I remember it like it was yesterday! It was lunch break between a Keynote presentation on inquiry learning and follow up workshops for Kern County CUE on the campus of CSU Bakersfield. Despite the the enthusiastic mood of that teachers in that audience, and the general positive response to my talk, I found myself wondering through the campus in somewhat of a discouraged mood.

I had just delivered a presentation on sparking student curiosity which featured applicable research literature, examples from my classroom, and practical technology tips mixed in. It was a presentation I was proud of. A presentation that embodied all that love about teaching, pedagogy, and the trajectory of my career. Feedback from the audience was great. Books sold. Twitter happened. etc., etc., etc. But inside I felt bored by it. My confidence felt low.

Bored because deep down I knew I did not have the answer for the question I would always get at the follow up Q&A: “I see how this works in your science class but how does that translate into the English or history class? The language class?” This question haunts me. It amplifies the “imposter syndrome” that many educators have. Here I am, getting paid to talk to ALL teachers in the district about the magic of inquiry learning, the power of curiosity, using ONLY examples from the science classroom. The realm where inquiry learning makes the most sense…is the easiest to grasp. Was I speaking to only my science colleagues in the audience, and leaving everybody else behind. Did I believe it, when I said: “Don’t worry, although I’m a science teacher, these examples apply to all of you!”?  

My phone rang and it was my friend, and head of CUE Jon Corripo! We had scheduled a call to talk about a project we were currently working on and although my mood was low, talking with Jon always energizes me! A master humanities teacher, Jon was sharing some insight he had with me about the Hero’s Journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell and how it applied to a novel his students were reading in class. As Jon describe the events in the book that followed your typical journey: 1) The Hero is called to adventure, 2) The Hero faces challenge, 3) The Hero meets a mentor to provide new skills and insight 4) The Hero overcomes the challenge and is transformed, 5) The Hero returns home to be judged.

I’m not sure why it happened, or where it came from, but at that moment, our minds became one.

We had a realization. Our students…they ARE the HEROES! Our LESSON plans, they are their JOURNEY! Campbell’s Heroes Journey was nothing more than an outline for motivation…a protocol for how students are engaged, and how information transfer occurs in RESPONSE to student struggle.

As we continued our conversation we entered the magical flow state that occurs when two colleagues are collaborating perfectly! I would say: “OMG…this changes everything! The 5E Learning cycle, IS THE HERO’s JOURNEY!” Jon would then counter with “Yes, and teacher professional development is also a HERO’S JOURNEY.” I then would be drawn back into the granular: “Ok, so, in the 5E Learning cycle, the first goal is ENGAGE our students. This is the Call to Adventure!. Then we give then a task to EXPLORE. This is the Hero’s Challenge! We then EXPLAIN something to our students. This is equivalent to the Hero meeting a mentor! We then ask our students to EXTEND their knowledge. This is the transformation of the Hero. We then EVALUATE their progress. The Hero returns him to be judged! OMG!!! It all fits.

After an hour more of conversation, many things were born. My lesson planning changed dramatically. I no longer viewed the 5E Learning Cycle as a nerdy pedagogical construct that applied primarily to science instruction. Rather, it was transformed into a universal schema, or way of seeing the world. An accepted paradigm for engagement that all great stories, and all great lessons derive their structure from. The answer to the question that haunted me was was clear: “How does Inquiry Learning relate to disciplines other that science? How is the 5E Learning cycle applicable to the Humanities, etc.”? Answer: “How does it not? We are engaged outside of the classroom via a set of understood parameters…a journey that grounds all movies, literature, and psychology. Why not right our lesson plans according to the same structure?” The mentor is never the first person you meet! All engaging stories involved a delayed mentor? Hero’s learning through struggle, not for it. These principles can be applied to any discipline, and in any context. Our students ARE HEROES! We have the power to write their Journeys.

If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between the 5E Learning cycle and the Hero’s Journey, click here to purchase my book, “Spark Learning: 3 Keys to Embracing the Power of Student Curiosity”, and click here to register for my four-part Master Class on leveraging the 5E Learning Cycle in your classroom.

A diagram of the connection between the 5E Learning Cycle and the Hero’s Journey is also shown below for your reference:

Ramsey Musallam is a secondary science instructor at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California. Ramsey has also has served as an adjunct professor of education at the University of San Francisco and Touro University in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to his role as a science instructor at Sonoma Academy, Ramsey served as a Science Instructor and Director of Inquiry and Innovation at Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown San Francisco for 15 years. In addition his role as a science teacher, Ramsey runs invention workshops for elementary and middle school students in the greater Bay Area.

About Kristin Oropeza
Kristin is a full-time special education teacher, contract consultant, and educational content writer. She is a Google Certified Teacher (Level 1 and 2), Google Certified Trainer, and MIE Expert for 2020-2021.