Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Constructivism in Practice

Constructionist learning theory takes our learning from last week’s Cognitivism learning theory study to the next level. Last week, we expected students to map what they had learned and explore content in a meaningful manner. This week we take it further and expect our students to immerse themselves in the process of learning new information, not just taking it in. We expect students to glean conceptual understanding from thoughtful interaction and extrapolation. Additionally we ask them to use their recently acquired knowledge in a practical manner such that they are able to demonstrate and practice their learning; they find the pitfalls and confusing elements and assimilate or accommodate their schemas as they work to form a truer and stronger understanding of the material (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009).

In “Using Technology with Class Instruction that Works” we learned about generating and testing hypotheses. Students are given basic information and a platform to explore, that being a spreadsheet prepared with formulas, an experiment in which data must be collected, or playing with parameter on an online game to creatively meet the requirements of a scenario. Students first use their prior knowledge to form an opinion and then use their experiences and integrated information to reassess their initial beliefs and adapt their hypotheses to reflect their new knowledge. Games like “Astroventure” allow a student to design a planet intended for human life based on their working knowledge of Earth’s atmosphere and properties (NASA). These various activities meet the dictates of Constructionism as they require students to build something that exemplifies their learning and provides a subject for students to discuss how their understanding has developed in working with the project.

Project based and problem based learning ask that students attempt to solve an issue or optimize an output by adapting to constraints imposed by reality or protocols and require students to do more than just find an answer; they must prove, represent, and justify their solutions (Orey, 2001a; Orey, 2001b). Beyond these resources, a variety of technological resources exists that allow students to share their knowledge and explore the curriculum. Student created wikis, blogs, and websites require a student to have knowledge of the curriculum at the minimum, but also interweaves the skill of being able to communicate their understanding linguistically, illustratively, and creatively while also providing practical experience with the technology. Podcasts, videos, and Power Point type slideshows call upon the additional skills and intelligences that students are not always able to showcase in traditional class exams, discussions, and reports. Students are afforded the opportunity to learn in a pleasurable and enticing manner that is engaging and helps to form lasting and true understanding. Constructionism leads to learning and pleasure; as Dave McDivitt found during his role playing game history project, the students “showed overwhelming enthusiasm while learning the material” as well as content knowledge (Pitler, et. al., 2007, pp. 214).


Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009). Program 6. Constructionist and Constructivist Learning Theories. [Educational video]. Baltimore: Author.

NASA. (n.d.). Astroventure. Retrieved March 23rd, 2010, from NASA:

Orey, M.(Ed.). (2001a). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from Section: Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project-Based Learning

Orey, M.(Ed.). (2001b). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from Section: Problem Based Instruction

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. AlexandriaVA: ASCD


  1. Nancy,

    I totally agree that the technology helps the learning process and if students are comfortable working with technology and can create artifacts, they should be encouraged. The most difficult part for teachers will probably be the assessment of the artifacts created with web 2.0 tools. Teachers will need to develop rubrics to assess their students for each project. Also, at my school lack of computer lab time could be an issue.

    As for simulations, at my school all games are blocked. If they were available I would love my students to apply their knowledge of history, literature, or science and learn above and beyond what any text book could offer.


  2. Craig,

    It sounds like we are facing some of the same obstacles! I am a major proponent of technology in the classroom (and a bit of a geek on my own time, I do admit) and it is frustrating when resources are limited or blocked. I have tried to provide students with opportunities to view or work with various online sites at home rather than at school because of limited access in our school walls. Thankfully, we can usually have a site unblocked if we can prove the academic worth of the content. In the meantime, I just keep posting everything on my blog in the hopes that the children will explore on their own time!

    I am a sixth grade math teacher and though I have experience with rubrics and various assessments, I know that it will be hard to move away from standard mathematics assessments. Both parents and the powers-that-be expect classic assessments; to some degree I also feel that pencil and paper tests best assess student learning. As my experience with these resources increases, my belief in their worth grows. It will be a challenge and a bit of a learning curve to create rubrics that adequately quantify the students' work and understanding, but I believe that education is moving in this direction so I might as well start moving as well!

    Best of luck getting your hands on some computers and accessing those worthwhile games! Thank you for your comment.


  3. Nancy,

    There is nothing better than to have students create artifacts by using what they have just learned. Not only does this give students the opportunity to create another pathway in the brain to long term memory, it provides them with relevance between knowledge and application. In constructing projects, students get to see how their new acquired knowledge can be used.

  4. I find that divide and conquer works the best. By providing many different ways for my students to respond, computers are usually only a part of the process.

    I have also made an arrangement with neighboring teachers to allow my students access to computers that are not in use at the time. I send those students who are self-motivated out of the classroom and keep those who need my attention stay with me. This can triple my computer access. Also, if you have different parts of the assignment ongoing at different times, you end up with free computers. One other way is to have one student responsible for the computer work while others work on other aspects of the project.

    Just some suggestions for those of you stuck with four computers like I am.

  5. Marcella,

    It sounds like you have had some success with using artifacts for assessment/final products. I feel much more comfortable using this construct for learning experiences rather than assessments for my math curriculum. I have, however, seen wonderful final products within Social Studies and Language Arts lessons. I very much look forward to incorporating more artifacts into my classwork and assessments.

    Thanks for your comments,



    Lucky you to be stuck with four computers! I have no student computers in my classroom. Your idea to allow students to take turns and have different roles seems effective and wise. As I begin to read about the social learning theories that we will explore this coming week, I believe that we can merge these two ideals, and use limited resources to their peak, for the most effective lesson.

    Thanks for your comments,