Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 11, Issue 1, Article 19 (June, 2010)
Salih BIRISÇI and Mustafa METIN
Developing an instructional material using a concept cartoon adapted to the 5E model: A sample of teaching erosion

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In this study, an instructional material was designed intended for “Earth’s Crust Composed of What?” unit in six grade science and technology curriculum in Turkey. Inside of this unit “Soil Erosion” subject has been taken. Students at this stage have studied science lessons related with environment and environmental issues since fourth grade in prior years.

In this instrument we illustrated the instructional material as concept cartoons in computer environment. However, as an alternative, it is also possible to design concept cartoons via multimedia software. In this study cartoons were designed in MS PowerPoint software.

The content of computer supported concept cartoons are similar to regular ones and include a topic with different characters. Characters within cartoons might move or be still pictures, and they can include a musical background. Concept cartoons are designed for a computer-equipped environment so that the cartoons can be projected on a wall or blackboard and all students can see them. When the cartoons are first projected, different characters appear, however, their thoughts on a certain subject are not presented, and students can only see the characters and the empty talking balloons over their heads. The teacher starts the lecture by asking students their thoughts on the topic appearing on the screen. In this way, without being able to see characters’ thoughts on the topic, students’ prior knowledge of the topic can be examined. Later students can see characters’ thoughts on the topic by scrolling over and clicking with the mouse one by one where each character’s thought appears on the talking balloons. One of the opinions on the talking balloons should be close to the right answer explaining the concept, and the others might be different misconceptions about the concept. After explaining the characters and their opinions, the teacher can ask students which characters’ views they agree and why they agree with that view. Students start to explain with which character they agreed with and why. Students can see whether characters’ thoughts on the topic are true or false by scrolling over and clicking with the mouse on the talking balloons and another window appears that explains why the opinion is true or false. In this way, the teacher can see where students hold misconceptions and create a class environment where student can freely express their opinions.

After preparing this instrument, it adapted to the constructivist 5E model. Bybee (1997) developed an instructional model for constructivism called the 5E Model. This model consists of activities that enhance students' interest towards investigation, meet their expectations and have active usage of knowledge and abilities (Özsevgeç, 2006). The 5E model consists of five steps: enter/engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate (adapted from Bybee et al., 2006; Çepni et. al., 2005; Cardak, Dikmenli & Saritas, 2008; Ürey & Çalik, 2008):

Enter/Engage Phase: It helps students to identify what they have known about the subject in order to distinguish their old ideas. In this phase, the lesson is started by an entertaining and attractive presentation, and some questions about the reasons for the event are asked. Here, it isn’t important to find the correct response, but to encourage students to put forward different ideas by questioning.

Explore Phase: Students produce new ideas to solve the problem by studying together, conducting experiments and studying using computers, videos or in a library environment. These ideas are turned into abilities and solutions to solve the problem after filtering by the teacher. This is a phase where students are most active.

Explain Phase: In this phase, the teacher helps students to substitute new and correct ideas for old and inadequate ones. This is the most teacher-centered phase of the model. The teacher makes formal descriptions and scientific explanations.

Elaborate Phase: Students apply their newly gained information and problem solving approach into new events and problems. They learn new concepts that didn’t exist in their minds before.

Evaluate Phase: This is the phase in which the teacher observes students while they are solving problems and asks them open-ended questions. This is also the phase where students evaluate their own development in learning new concepts and abilities. In this last phase, students form a conclusion by evaluating their new knowledge and abilities.

As a conclusion, we try to adapt each phase of the constructivist 5E model within the concept cartoons.


Instrument Design: Concept Cartoon Description Adapted with 5E Model

In this section we will illustrate the instrument phase by phase:


In this phase, the teacher identifies the students’ prior knowledge and gets them to engage in a new concept by means of short activities or questions promoting curiosity and increasing their awareness of their pre-existing knowledge. Before handling out the instrument, students are divided into groups of 3-4 students. Firstly, an intriguing short story that is related to soil pollution was introduced to students (Figure 1).

Figure 1. An intriguing story.


After reading the passage three questions related with this story wee “How will the soil pollute?”; “Which effects occurred when a soil polluted?”; and “What is the reason for the erosion?” were asked to the characters. For example the questions “How will the soil pollute? Do you agree with the characters? Why or why not?” were asked to the three characters (Figure 2).

Figure 2. A question is asked to characters.


When clicking over each of the characters in the cartoon, they state their views about the question with dialogue boxes (balloons) over their heads, and each character states different views about the question (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Characters state their views.


One of the views in these dialogue boxes is accepted as scientifically true and the rest are considered to be wrong. In this stage, students should click on one of the dialogue boxes appearing on cartoons heads if he/she thinks has the right answer. If a student clicks on the wrong answer, a wrong answer signal alerts the student and a written message is shown (Figure 4).

Figure 4. The answer is considered as wrong.


If a student clicks on the right answer, a right answer signal alerts the student and a written message is shown (Figure 5).

Figure 5. The answer is considered as right.


By doing this activity, students’ attention was focused on the topic and they are personally involved in the lesson by asking other questions.


Assisting students is very important in this stage, rather than teaching directly. Teachers should encourage students to work in their groups and ask probing questions without any clues to redirect their investigations. In this way, students can acquire new knowledge by linking to prior knowledge. To meet this stage’s requirements, characters help students in the groups by performing three experiments related to three kinds of erosion type as water, wind and waves. These types of experiment instructions are given (Figures 6, 7 and 8). In Figures 6, 7 and 8, characters performing experiments according to the instructions given to students and they guess which type of erosion is shown. In the entrance phase, statements in these dialogue boxes are accepted as scientifically true, and the rest are considered to be wrong. While in this phase, teachers must perform these given instructions with the student groups in the classroom. In terms of the experiment results, both characters and students should guess which type of erosion is shown and which character supports the right one. As a result, this stage is very important in restructuring students’ prior knowledge and thinking structures.

Figure 6. Characters doing experiments.


Figure 7. Characters doing experiments.


Figure 8. Characters doing experiments.



This phase provides an opportunity for teachers to directly introduce new concepts, processes or skills. Hence, teachers have a chance to confirm or disconfirm students’ knowledge. Students have a chance to compare their newly structured ideas with those presented by the teacher. Knowledge that students have learned at the exploration stage is very important for this phase. Group ideas were revealed about the results of each experiment after performing its instructions. Each group discusses their ideas, and finally they agree on each type of experiment. From this point, the instrument gives some connected questions with the exploration part to students. For example, “According the experiments above, describe erosion?” (Figure 9 in Appendix).

Figure 9. Descriptive questions.


As in Figure 9, characters state their views on description of the erosion. One of the characters defends a correct description, others state misconceptions that are revealed in literature about erosion. By having students answer the questions and support one of the characters’ ideas, teachers can reveal students’ understandings about erosion. By doing this activity, teachers have a chance to correct misconceptions when a student states a wrong explanation or defends a wrong character.


In this phase, the teacher fosters students to apply their understandings and skills to additional activities, and thereby they attempt to extend their newly structured knowledge to a deeper and broader understanding, more information and adequate skills. For this purpose, the elaborate phase in this instrument shows characters three different kinds of an erosion area and asked them, “In which of following areas more erosion will occur?” to deeper students’ understanding (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Extending knowledge to other situations.


By using the characters’ ideas, students should think about the shapes that will cause more erosion. In order to answer this question, students’ pre and newly structured knowledge, which is gained from previous phases, are very important to reflect upon in other situations.


This phase not only promotes students to assess their understanding and abilities, but also gives an opportunity for teachers to monitor how students’ understandings have progressed. In order to assess what students have learned and how much they have increased their knowledge about erosion in previous phases, an activity is introduced. This activity consists of a concept map that has many gaps related to each other and many words for placing these to gaps (Figure 11).

Figure 11. An activity to assess students' learning outcomes.


When each group completes the activity, they can compare their answers with the other groups. After discussing with the teacher on the correct form, they can realize their missing concepts. At the same time, students will reach a conclusion about the topic by assessing new knowledge and skills in this phase.

Further Research

An instructional learning instrument is introduced in this study to teach the concept of erosion. This study has some limitations. The instrument was designed for six grade elementary students on the subject of soil erosion. To determine how it affects conceptual understanding of the subject of erosion and to investigate its’ effectiveness, further research should be undertaken in a comparative manner. After implementation, parts of this instrument may be changed and improved in terms of sample’s needs and it can be adapted with different kinds of environmental problem areas. In this way, the instrument can cause gains in awareness and sensitivity towards environment for students.


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