Constructivist Teaching



When a teacher begins teaching, there are a number of concepts and theories that he/she should be thinking through and trying to incorporate into their classroom. A major theory that should be present in the classroom is that of constructivism. An article from the Journal of Baltic Science Education called “Effects of Learning Cycle Models on Science Success: A Meta-Analysis” explains how this theory of learning is useful and powerful.

Image result for constructivism

What are the main points?

If you don’t have time to read the whole article, that’s okay, not many people do. Here are the main takeaways from what they are saying.

  1. Learning cycle models for science education have a strong positive effect on the success of students as opposed to teacher-centered models.
    In 71 out of 75 studies conducted, the learning cycle model was more effective – WOW!
  2. The 5E learning model (as compared to the 4E and 7E) is the preferred learning model and includes Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.
  3. The studies carried out for 6-8 weeks had a greater effect than those from 3-5 weeks.
    This means that the more often you do this in your classroom, the more effectively the students will learn science!
  4. Students learning new information will construct their own knowledge rather than repeating verbatim what they’ve been told. They will incorporate new concepts into pre-existing knowledge and previous experience to evaluate new situations.

This may have you saying “Wow this is really convincing data! How do I incorporate this in my classroom???”

Have no fear. I will enlighten you to the 5E Learning Cycle.

Image result for learning cycle 5e

  1. Engage – Generate curiosity about a topic. Ask questions. Spark prior knowledge in students.
  2. Explore – Encourage students to work together while posing questions to see what knowledge they already have. Let them investigate the topic on their own to build connections.
  3. Explain – Have students explain the concepts in their own words and using their own definitions. Use the students’ experiences as the basis for learning new concepts and incorporating knowledge.
  4. Elaborate – Allow students to extend the concepts past where you have previously taken them and apply it to new situations. Encourage more questions.
  5. Evaluate – Assess the student’s knowledge and that they have grown in learning. Ask open-ended questions to see the depth of what they have learned.

This short video does a good job explaining what the learning cycle entails:

What is an example of this in the classroom?

In teaching a chemistry class, the learning cycle could go as follows:

Engage – do a science experiment like baking soda and vinegar to show the students that something cool is happening and connect to what they already know. Ask questions.

Explore – provide the students with other substances to let them experiment and see what happens when they are combined (obviously, ensure nothing harmful can be mixed with these substances). Continue asking questions about what they are doing and observing.

Explain – Have a class discussion to try to come up with an explanation or definition of an exothermic reaction. Make sure this is a class derived definition.

Elaborate – Allow students to research what other chemical reactions are occurring in their world every day and come up with some ideas to test. Allow them to test them, assuming safety.

Evaluate – Have students explain in a written form what an exothermic reaction is and why it is reacting this way. This can be in a presentation with fun examples in groups or individually.

Image result for exothermic reaction


Yaman, S., & Karasah, S. (2018). The Effects of Learning Cycle Models on Science Success: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Baltic Science Education, 17(1), 65-83. Retrieved October 10, 2018, from


  1. Peter,
    The statistics definitely do not lie! I think the reason it was 71/75 and not higher was that they were using either 7E or 4E models and not the 5E and those were shown to be not as effective. But still, 71/75 is pretty high. I’m trying to think of a time when this was used for me and I’m honestly not totally sure if they were using constructivism, but most of my labs in biology were set up for us to discover something cool by ourselves. It was almost like we skipped the engage step (or maybe he did but I can’t remember) and dove right into what we were learning and then talked about it after. I remember liking his class so much more than any of my other classes because it was so hands-on and interesting.

  2. Kacey,
    Thanks so much! I’m trying to use more chemistry concepts because I’m Life/Chemistry but I usually focus my topics around biology and I need to expand my repertoire. Also, yes I really think that if you know how your students learn best, they will want to learn and you’ll be doing everyone a favor by making instruction as interesting and engaging as possible.

  3. Wyatt,
    Thanks! One of the reactions like I used for the engage could be baking soda and vinegar. Another one could be like Bailey’s demo with the elephant toothpaste. I also remember using the calorimeter in high school to measure heat but this could also be used to solidify the concept of an exothermic reaction. Another example could be as simple as lighting a match or candle. Thanks again 🙂

  4. Margaux,
    I loved your article! It’s super pertinent to our demonstrations and I love how nice your blog looks too! What chemical reactions do you recommend doing with students just as a follow up to your blog?

  5. Margaux,
    Overall great post! I like how your organized it with the main points of constructivism then went into the 5 E’s. Your video also helped at breaking it down even further. I also really liked your learning cycle for the chemistry classroom because my focus isn’t in chemistry but it’s cool to see how you can design learning cycles around those topics. I agree with your tweet as well; it really gets the point across!

  6. Margaux, Thanks for your post! I think you did a good job of outlining what a 5e learning cycle might look like. The data you presented on the efficacy of the learning cycle was pretty significant as well. I would have guessed that it was more effective but 71 out of 75 is pretty great. Do you have any particular memories of teachers trying this approach? Did it feel very different than normal?

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