K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

Learn more

Related pages

  • Science students get their hands dirty: Enter Carol Swink's classroom where students become scientists by conducting hands-on, inquiry-based investigations. By saving the textbook reading and lectures for last and doing experiments first, students master not only science content but math content too.
  • Science as a verb: Inquiry science requires active relationships between students, teachers, and science. Building these relationships is a three-step process that involves thinking about inquiry as a process of science, as a pedagogical strategy, and as a set of skills and behaviors to encourage in students.
  • Letting students ask the questions — and answer them: For this high school science teacher, learning science means doing science. A look at an inquiry-based earth and environmental science classroom.

Related topics


Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.


The text of this page is copyright ©2003. See terms of use. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

The learning cycle is a model of instruction based on scientific inquiry. This model encourages students to develop their own understanding of a scientific concept, explore and deepen that understanding, and then apply the concept to new situations.

Diagram of the learning cycle: exploration, concept development, and concept application


In the first phase, students work on their own or in small groups to explore scientific phenomena, manipulate materials, and attempt to solve problems. The teacher acts as facilitator, posing questions and providing assistance as needed. Students have the opportunity to develop their own hypotheses and to test them through a hands-on experiment or observation.

Concept development

In the second phase of the learning cycle, the teacher leads the students through the introduction and development of the scientific concepts central to the lesson. The students may begin by sharing their observations and ideas from the exploration phase. The teacher may then use written or audio-visual materials to develop the concept and introduce relevant vocabulary.

Concept application

The teacher now poses a new problem or situation for the students to solve based on their initial exploration and on the concepts they refined in the second phase. As in the first phase, the students work individually or in small groups while the teacher acts as facilitator. The learning cycle may then begin again, as these hands-on activities become the starting point for the exploration and development of a related concept.