The Learning Cycle as an instructional methodolgy, theory or model


After the Soviet Union launches the Sputnik satellite, scientists in the United States conclude the quality of science instruction in the United States needs to be improved. Robert Karplus, is among them.

He believes to do so, we must better understand the process of how children and adolescents learn and use that knowledge to design and implement a science curriculum to raise the level of science achievement in the United States.

His studies result in the learning cycle, an active instructional model, which he uses in the curriculum, Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) he designs to improve science elementary classrooms.

The learning cycle has widespread applicability and has been used as an instructional methodology in science, mathematics, language arts, social studies, and other content areas. It is an example of a general teaching model.

Book cover

Supporting research

Fifty years after Karplus uses the learning cycle methodology in his curriculum, a Universal design for learning (UDL) framework is created.

Review the framework and see how this learning cycle and a general planning framework meet the characteristics of this current UDL framework.

  • Humans learn best when they are active (not passive) and engaged (not distracted), when material to be learned is meaningful (not disjointed), and when it occurs in a socially interactive context that is iterative (not merely repetitive) and fun.
  • Children’s learning and achievement are tied to their executive functioning, a collection of cognitive skills that develop across childhood and support a wide range of goal directed behaviors, including planning ahead, focusing Amin distractors, adaptively shifting from one activity to another, and inhibiting impulses.
  • Physically active learning supports the ability to discover patterns, see structure in the objects and world around them, generate creative ideas, and construct mental models to explain how the physical world works.
  • Learner’s perceptions of their learning often lead to inaccurate perceptions of learning more than they actually do when listening to interesting lectures than when involved in active learning cycle experiences with cognitive dissonance. This mismatch between actual learning and the feeling of learning must be addressed by teachers and learners to accurately understand the depth and applicability of their learning.
  • Learning gaps between learners in different groups (racial and social economic) are smaller with active learning compared to classes with mostly lecture.
  • Active learning increases interactions among learners and between learners and teachers.
  • These interactions create more stress than interactions in a lecture based class. However, low stress motivates and improves learning, while high stress can decrease learning. Stress in active learning environments can be reduced with practices and strategies that increase collaboration, provide problem solving problems before high stakes assessment, discussing the benefits of taking safe risks, learning from mistakes, minimize negative evaluation.

Science Active Learning: Hands-on Meets Minds-on. October 1, 2021 p 26-30.

The Learning Cycle

Karplus researched learning theories and selected a constructivist approach, because he believes it fits best with how people learn and how science knowledge is created. Therefore the learning cycle is a consgtructivist instructional method or model.

A constructivist learning theory explains the development from infant - adult. How learners construct information (concepts) by exploring their environment and comparing a present experience, to their current understandings. If the present experience does not meet their expectations, they become disequilibrated and seek explanations to accommodate and return to equilibrium, and become equilibrated, as described by a learning theory .

In the learning cycle instructional method karplus matches three instructional steps (exploration, invention, and discovery) to the constructivist learning theory as noted in the chart.

Learning Cycle Learning Theory
  • Assimilation
  • Disequilibration
  • Accommodation
  • Accommodation
    • Communicate Use of vocabulary
    • Explain how information is organized and structured
    • Predict how information can be taken to its limits through application, analysis, synthesis.
  • Interactions may lead to disequilibration, accommodation, and further structure changes, which can cycle back to additional explorations or lead to the next phase - Discovery.
  • Includes all of the above. Only the connections to the organization and structure on understanding is strong with the use and expansion of the concept by combining other concepts to create generalizations or use in new different areas.


The Learning Cycle, instructional model, can guide instructional decisions to facilitate learning. Decisions on how to explore concepts and access the learner's personal understandings, rather than someone's else’s idea of what they think they know or don't know.

An experience that is made better by encouraging learners to explore their personal understanding in relationship to a new experience.

An exploration which will hopefully cause them to become disequilibrated if there is a mismatch between their expectations and their observational experiences.

As they reflect on their understandings, they explore the quality of their ideas. Sometimes making minor adjustments and other times discarding their ideas and replacing them with better ways to understand the world to accommodate and invent new understandings.

Teachers use many ideas to plan and implement learning. The learning cycle is a method that is fairly easy to relate many considerations to meet the needs of diverse learners. The following examples are introduced below and discussed in detail in a planning framework.

  • Selection of a topic and skills to learn,
  • Information related to the topic or big idea. Determined by unpacking the topic to identify generalizations, concepts, and facts required to understand the topic. This information focuses here in the conceptualization of concepts.
  • Activities to explore, and
  • Strategies to make information available for learners to conceptualize - learn.
  • Strategies to assess student learning and understanding.

While the above information provides examples of what is brought to planning and implementing of a learning cycle it is also a framework for teacher-educators to plan a sequence to facilitate learning in the three phase of the learning cycle: exploration, invention, and discovery.

Each phase moves learners through a constructivist learning process for a concept with an additional complete cycle leading to another concept or adding additional ideas for deeper and more expansive learning. Cycle after cyle in a continuous process suggesting learning as a life long infinite process.

Over the years many people have used the learning cycle and adapted it by changing the names of the third phase, and adding additional phases. The diagram below shows the cycle with an exploration and invention phase and four of the more common names of the third phase: discovery, expansion, application, and extension.

Learning cycle diagram

For a comparison of Karplus's learning cycle to the 4E Learning Cycle, 5 E Learning Cycle & Common Knowledge Construction Model to the relationships of each phase of a constructivist learning theory, the instructional purposes, and variables that effect learning.


The exploration stage is where learners' attention is focused on what is to be learned. They begin to explore materials or ideas to begin to relate their memories to the present experiences.

Exploration presents conditions that encourage learners to use their current accurate or inaccurate understandings (concepts or misconceptions) previously conceptualized. Learners explore their past understanding and connect them to their current explorations (assimilation). As they interpret the present experiences with their current understanding they may experience a discrepancy between their past experiences and the information they are currently exploring (disequilibration). This state of confusion, disequilibration, motivates them to manipulate the materials and/or ideas to create a new schema, (accommodation) for understanding and returning the learner to a state of equilibration. What learners learn, or the concept conceptualized can be different for each learner. Differences which are personal and can be classified in a number of ways: as knowledge: subject matter knowledge, process knowledge, Skills, attitudes or dispositions about the subject; their self; another person; society; or culture, and concepts related to the perspective of the subject, or any combination of these. Exploration must be personalized to meet the diverse needs of all learners.


In the invention stage, the teacher begins by inviting the learner to share their experiences during their explorations. These experiences may be a review of their previous understandings, confusion or questioning about their understandings, or newly constructed understandings sparked by the exploration.

In invention, the teacher invites learners to share data collected in a manner that represents all the ideas of all the learners. As they share their exploration experiences, they communicate their personal interpretations of their exploration. This communication is presented in a variety of ways (oral, written in words or visual representation, acted out, sung, or any combination) to communicate their ideas for each concept and desired outcome.

The use of the term, invention, is another way of stating the learners are personally inventing concepts and ideas through the sharing of their collective explorations to refine their understandings by connecting their experiences and understandings with other persons’ experiences and understandings. The teacher asks probing questions to facilitate this exchange of information, introduces vocabulary as necessary, and guides thinking by reluctantly adding hints and additional information for learners to achieve successful outcomes.

Learners are encouraged by the teacher to organize the data and to invent methods for expressing concluding statements or a visualization in their personal ways of understanding. The author defines visualizations as a picture, diagram chart, or graph that enables the learner to explain their interpretation of their explorations and inventions. The process of communicating learner ’s personal cognitive ideas are crucial at this particular stage. Each learner must personally be able to recognize an interpretation for the data examined, to organize a logical presentation of evidence that lends itself to be understood by others, and to communicate both positive social and affective information about their learnings and the processes in creating their understandings.


In the discovery stage, the teacher and / or learners implement an activity to extend or apply the understanding from the previous phases.

In the discovery, learners use the ideas invented and extend or apply their personal understanding with other ideas or in different situations. The extension of understanding by combining or joining concepts with concepts makes more complex understandings (generalizations). The discovery phase is the last phase of the learning cycle; however, it is also the first phase of the next learning cycle. It is in this phase that the next exploration phase may be initiated and many times will be recognized as exploration.

Using the learning cycle as an instructional process requires the educator to be cognizant of the interplay between the instructional process, a learning theory, and each learners’ personal conceptualization of concepts.


Assessment is the collection of data. It is the measurement activities educators use to attempt to make valid inferences about students' knowledge, process skills, and dispositions; as well as using those measurements and inferences to make current and future curricular and instructional decisions that are developmentally and academically appropriate. It is helpful to think of assessment as diagnostic, formative, summative, and generative.

Assessment process in the learning cycle is on-going by both the teacher and learner to check what each knows and how well they know it through the entire cycle and not in just one phase or isolated part of a phase. However, while assessment is continuous it can be strengthened by thinking of it as diagnostic, formative, summative, and generative.

Exploration assessment mostly requires initial checks of what learners know (diagnosis) and how well they know it. The teacher helps them focus and probe their personal information related to the task or topic.

Assess what is known about the concepts in general and supporting information needed to construct acceptable outcomes. Challenging their understanding for the supporting information (facts, concepts, generalizations) necessary and sufficient and how that information connects and explains the concepts or generalizations.

Invention assessment mostly requires ongoing checks (formative) on how learners are constructing their understanding of the topic and related concepts and generalizations.

At the end of the invention, assessment requires probes to check learners understanding as it relates to the outcomes and the expected level of achievement (summative).

After learning is summarized successfully, assessment seeks to determine how learners can wonder, extend, or generalize the newly conceptualized concepts (generalization).

Discovery continues with generalizations made at the end of invention, only with more opportunities to generalize the concept deeper and in new ways to solve problems or answer questions with opportunities to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the concept (generative).

Assessment includes:

  • Information collected from learner created records of events, procedures, or random thoughts. It is imperative that the classroom teacher examine these records on a regular basis. Young children can draw their observations. As they learn to write, they can label and then write descriptions of what they have done. As their ability to read and write matures, they can be given written focus questions to focus their attention on information they will need to know. Answers to these written focus questions are used to assess learner’s understandings.
  • Information collected on what learners know can be inferred from their written and oral observations and notes on focus questions or other performance tasks or recorded on video of their work.
  • Information should include how learners use concepts recently learned to make generalizations to extend what they have learned beyond their recent experiences.
  • Assessment should include developmentally appropriate tasks where learners can learn and apply the content processes in a systematic manner in their everyday activities. As learners work on everyday tasks, information on how they inquire and solve problems must be collected to assess their growth in the use of these processes.
  • Information must be collected on learners use of process skills beyond simple understandings. Such as - How many centimeters in a meter? Understanding beyond such as - You measured the room with your feet. The class agreed on a standard straw as a unit of measurement. Why did you choose to use feet? And - Would green bean seeds be a good choice for a standard unit? Why? or Why not? And How could you use a broken ruler to measure a shelf?
  • Information collected should be comprehensive. Information should include categorizes - knowledge, process, disposition (habits of mind or affective), perspective, personal, and social.
  • Information collected needs to be longitudinal to have a reference for learner progress as individuals and groups.
  • Information collected can be related to criteria and norm references.

Planning ideas

Planning and teaching process includes:

  • Teacher and or learners selection of an idea to investigate or learn about.
  • Unpack the necessary and sufficient information for the intended ideas. See concepts
  • Imagine an experience where learners will analyze and evaluate the supporting information needed to construct ideas.
  • Formulate questions to use for clarification during the search for understanding (learning).
  • Create a possible bridge using the information collected about the idea to understanding the ideas (concept or generalization).
  • Summarize and integrate what is learned.
  • Communicate it clearly to someone else.

See also


Concepts - Are the major ideas about a particular phenomenon people abstract from specific experiences. Information facts, concepts, and generalizations that are learned, which are often facilitated by teachers (taught).

Concepts, major ideas to be conceptualized, are facilitated by educators when: (1) concepts are presented in a developmentally appropriate manner, (2) communicated with a concise statement which accurately represents each concept explored, and (3) presented with all the necessary and sufficient information needed for the learners to construct the concept.

Teachers should remember concepts are ideas about a particular phenomenon that learners construct during a learning experience. A concept, then, is what the they will have in their heads when they walk away from a learning experience.

Concepts can be classified in a number of areas. Areas most notably identified in national and state standards written by subject specific learned societies (mathematics, science, social science, language arts, health, ...) and usually identified in curriculum plans.

Possible Concept Categories:

  • Content Knowledge. Concepts, information, created in subject or discipline areas that are historically known as subject or discipline knowledge.
  • Processes. Knowledge and skills needed to collect data, organize data, and create information in a different subjects and disciplines.
  • Dispositions and attitudes people use to explore and create understanding. Often thought of as life long learners who use multiple disciplines and subjects for different purposes to live a life worth living.
  • Perspective. Understanding of how a subject or discipline develops and how it has been, is, or could be used by society.
  • Personal. Understanding ones abilities for self-improvement. Could be include all categories.
  • Social. Understanding how to interact with people for the good of the person and different groups.
  • Mental Emotional. Understanding how people maintain and improve their mental and emotional health and others mental and emotional health and quality of life.
  • Physical. Understand how to improve physical fitness and acquire and maintain the ability to have a health active life.
  • Other.

More on subject and discipline content

Learning Cycle in different blocks of time

The learning cycle video was taped during a traditional 50 minute class time block. You can see it is a bit tight for all phases of the learning cycle (exploration, invention, expansion) and as an introductory lesson on current electricity with the main concept: closed circuit (physical science) and either a review or secondary process concept: using a theory or model to explain and predict observations. It is the traditional lesson which is often referenced in the science literature as an example of the learning cycle.

Planning lessons and experiences for this block of time is limiting. For example, when germinating seeds, growing plants, or working with other living organisms, the time it may take to cycle through the parts of a learning cycle doesn’t fit a 50 or 60 minute time period. It takes several days to explore and invent these and other concepts and even longer for generalizations.

When conceptualization of a concept requires more than a general 50 minute class period to collect observational information, such as with seed germination, plant growth, or animal development, a different time frame for thinking, planning, and doing needs to be implemented.

For example, while the organisms are developing over time, the class can be involved in different science investigations during the same class periods. This can happen with students beginning class by observing and recording information (for their seeds, plants, or animals introduced days previously) in the first 5-10 minutes culminating in a brief class period of sharing and discussion. The remaining 40-50 minutes can have the students investigating another topic (relative position and motion with spheres on ramps for example).

This example expands the traditional idea of a learning cycle in two important ways.

  • First, the time frame that a learning cycle includes, can be any duration. Part of a class period or across several class periods.
  • Secondly, to the idea that multiple learning cycles can be in progress simultaneously.

This is important, because not only do the scenarios extend for several class periods over several days, but some of the individual activities could and probably would also. This can make the use of the learning cycle method more powerful when the duration of a learning cycle can be thought of lasting for a class period and for multiple class periods extended for days, weeks, or months or years. More realistic to everyday investigations and life long learning.


This is a Powerful idea - a years curriculum or a K-12 curriculum is a series of multiple learning cycles occurring simultaneously with different phases starting and stopping through a school year, or a child's K-12 experience.


Assessment: Instructional, Teacher, and Student

Positive, Neutral, & Negative teacher and student actions in a Learning Cycle Lesson

Positive, neutral, and negative teacher and student actions in a lesson are categorized as they relate to the construction of specific information intended in a lesson. Intended information can be from any category and described as concepts, processes, skills, and dispositions or attitudes. Therefore, actions not directly specified to be learned in a lesson would be noted as neutral.

Examples for a lesson in a subject area include:

  • Behavioral interventions to reduce self limiting / maladaptive behaviors and choose mastery oriented behaviors. Modeling procedures.
  • Interactions to teach and support how to learn content.
  • Classroom management interventions to maintain learning.
  • Implement actions to create and maintain a productive community of learners.
  • Facilitate learning with observations, facts, reasoning, and explanations.
  • Attend to learner needs. Feeling of belonging, feeling of competence, positive interactions, construction of understanding, use of information, ability to communicate, assist as requested, teach how to ask for help, setting mastery goals, insuring success, encourage, motivate, relate to local culture, and, development of self-efficacy.
  • Use interactions to teach and maintain social learning. Modeling social skills to communicate expectations and teach skills to participate in learning communities.
  • Interactions to teach and support mental and emotional health.



Positive Teacher actions: Neutral Teacher Actions: Negative Teacher actions:
  • Focuses students attention
    • Uses manipulatives
    • "Move the red block over by the yellow block."
    • "What would the design look like if you rotated that block 90 degrees?"
  • Asks questions
    • "What do you think of Marie’s ideas?"
    • "What would happen if you tried five?"
  • Makes statements
    • "Try the same problem with dinosaurs."
    • "Turn the battery upside down."
    • "Show me what you have done."
    • "Explain what you are doing."
    • "Talk to me."
  • Monitors students’ progress
    • Cruises the room (actively moves about the room looking for "the action").
    • Listens to students
  • Facilitates students' learning
    • Encourages student manipulation of materials and ideas
    • "Mary use these."
      "Can you show me with the bears?"
  • Encourages student communication about the manipulation of materials, discussion of concepts, problems, processes, or models
    • "Alex, show Jan how you worked your problem."
      "Kim, use Chris’s dinosaurs and solve your problem."
      "The turtle group share your solution with the tiger group".
  • Asks questions to focus student learning
    • "What did you do?"
    • "Why did you move the red cube here?"
    • "Why did you do that?"
    • "What do you know?"
    • "What would you like to know?"
  • Ask questions to facilitate the students collection of data as supporting information
    • "How many are in the circle?"
      "How many more do you have than Chris?"
  • Ask questions to encourage higher order thinking skills
    • "How is the way you worked the problem different than the way Kim did?"
      "Which way do you like best? Why?"
  • Use wait-time (three to five seconds) and halt time (10 + seconds).
    • "Deedra, what do you think?" ...
  • Motivational statements
    • "Today we are going to play the cave game."
    • "You can do this."
  • Directions
    • "Each group should have five red squares and three bears."
    • "I want the red group over at the circular table."
    • "Put three bears in the red circle and two bears in the yellow circle."
  • Initial demonstrations on how to manipulate, NOT how to get answer.
  • Keep activity moving in a direction to achieve productive learning in a positive community.
  • Tells students the "correct answer"
    • "No, the answer is five."
  • Explains the concept
    • "You move this group over here and that’s addition."
    • "When you take this part from this group you subtract."
    • "When you mix these two chemicals they should turn yellow."
  • Tells the concept
    • "Today we are going to see what addition is."
    • "You add all the problems on page 70 and subtract all the problems on page 71."
  • Tells the conclusion
    • "You should see that the amount in both containers is the same volume."
      "You should all have the minute hand back at the 12."
  • Introduces the concept with numerals, number statements, equations, or algorithms
    • "Everyone write the number four."
    • "Put a plus sign beside the three."
  • Solves the problem
    • "Three take away two is one."
    • "Five times five is twenty-five."
  • Insists on one answer or only one method for solving problems "You have to put the big number on the top."
    • "You can’t subtract five from three."
  • Tells students to do their own work
    • "Kim keep your eyes on your own paper."
    • "Chris keep your hands to your self."
  • Tells student they are wrong
    • "No, your answer is wrong."
    • "What’s the matter with you we just did these before recess."
  • Leads students step by step
    • "Put the four here, then put the three below it, and draw a line, now use the counters to count from three to seven, and write the seven below the line."
Positive Student actions: Neutral Student Actions: Negative Student actions:
  • Manipulates objects
  • Records data
    • Mental memories
    • Pictures, sketches
    • Number sentences
    • Charts, graphs, equations
    • Diagrams, outlines
    • Maps
  • Asks questions
    • "What if I do this?"
    • "Can we try this?"
  • Makes predictions
    • "What will happen if we ..."
    • "I think it will be the same if we use shells."
    • "I think it will be the same no matter what we use."
  • Tests predictions
  • Generates alternatives
    • "Five grouped with three is the same as four grouped with four."
  • Open-minded
    • "Lets try it."
    • "I don’t think so, but try it."
  • Questions
    • "What do we do?"
    • "Like this?"
    • "Should we ..."
  • Statements that have neither a positive or negative effect
    • "It’s green."
    • "Chris has the purple cow."
  • Tells answers
    • "Psst! Lin, the answer is five."
    • "Move that over there and you have it."
  • Does not manipulate objects
  • Manipulates objects without direction
  • Sits and watches the teacher do problems
  • Work individually with little student interaction
  • Stop after one solution


Positive Teacher actions: Neutral Teacher Actions: Negative Teacher actions:
  • Tell. Share data with a group.
    • "What data did you collect?"
    • "How did you do the problem?"
    • "What evidence do you have?"
  • Ask. Demonstrate what you discovered during your exploration.
    • "Maria, use the rods to show what you mean."
    • "Alex’s group, show us what you did."
  • Ask. How can we organize a group or groups data?
    • "All the students that have five stand in line here."
    • "Everyone write their data on the board."
  • Tell. Draw a picture, diagram, chart, graph to represent the data and share it with a group then class.
    • "Group one, draw your picture on the board."
    • "Jo, walk around with your picture so all can see it."
  • Teacher provides vocabulary for concepts or processes.
    • "A word to describe what we have learned is ..." (Writes the word on the overhead)
    • The relationship you are describing is density.
  • Actively solicit and use students’ ideas.
    • "Jan says that..."
    • "Let's see what happens if we use Brent’s idea, then Marty’s, and go from there."
  • Works to ensure students understand the concept and can communicate their understandings in accurate ways.
  • Relates concepts, processes, and models to students’ experiences.
    • "How many of you go to the store?"
    • "How can you use these ideas to make change?"
  • Seeks alternative solutions and explanations from students.
    • "Who can do it another way?"
    • "Mark thought of this way. Will it work?"
  • Encourages students to express attitudes
    • "What do you feel about that?"
    • "Which way do you like best?"
  • Monitors the discussion.
  • Uses wait-time and halt-time.
  • Has students express themselves in their own words.
  • Has students use concepts, vocabulary, processes or algorithms in different situations.
    • "Shana say that again, only use the word that we have on the board."
    • "Who can use the words on the board to describe what we have done today."
  • Extends the concept.
    • "What other problems can we solve the same way?"
    • "How else can we use this idea?"
  • Make predictions
  • Make and use models.
  • Accepts all student ideas.
  • Receptive to student's needs with suggestions, hints, what if ideas, asking others how to help and resorting to giving or telling solutions only in extreme situations.
  • Accepts explanation without reason
  • Accepts explanation without relating it to student collected data
  • Does not relate supporting information to concept in mind
  • Does not ask student for explanations
  • Introduces unrelated concepts or skills
  • Does not listen to alternative strategies
  • Provides definitive answers
  • Lectures before students experience all necessary and sufficient supporting information to conceptualize the concepts.
  • Leads student step by step to a solution
  • Explains how to work a problem without sufficient use of exploration and invention
  • Provides an algorithm or memorized answer without student understanding
  • Quiz or tests only for algorithm, vocabulary, and/or facts
  • Fails to have students use new vocabulary or state concepts, process, or models in their own words.
Positive Student actions: Neutral Student Actions: Negative Student actions:
  • Explain the exploration data collected
    • "We took four cows and put them here and then took two dogs and ....
  • Ask, questions about the data
    • "How did you get four?"
    • "Why did you do that?"
  • Express attitudes.
    • "I like the way Tina’s group did theirs."
    • "Yes!"
  • Use a process skill to organize information.
    • Classification, organize
    • Graph, chart
    • Create a model
    • Outline
  • Offer suggestions "Why don’t you ..."
  • Use newly invented vocabulary to describe the exploration, invention, application, or discovery.
  • Demonstrate how they obtained data
  • Demonstrate process or algorithm
  • Extend the concept
  • Suggest the use of media to represent information
Use their learning or their group’s learning and set goals. Memorize facts, vocabulary, or algorithm without understanding


Positive Teacher actions: Neutral Teacher Actions: Negative Teacher actions:
Encourages students to:
  • Explore with the invented concept, process, or model in a different setting or situation.
  • Solve different problems with the invented process, or model.
  • Use the concept, process, or model to increase its complexity.
  • Use the concept, process, or model to generate new concepts, processes, or models.
  • Reviews the previous days concepts, processes, or model.
  • Tests the previous days concepts, processes, or model.
  • Does not refer or build on the previous days work.
  • Moves on to another unrelated topic in which the vocabulary, concepts, processes, or model can not likely be used or have an effect.
  • Moves to another topic in which using the previous days vocabulary, concept, process, or model would have a negative effect if the students tried to transfer it.
Positive Student actions: Neutral Student Actions: Negative Student actions:
  • Explores with a previously invented concept, process, or model in a different setting or situation.
  • Solves different problems using a previously invented process, or model.
  • Uses a previously invented concept, process, or model and increases its complexity.
  • Use a previously invented concept, process, or model and generates new concepts, processes, or models.
Use their learning or their group’s learning and set goals.
  • Do not use the vocabulary, concept, process, or model outside of school or in school.



Three Learning Cycles & Common Knowledge Construction Model
Related to learning theory, instructional purposes, and each other

Relationship to Learning Theory

see also Learning theory Model and Variables that effect learning
Karplus and Their Learning Cycle

Explore, Invent, & Discover
4E Learning Cycle

Explore, Explain, Expand, & Evaluate
5 E Learning Cycle

Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate/ extend, & Evaluate
Common Knowledge Construction Model

Explore, Categorize, Construct, Negotiate, Translate, Extend, Reflect, & Assess
Instructional Purpose
Students & teachers
  • Use their current intuitive, procedural, or logical knowledge to make meaning.
  • Communicate their understandings and questions to themselves and in small groups
  • Devise and conduct tests on their different ideas, and may or may not use the results to resolve any conflict they may or may not have.
  • If the process stops or there is no change, then students assimilate the information.
  • If a discrepancy is found between what the student anticipated and what was observed, then students are
  • If after disequilibration, the student reflects, analyzes, and creates a new way of understanding, then there is
  • Accommodation may happen for some creatively through exploration and others with guidance in the next phase.
1-Exploration 1- Explore 
4 - Evaluate in all phases
2- Exploration
1- Explore,
2- Categorize,
3- Construct,
4- Negotiate,
7 - Reflect in all phases
8- Assess in all phases
Students & teachers
  • Focus their attention on the activity, materials, problem, or situation presented.
  • Diagnostic assessment
  • Communicate how to collect data to construct understanding
  • Explore the activity, materials, problem, or situation presented.
  • Communicate their experience and connect it to past and current understanding.
  • May construct, negotiate, expand, and apply this present experience and construct new understandings.
  • Formative assessment
Students & teachers
  • Communicate their findings and understandings to the entire class.
  • New vocabulary is introduced related to the concept, skill, ...
  • Describe how to organize and structure data from their explorations and their relationships to explanations and concepts based on observations and reasoning.
  • Make predictions and inferences related to the limits of the use of the concepts and skills.
  • Use application, analysis, and synthesis to devise different ways to test and substantiate their learnings.
  • These activities and communications may lead to disequilibration, assimilation, accommodation, and further structure changes and to systematic understandings.
2. Invention 2-Explanation
4 - Evaluate in all phases
3-Explanation 1- Explore,
2- Categorize,
3- Construct,
4- Negotiate,
7 - Reflect in all phases
8- Assess in all phases
Students & teachers
  • Conceptualize concepts.
  • Invent explanations.
  • Systematize processes and skills.
  • Facilitate public discourse.
  • Share ideas.
  • Negotiate and communicate ideas.
  • Construct new understandings.
  • Formative assessment
  • Summative assessment
Students & teachers
  • Repeat all of the above with greater connection to the organization and structure to extend the concept by generalizing what students have learned by connecting concepts and building relationships that can be applied in settings and situations not experienced or explored.
  • The difference between what happens in this phase and what happens if a new cycle is started may be only time .
  • Discovery being 5-10 minutes and starting a new cycle another day or days.
3. Discovery 3-Expansion
4 - Evaluate in all phases
4-Elaborate & Extend
1- Explore,
2- Categorize,
3- Construct,
4- Negotiate,
5- Translate
6- Extend
7 - Reflect in all phases
8- Assess in all phases
Students & teachers
  • Expand and apply their learnings
  • Generative assessment

Sample Learning Cycle Lesson Plans to Modify

Three lesson overviews to review and discuss how to make them more hands on or constructivist and one sample for hints.

Lesson 1

Topic: Parts of a Plant Grade level 2

Objective: Students will learn the parts of a plant.

Materials: live plant, plant parts chart, worksheet, various arts and crafts materials (colored construction paper, pipe cleaners, glue…)

Process skills: observation, communication

Exploration: The teacher displays a live plant. The roots, stems and leaves are visible. The students use the plant chart to identify the three main parts of the plant. The teacher points to the top of the live plant and asks students what part it is. The teacher slowly moves his or her hand down the plant as the students discuss what part the teacher is pointing to at the time. The students use the chart to resolve any disagreements.

Invention: Students turn to the pages in their textbook that discuss the three main parts of a plant and read and discuss it. They are next given a worksheet with a picture of a plant and blanks pointing to each of the three main parts. They are asked to identify each part by filling in the blanks.

Discovery: The students are asked to create a plant that has roots, stems, and leaves. The students are asked to identify each of the parts of their plant for the teacher. The plants are displayed in the classroom.

Lesson 2

Topic: Electricity Grade level 5

Objective: Students will create a circuit that can be opened and closed with a switch from information provided by reading in their text and class discussion.

Materials: D-cell battery, battery holder, insulated wire, a flashlight bulb, and a switch

Exploration: Students read textbook entry on electric current, open and closed circuit, and electric switches.

Invention: Teacher discusses what students read, reviews open and closed circuits by looking at pictures of different circuits with different arrangements of bulbs, batteries and switches. After this discussion he lectures on how the electrical systems in most homes work and safety issues about circuits and lightening being the number one killer of all natural weather related events.

Discovery: The teacher gives the students a d-cell battery, battery holder, insulated wire, a flashlight bulb, and a switch and asks them to build a closed circuit.

Lesson 3

Topic: Electricity Grade level 5

Objective: Students will create a circuit that can be opened and closed with a switch from information provided by reading in their text and class discussion

Materials: circuit posters, textbook, d-cell battery, battery holder, insulated wire, a flashlight bulb, and a switch

Exploration: The teacher shows the students several posters with open and closed circuits and has them read the section in their text about electrical current. Then she discusses the reading with them and assigns them three investigation questions. 1. Make a circuit so that the bulb will light. 2. Make a circuit so that the bulb will can be turned on and off with the switch. And 3. Make a circuit that doesn’t work.

Invention: Students work in groups and seek answers for each of the three questions.

Discovery: Students share their drawings and explain how they worked. The teacher records each circuit by drawing it with a schematic diagram using a computer program. When all students have presented she shares her diagrams and has the class sort them into the three categories and explain how they work.


Suggestions on how to modify a lesson to make it more hands on & constructivist.

Topic: Electricity Grade level 5

Objective: Students explore a variety of simple electrical circuits with a bulb, battery, and wire to create explanations on how electricity is transferred from a source through a receiver in different kinds of electrical circuits.

Materials: d-cell battery, insulated wire, and a flashlight bulb

Exploration: The teacher shows the materials to the students and asks them to draw a picture in their science log to show how they would try to light the bulb. The teacher walks around and looks at their diagrams, then she challenges them to work with their partner to find as many ways as they can to light the bulb. She also reminds them to make records of what doesn’t work as well as what works. Students work together making circuits and recording their answers.

Invention: Students draw the various ways that they tried that lit the bulb and didn’t light the bulb on the board and explain how they worked. The teachers asks them to classify them as lit or not lit. Then she asks them to explain what is the same and different for all of their diagrams. Class discusses and questions until they feel confident that they have identified all possible ways to light the bulb in a circuit with three objects.

Discovery: The teacher asks them what else they know about electrical circuits. The teacher listens and records their answers. She works toward leading the students to additional explorations of more complicated circuits (circuits with switches multiple sources and receivers). Circuits that will help students conceptualize concepts of switches, parallel, and series circuits for sources and receivers.

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