics, presented their lessons for 15- or 20-minute periods, and got constructive feedback from the science teacher educator and their peers. The teacher educator aims to allow preservice science teachers to plan and enact lesson plans for 50-minute period lessons through the 4E learning cycle. Table 1 (modified from Bybee et al., 2006) summarizes the 4E instructional model: Engage, Explore, Explain, and Evaluate.

This article presents a sample 4E learning cycle designed for an eighth-grade science lesson on static electricity. The learning goals for this lesson are to help eighth-grade students explore electrostatic interactions to explain how the neutral objects can be charged positively or negatively and detect the charge of an object by electroscope. Before this lesson, students should learn the type of the charges as positive electric charges (protons) and negative electric charges (electrons) in seventh grade, and the types of interactions as friction and induction in earlier lessons in eighth grade.

The 4E lesson

Engage (8 minutes). The teacher starts the lesson by showing a balloon and asking the question, “How can I stick the balloon to the wall without using any type of glue?” This question aims to elicit and activate students’ prior knowledge. Students are expected to provide the following answers, “We can rub the balloon to our sweater or hair to make it charged, then stick it to the wall.” If students are not able to answer, the teacher can ask additional questions such as, “How can these objects attract or repel each other? How does it stick to the wall?” The expected answer is, “They are charged through electrostatic interactions such as friction and induction.” The teacher can show demonstrations by rubbing the balloon to his or her sweater or hair to make the balloon charged, then stick it to a wall or your hair (see Figure 1). After a small demonstration, the teacher may ask further questions such as, “Which type of interaction is it?” Students are expected to answer “charging by friction” by recalling their prior knowledge.

Figure 1
Electrification by friction.

Electrification by friction.

Explore (20 minutes). In the exploration part, the teacher checks students’ misconceptions about the movement of different types of charges by asking questions about the structure of atoms. The teacher asks students to think about the structure of an atom, Let’s remember what we have learned about atomic structure. Where are the electrons, neutrons, and protons in an atom? Which one leaves the atom easily?” Students are expected to use Figure 2 to explain the atomic structure of an atom (such as a helium atom), referring to the types of charges and their location. Then, the teacher asks students, “What does neutral mean? How can we charge a neutral object?” These questions aim to eliminate two common misconceptions: (1) Protons (positive charges) leave the atom easily rather than electrons (negative charges), (2) Neutral means there is no charge on objects (Knight, 2014). After addressing the common misconceptions, the teacher asks, “How can we classify the objects according to the type of charges?” Students are expected to say, “Negatively, positively charged objects, and neutral objects.” Then, the teacher states, “We know that charged objects are classified as negative, positive, and neutral; but how can we know what type of charge an object carries?” The teacher also asks students to use the PhET simulation (see Resources) to describe and draw models for “static electricity” including transfer of charge, induction, attraction, and repulsion. Students are asked the following questions: “Which types of charges are a sweater and a balloon charged before they are brought next to each other? What happens if the sweater and balloon are rubbed against each other? What happens if the sweater and balloon are separated after they are rubbed?”

Figure 2
Diagram of an atom.

Diagram of an atom.

In the simulation, before the sweater and balloon are rubbed against each other, the sweater and balloon must have overall neutral charge. Figure 3 represents the questions and expected student responses for the activity in the exploration section. By the first question, the teacher aims to teach that neutral objects include equal amounts of positive and negative charges; the teacher aims to address a student misconception that neutral means no charge on the objects. In the second question, students observe that the negative charges move from the sweater to the balloon. The teacher aims to address student prior ideas that protons (positive charges) move rather than electrons (negative charges). To help students recall the previous discussions, the teacher asks similar questions such as, “What is the structure of an atom? Where are the electrons, neutrons, and protons in the atom? Which of the electrons, neutrons, and protons leaves the atom easily?” In the third question, students discuss what happens if the sweater and the balloon are separated: they can classify that the sweater is charged positively, and the balloon is charged negatively.

Figure 3
Which charge will be on my sweater?

Which charge will be on my sweater?

Explain (15 minutes). In the explanation phase, the teacher shows a picture of an electroscope (Figure 4), and asks, “Do you know about this tool?” If students are not able to answer, the teacher can say that it is an instrument called an electroscope used to identify the presence and type of charge on an object. The teacher presents the parts of the electroscope as a metal plate, a metal rod, metal leaves, and an insulator stand (Figure 4). The teacher explains that when a charged object is touched or brought up to the metal plate, the metal plate spreads the charges to the leaves through a metal rod in between. Then, the teacher asks, “After the charged object is touched to the neutral electroscope, are the metal leaves of the electroscope closed or open? Why do you think they are closed or open?” Students are expected to state that the leaves are closed initially because the leaves are neutral, including an equal amount of positive and negative charges. After the charged object is touched, the metal leaves open because the electroscope is charged, and like charges on metal leaves repel each other. The teacher asks a further question, “How can we determine the type of charge of an object when we bring it closer to the neutral electroscope?” The teacher shows a video (see resources) on electroscopes and gives a worksheet to complete. Students are encouraged to think about the following questions: “What happens when we bring a blue or red ball near to the neutral electroscope? Are the metal leaves closed or open?” Students complete the questions on the worksheet, and the expected answers are provided in red on Table 2.

Evaluation (7 minutes). After the explanation phase, the teacher asks, “What happens if positively or negatively charged rods come closer or are touched to the neutral electroscope? Please complete the following puzzle.” Figure 5 represents the electroscope and puzzle materials, and students are expected to show the charge distribution on three cases: Case-1, a neutral electroscope; Case-2, when a positive rod comes closer to the neutral electroscope; and Case-3, when a negative rod is touched to the neutral electroscope. Figure 5 also explains how the charge distribution of metal plates and metal leaves of a neutral electroscope changes when a positively or negatively charged rod comes closer or is touched to the electroscope.

Figure 4
An electroscope.

An electroscope.


Using instructional models helps to integrate student-centered approaches in science classrooms and enhance students’ experimental abilities, understanding of science concepts, and knowledge of nature and values of science. Studies indicated the significance of the 5E instructional model to enhance students’ conceptual understanding, scientific reasoning, and positive attitudes toward science (Bybee et al., 2006). However, the 5E model requires two to four classroom hours to complete a lesson plan (Sengul & Schwartz, 2020). This article uses the modified version of 5E model as 4E model including “Engage, Explore, Explain, and Evaluate” phases to help pre-science teachers practice teaching in an online internship course during the COVID-19 crisis. In this 4E lesson, the learning sequence aims to teach static electricity using an online simulation to make observations and collect data. This lesson aims to integrate scientific practices and aspects of nature of science as part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013). The lesson connections to the NGSS are presented in Table 3. The engagement part elicits students’ prior knowledge with open-ended questions to increase students’ attention. The exploration part aims to develop students’ conceptual understanding through engaging in active learning experiences via experiments, activities, and discussions in groups. In the exploration part, students conduct observations through a simulation to develop models of electrical interactions. In the explanation part, the teacher summarizes the topic briefly by showing evidence from the experiment and an online video, and students construct explanations based on the observations consistent with the scientific principles. In the evaluation part, students complete a puzzle, which reports their understanding of the topic. This 4E cycle can enable preservice teachers to prepare lesson plans for short and online lessons through addressing the scientific practices (e.g., developing and using models, planning, and carrying out investigations, and constructing explanations).

Figure 5
Electroscope puzzle for evaluation phase.

Electroscope puzzle for evaluation phase.

Online Resources

Animations for Physics and Astronomy. (2017). Charge detection with an electroscope [Video]. YouTube.

PhET Interactive Simulations. Balloons and static electricity.

Ozden Sengul ( is an assistant professor in science and physics education in Istanbul, Turkey.


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5E Instructional Materials Pedagogy Research Teacher Preparation

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