Kindergarten Lessons Ain’t What They Use To Be

Finger painting and building blocks were the staples of Baby Boomer’s kindergarten classrooms across the US throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. But if you visit a kindergarten classroom in Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Chicago in 2016, you will find a much different environment, pedagogy and curriculum for our current 5-6 year old children. Teachers can tell their Generation Z students, “this is NOT your grandparent’s kindergarten” as they hand out Apple iPads and deliver their science lesson using a 5-E lesson plan format.

All lesson plans start with the lesson’s objectives. Each objective begins with a SWBAT –students will be able to. Please take 1 minutes to watch this video about SWBAT:

Phase I of the 5-E lesson plan. At the beginning of the lesson the teacher will supply an initial question or set of clues for students. These questions are designed to engage (first E) the students.  The goal of the engagement phase is to capture the students’ interest and stimulate the content knowledge developed during previous lessons (prior knowledge). Many schools use a buzz phrase for the beginning of the science lesson such as “bell work” or “a do now”. This phase may include a graphic organizer including a KWL Chart (What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned). The engagement may also be a video. If the lesson is about physics, the teacher could show a short video of a race car skidding to a halt and then have the students discuss the speed of the race car and the length of the skid marks.  This phase should be a peek into the content that will be delivered during the rest of the lesson.

Howard Gardener’s definition of intelligence uses 3 primary and overarching categories:

  1. ability to create an effective product or service that is valued in a culture
  2. set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life
  3. the potential for finding or creating solutions to problems, which involves gathering new knowledge

The next two phases of the 5 E Lesson Plan are Explore and Explain. During these two phases, students will be asked to use and expand their intelligence to identify and develop concepts, processes and skills. During the 2nd E (Explore) Phase students are required to actively explore their environments and manipulate materials. They will then connect the dots from Exploring to learning the lesson plans concepts. The teacher will give the students different opportunities to verbalize the lesson’s concepts and demonstrate the new behaviors and skills. Teachers will often rely on different methods to help students retain the information such as word charts, think-pair-share or graphic organizers. The 3rd E (Explain) Phase should include intentional play which will allow children to develop self-regulatory skills, supports communication and fosters collaborative learning.

The 5-E Lesson Plan uses a constructivist approach. Constructivism is a learning strategy that was developed by Jean Piaget and become popular during the 1960s. The constructivist method or approach allows students to synthesize new understanding from prior knowledge and helps students build on the past to develop new information.

The first 3 phases of the 5-E Lesson Plan (Engage, Explore, and Explain) prepare the students for phase 4 – Elaborate. In this stage of the 5 E’s students will expand their conceptual understanding of the content of the lesson. They should develop a deeper understanding of the information. The methods used to provide the avenues for delving deeper should include allowing the students to practice skills and behaviors.

Practicing skills should involve collaborative learning and problem-solving. Collaborative learning is supported by the Theory of Social Constructivism. This theory which is attributed to Lev Vygotsky (1978), emphasizes the importance of the collaborative nature of learning and that all cognitive functions are believed to originate in and are explained as products of social interactions. Students should be encouraged to engage in open-ended discussions with peers and teachers about such things as meaning of terms and procedures, relationship among ideas, and the applications of knowledge to specific contexts (Snowman & McCown, 2013). Problem-based learning (PBL) provides the opportunities for interacting with the content material that emphasize critical thinking skills and not just listening to a lecture. Research has shown that PBL allows students to form a better conceptual understanding and transfer their learning to other situations (Yadav, Lundeberg, Bunting & Subedi, 2011).

Evaluate is the last phase of the 5-E Lesson Plan. This phase encourages students to assess their understanding and abilities. Students are asked to recognize the key concepts of the lesson and show what skills they developed as part of the lesson. The evaluation should include feedback on the student’s strength and needs.

Each 5-E lesson that a teacher delivers is an opportunity to have the students transform to a higher level. The changes to the students include improved overall achievement toward mastery of the content and increased skills development.