Download the Energy Unit Instructional Framework (PDF)
The framework document includes enduring understandings, essential questions, standards alignments, and an overview of the instruction and learning activities.

The Energy curriculum uses a spatial learning design model that incorporates a related set of frameworks and design principles to provide guidance in the development of the geospatial information technologies (GIT)-supported curriculum materials.

The framework includes: 

  1. Align materials and assessments with learning goals.
  2. Contextualize the learning of key ideas in real-world problems.
  3. Engage students in scientific practices that foster the use of key ideas.
  4. Use geospatial technology as a tool for learners to explore and investigate problems.
  5. Support teachers in adopting and implementing GIT and inquiry-based activities. 

The curriculum materials are designed to align instructional materials and assessments with learning goals. National and state standards are used to provide guidelines for important science content in addition to the science inquiry and spatial thinking skills that schools must focus on.

The materials use a series of proven design principles to promote spatial thinking skills with Earth and environmental science materials:

  1. Design curriculum materials to align with the demand of classroom contexts.
  2. Design activities to apply to diverse contexts.
  3. Use motivating contexts to engage learners.
  4. Provide personally relevant and meaningful examples.
  5. Promote spatial thinking skills with easy-to-use geospatial learning technologies.
  6. Design image representations that illustrate visual aspects of scientific knowledge.
  7. Develop curriculum materials to better accommodate the learning needs of diverse students.
  8. Scaffold students to explain their ideas.

The GIT-specific learning activities incorporate an instructional model that involves the following 8 steps:

  1. Elicit prior understandings of lesson concepts.
  2. Present authentic task.
  3. Model task.
  4. Provide worked example.
  5. Ask learners to perform task.
  6. Scaffold task.
  7. Ask learners additional questions to elaborate task.
  8. Review activity concepts.

Step 1 reflects Eisenkraft’s (2003) first E, elicit and Dick and Carey’s (1996) identifying and analyzing entry behaviors and learner characteristics. The teacher determines what knowledge and skills learners bring to the learning task by asking them questions about the lesson concepts.

In Step 2, the teacher presents an authentic task that learners will do. This reflects Jonassen’s (1997) select (modified to “present”) an appropriate task for learners to do. Also, the instructional materials present the tasks in different ways. For example, in some tasks, learners analyze regional or worldwide cases first then move to local cases. In other tasks, learners analyze local cases first then move to regional or worldwide cases. This echoes Collins and Stevens’ (1993) vary cases systematically.

In Step 3, the teacher demonstrates to the learners how to do the task. For example, how to use a Web GIS Widget or the data layers display and legend to obtain data about fossil fuel resources. This echoes both Jonassen’s (1999) and Black and McClintock’s (1996) steps in which the teacher models the task.

Step 4 is Jonassen’s (1997) provide worked example. The teacher and/or the materials provide a worked example to help guide the learner in performing a task. For example, the materials provide a worked example of how students should complete a data chart. Further, the materials provide positive and negative examples, and counterexamples so as to highlight important things that will help learners complete the task. These are derived from Collins and Stevens’ (1993) strategies. For example, the materials provide screenshots of positive and negative examples of the results students would get when they perform a spatial analysis task with a GIS correctly or incorrectly.

Learners perform the task in Step 5. This step combines Bybee et al.’s (2006) second E, explore - learners engage with a scientifically oriented question, and Keller’s satisfaction. In this step learners construct their own understandings by being actively engaged with the learning task. For satisfaction, learners use their newly acquired knowledge and skills to manipulate and analyze spatial data in the GIS.

In Step 6, the teacher and materials provide guidance to the learners as they engage with geospatial learning tasks. This echoes Jonassen’s (1999) steps in which the teacher and materials coaches the learners and provides cognitive tools to support the learners’ performance. Learners only use a GIS when they need it to accomplish a learning task. The teacher provides an orientation to the GIS and models how to use specific features to visualize, manipulate, and analyze data. Learners engage with authentic tasks while learning to use the GIS. The instructional handouts for using GIS are also heavily scaffolded. The handouts use screen shots, hints, and a consistent instructional sequence. The intent is for learners to be able to use those handouts and complete tasks on their own with ease outside the classroom setting if needed.

Step 7 reflects Bybee et al.’s (2006) fourth E, elaborate. The teacher and materials pose higher-order analysis and synthesis questions to foster learners’ content and spatial understandings. Learners answer questions, draw conclusions, and reflect on how science concepts relate to each other.

In Step 8, the teacher reviews the science concepts learned in the activity to reinforce student learning and to clarify any concepts students did not understand. This is Gagné’s (1985) enhance retention and transfer.

A simplified visual that reflects the main curriculum activity structures are included on the top of each instructional sequence page:

Land Use Change Unit Instructional Design Model

Elicit Prior Understandings. 
At the beginning of the unit, the teacher evaluates what students know through a concept map, content knowledge, and attitude and behavior pretests.

Explore and Investigate.
Students explore and investigate concepts through geospatial-supported investigations, laboratory experiments, and other curricular materials to help them acquire desired knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Modify Instruction. 
The teacher adjusts instruction as needed based on students' responses to the learning activities (formative assessment).

At the end of the unit, the teacher evaluates students through their completed artifacts and summative assessment. These include energy policy presentations, concept maps, and content knowledge, attitude, and behavior posttests.


Black, J. B., & McClintock, R. O. (1996). An interpretation construction approach to constructivist design. In B. G. Wilson (Ed.), Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design, (pp. 25-31). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Bybee, R. W., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., van Scotter, P., Powell, J. C., Westbrook, A., & Landes, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Origins, effectiveness, and applications. Colorado Springs, CO: Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.

Collins, A. C., & Stevens, A. L. (1983). A cognitive theory of inquiry teaching. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status (pp. 247-278). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Dick, W., & Carey, L. (1996). The systematic design of instruction (4th ed.). New York: Harper Collins.
Eisenkraft, A. (2003). Expanding the 5E model. The Science Teacher, 70(6), 56-59.

Gagné, R. M. (1985). The conditions of learning and theory of instruction (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Jonassen, D. H. (1997). Instructional design model for well-structured and ill-structured problem-solving learning outcomes. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(1), 65-94.

Jonassen, D. H. (1999). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: Vol. 2. A new paradigm of instructional theory (pp. 215-239). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.