81: Listener Question: More About the Explore Phase

May 3, 2021

This week, Nicole and Erin answer a listener question from Michelle in Washington. Michelle asked, “I would love to know more about how students go through the explore phase. How do you find activities for the students? How do you progress monitor?” She also asks, “how long is an explore phase?”. Listen to this episode to get the answers to these questions.

What is the Explore Phase?

During the Explore phase, students figure out the content. Often, students use the Science and Engineering Practices to make sense of phenomena in this phase.

This phase is often associated with the 5E Model. However, it is part of most instructional models and programs associated with NGSS have some type of exploration. Actually, the idea of exploration came from the constructivist learning theory.

Student-driven learning allows students to develop content knowledge through exploration. This type of learning is different than the teaching-as-telling approach that we are more familiar with. In this approach, the teacher provides students with information and activities.

White text on a blue background that says "exploration levels the playing field".  -Nicole VanTassel

Exploration levels the playing field.

More often than not, our students don’t come to class with the same background knowledge. Exploration provides students with an experience that they can draw from. In that sense, exploration activities provide a more equitable learning environment for students.

How do you create activities for the explore phase?

Nicole recommends starting with content objectives. Then, determine which SEP will lead students to that objective.

For example, Nicole discusses the example of the relationships between the snowy owl and lemming. Students use the practice of analyzing and interpreting data while looking at graphs that show both populations. From there, Crosscutting Concepts can be added to improve student understanding of the concept.

Text: Tips for the explore phase
- Pair one exploration activity with each content objective. 
-Monitor progress through conversations with students.
- Don't expect students to have the "right answer" at the end of this phase.

How long does the exploration phase last?

It depends. Sometimes the explore phase is a short activity that only takes a couple of minutes. Sometimes it will take a couple of days. Or, students might collect data over a period of several days. It depends on the purpose of the activity.

Also, it’s important to include an exploration activity for each objective. The exploration helps students meet the objective. Once the objective is met, present another exploration activity.

How do you progress monitor during the explore phase?

It’s possible to do progress monitoring by having conversations with your students. However, for reasons such as large classes, it may be difficult to monitor your students this way.

Provide your students with a graphic organizer or questions to complete during the activity. Also, Nicole suggests starting with pace for observations and questions. The, as students progress, the questions can be more targeted and pointed to target objectives.

Erin suggests collecting graphic organizers and focusing on one specific target. Then, she provides feedback or asks a question to clarify their understanding. Also, Erin likes to use exit ticket to monitor student understanding. This provides a quick glimpse into what students are understanding without creating a lot of extra grading.

Nicole explains that we shouldn’t expect our students to have the “right answer” at the end of this phase. After students have a change to explore, give them a chance to explain. They, help them to clarify their answers.

Problems with the Explore Phase

Nicole explains that this phase should have more meaning that simply allowing students to work independently. Often, she sees explore style activities where students are given answer through text or video. Or, the activities don’t allow students to work with the practices.

Get more information to help you with your lesson sequences.