Using the 5E Instructional Model to
View Geospatial Technology Use in K-12 Classrooms

Curtis P. Nielsen

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The 5E Instructional Model, developed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, provides a useful framework for designing, developing, and implementing lesson plans and curriculum materials. Further, the 5E Instructional Model is well grounded in the research of instructional theorists and provides a framework for which to build knowledge and skills in the next generation of problem solvers. The author uses this model as a framework for investigating content and pedagogy of geospatial technology (GST) instruction in K-12 classrooms. Exemplary lessons using GST are provided to highlight each of the 5 sequential 5E phases and to show the cross-curricular nature of GST against a backdrop of the national science standards. Currently the use of GST in K-12 curricula is limited, while the use of GST in business and in the lives of people worldwide continues to expand. Accordingly, the author contends that the influence of the 5E Instructional Model on supporting the logical progression of learning can be harnessed to assist in closing the gap between societal use of GST and instruction with GST in K-12 schools.

Keywords: geospatial technologies, GST, 5E instructional model, K-12, instructional theory


Using the 5E Instructional Model to View Geospatial Technology Use in K-12 Classrooms


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Informed by contemporary research on student learning, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) developed the 5E Instructional Model—hereafter referred to as the BSCS 5E Model—to serve as a driver of learning and innovation in classrooms across the nation. The BSCS 5E Model has five successive phases with unique instructional emphases: engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation. Together, these five phases comprise an instructional sequence that encourages students to work through problem-solving situations as actively engaged learners. This model provides a useful framework for designing, developing, and implementing lesson plans and curriculum materials. Thus, it is the author’s contention that this framework could be useful for investigating an area in need of research: content and pedagogy of geospatial technology (GST) instruction in K-12 classrooms. This article uses the BSCS 5E Model to reveal how GST can be incorporated into K-12 curricula. The importance of this technology is underscored with five exemplary lessons, each developed with the aim of accentuating one of the five phases of the BSCS 5E Model.

GST is “an information technology field of practice that acquires, manages, interprets, integrates, displays, analyzes, or otherwise uses data focusing on the graphic, temporal, and spatial context” (National Research Council, 2006). GST includes three distinct branches of technology that all relate to mapping, measuring, and analyzing phenomena that occur on Earth: geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), and remote sensing (RS). Each GST branch has unique applications for various spatial contexts and can function independently or in concert to reveal more in-depth spatial relationships. The ultimate use of GST revolves around problem solving within contexts of spatial orientation.

The demand for persons with geospatial skills has grown rapidly in the 21st century. This unprecedented growth of GST in recent years suggests a need for educational institutions to incorporate this emergent technology in the curricula of K-12 classrooms across the country. The United States Department of Labor Statistics (2006) predicted strong growth of GST by 2014. In the 2006 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Bureau of Labor Statistics foreshadowed a growth rate of slightly higher than 50% from 2004 to 2014, specifically in the Network Systems and Data Communication Analysts category. These auspicious predictions about the eminent growth rate for GST, coupled with an estimated 600% market increase (5 to 30 billion) from 2002 to 2005, provide an optimistic outlook for jobs in the field of GST.

Kerski (2003) asserted that schools lag behind society in the use of GST, stating that “the state of the art is far beyond the state of practice. . . . Only three percent of schools in the United States are effectively integrating technology into all aspects of their educational programs” (p. 129). However, GST is capable of being infused into science curricula, allowing students to view myriad topics such as wetlands, forests, sedimentation, weather, pollution, and radon levels. Curriculum reform involving GST at the K-12 level may fundamentally change students’ spatial thinking and problem solving abilities—leading to and resulting from increased provision of opportunities to solve “real-world” problems.

The National Research Council (NRC; 2006) supported the inclusion of GST in K-12 education. In a recent report, the NRC (2006) indicated that flexibility, spatial thinking, and a skillset commensurate with lifelong learning are key proficiencies that K-12 graduates must possess. The demands for workers with these proficiencies, especially spatial thinking skills, are central to the current focus on and importance of information technology (IT). The escalating use of GST in society, NRC’s (2006) call for an inclusion of related competencies, and the optimistic outlook furnished by the United States Department of Labor all signal the potential benefits of incorporating GST in K-12 classrooms across the nation.

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Meridian: A K-12 School Computer Technologies Journal
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Volume 13, Issue 2, 2011
ISSN 1097-9778
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