Ohio Resource Center

The Learning Cycle

A learning cycle approach is an effective strategy for bringing explorations of the natural world and scientific questioning into the classroom. A summary of research supports the conclusion that a learning cycle approach can result in greater achievement in science and improved attitudes toward science and science learning. There are five key steps to the Learning Cycle:

Engage. During this phase, teachers set up motivating conditions to initiate and sustain students’ engagement in inquiry. Teachers can use standards-based questions, demonstrations, discrepant events, and perplexing case-based or technological-design scenarios to strategically capture and channel student thinking. Teachers must also help students enter a learning cycle at multiple entry points by thoughtfully selecting and designing motivators to help students access the prescribed concepts, skills, and cognitive demands described by the Ohio Academic Content Standards, K–12 Science.

Explore. During this phase, teachers provide opportunities for students to explore and ask questions that can be tested scientifically through student-centered inquiry, including manipulating materials, making observations, and keeping appropriate records. Teachers carefully align student-centered investigative activities with the standards―placing special emphasis on the Scientific Inquiry and Scientific Ways of Knowing standards.

Explain. During this phase, teachers use guided questioning based on their observations of students doing inquiry to help students focus on uncovering the standards-based concepts and skills of the lesson. This teacher-guided process is compatible with how people learn, and helps students challenge misconceptions and develop preconceptions into more accurate conceptions, as students relate to prior experiences and learning.

Expand. During this phase, teachers help students contextualize and deepen their understanding of the concepts and skills of the lesson. This will provide real opportunities for teachers to naturally address the Ohio science standards for Scientific Ways of Knowing and Science and Technology. Teachers should be attentive to student questions, which often help expose new problems for inquiry and may be a springboard for new cycles of learning.

Assess. Teachers should assess for learning as students conduct classroom scientific inquiry. Assessment should reflect teacher expectations for substantive intellectual student work and provide opportunities to collect evidence of what students know and are able to do. Teachers should use a variety of assessment strategies, including journaling, concept maps, portfolios, authentic problem solving, and interviews, and also should provide timely feedback to help students self-monitor and clarify learning. An expected outcome of the standards-based science curriculum is student achievement of the prescribed science content.

Engage, Explore, Explain, Expand, Assess