Thursday, March 24, 2011

Constructivism in Practice

Dr. Orey defines constructivism as “a theory of knowledge stating that each individual actively constructs his or her own meaning (Laureate Education, Inc. , 2010). The theory of learning that corresponds to this would be constructionism. An interpretation of constructionism is that “people learn by actively constructing new knowledge, rather than by having information "poured" into their heads (Thurmond, 1999). The most effective strategy of this type of learning is for students to create actual artifacts that can be shared with peers.  This sharing leads to collaboration on particular topics and can be a beneficial resource when engaging in problem and project-based learning, such as generating and testing hypotheses.

As a science teacher, experience working with hypotheses is common. The most familiar task that my students have encountered is experimental inquiry.  Through this process, students make observations and generate questions relative to their observations.  From here they devise experiments that are designed to prove the question that they have created. The experiments that the students perform can at times provide large amounts of data.  It is challenging for a student to understand how to interpret data and provide conclusions related to their experiment.  In keeping with the constructivist theory, students will experience success in problem-based learning if they can create artifacts. 

Technology can be the necessary tool to create these artifacts. Through the use of spreadsheets, students can interpret data and create nonlinguistic representations of their findings. Because science experimentation involves multiple trials, the use of technology allows students to concentrate more on the process of proving their hypothesis, rather than the vast amount of data that they have recorded. The ability to share the graphics that are developed from their data gives students the opportunity to collaborate with others in the classroom or on the web.  As students develop detailed conclusions to communicate their findings, they are engaged in their learning and experience further retention of the subject matter (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007). This retention helps to develop personal connections as students increase their schema.

Department of Educational Technology, Boise State University. (2005). Designing your project. Retrieved

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program seven. Constructionist and
constructivist learning theories [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology.
Baltimore, MD: Author.

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

Thurmond, AnnMarie. (1999) Constructivism and constructionism.  Retrieved from


  1. "Spreadsheets are wonderful tools for middle school science experiments. I just need more computers." This is what a colleague of mine, who also happens to be my son's science teacher, said to me when discussing my son's science notebook. She is a wonderful teacher who every student looks forward to having because of her "cool experiments". We were talking about a table of results that students had made in their notebooks when I asked wouldn't it be nice if we could use spreadsheets for this. Like many schools, we don't have enough computers. If we did, she said, she could do twice as many experiments because her students wouldn't have to spend so much time drawing tables and recording data. Instead the students would be experimenting and analyzing the data. In students terms, technology would enable them to spend more time on the exciting things and less time on the boring things. In constructionist theory terms students could spend more time constructing meaning and understanding.

  2. I am guessing that every teacher has the wish of having more computers. I know that I can say that I do. Along with being able to use spreadsheets, I would also be able to add virtual labs to my curriculum. With time and money constraints, it is difficult to experiment as much as I would like. There are even virtual dissections that can be used in the classroom. This would help tremendously with my students that seem to be a little squeamish about cutting into something that was once living. I have sent students to the computer lab for this type of dissection, but it is an alternative on the day when we are actually dissecting. This means that there is not any guidance taking place. Being able to go through the virtual dissection with all students would be a great way to prep for the hands-on process. When you find a way to get computers for every classroom, let me know.

  3. Science is one area in which the constructivist theory of learning works especially well. Students naturally have questions about how things work. This allows students to make a hypothesis and then use an experiment to determine whether or not they are correct. Your method of experimental inquiry is great because not only do students need to come up with a hypothesis, but they also need to create their own experiment to test it, which requires them to think on a higher level. This definitely requires them to understand what is going on and helps them to create their own understanding.

    I teach high school math. While I probably cannot use this method as frequently as you do, it has its applications in the math classroom as well. This is especially true in my Geometry classroom were students are asked to prove theorems. Often times before we learn a theorem students have a good idea of how it works, they have just never proven that it is true. I will often ask them to predict something like a certain angle measure and then ask them to think of a way to prove that their answer is correct. These higher level thinking skills are important for students to learn, and they help students to create their own understanding of the topics we cover.

  4. Higher level thinking skills are important in any subject. When students are able to create some sort of artifact, such as an experiment or a problem that they solve in math, they are more likely to retain that information and connect it with future learning. This is one way to develop a student's schema.