Constructivist/Constructionist Learning Theories in Practice!

Constructivism is a learning theory which explains that students learn from constructing their own meanings of information.  Constructionism, a learning theory stemming from the constructivist model, adds that students learn best when they are able to “construct” a tangible object or product in which they can share with others (Laureate Education Inc., 2008; Orey, 2001a). Constructionism is beneficial because students are engaged in learning through the process of creating a final product or outcome. Students learn from creating and constructing concepts into objects or products that are relevant to their lives (Orey, 2001a).  These constructions should promote critical thinking and problem solving.   With this learning model, teachers are facilitators in which they serve as “guides on the side.”  Generating and testing hypotheses, learning by design, project and problem- based learning, anchored instruction, and webquests are used in classrooms to promote the constructivist/constructionist theories.

Howard Pitler et al. provide a vast array of strategies that promote and support various learning theories.  Today’s focus, constructionism, can be promoted by having students Generate and Test Hypotheses (Pitler et al., 2007, 202-216).  While many of us associate this strategy with science, Pitler recommends using this across the curriculum.  “When students generate and test hypotheses, they are engaging in complex mental processes, applying content knowledge like facts and vocabulary, and enhancing their overall understanding of the content” (Pitler et al., 2007, 202).  There are six tasks that teachers can use to enable students to generate and test hypotheses: system analysis, problem solving, historical investigation, invention, experimental inquiry, and decision making. This supports the constructionist theory because students are engaged and involved in creating a final product.  When one generates a hypothesis, they are critically thinking, inferencing, and making predictions.  In order to test the hypothesis, students participate in a project of some sort to find the conclusion. From this, they create a concrete finale in which they may share with others.

Learning by Design is another strategy that promotes the constructionist theory. Like constructionism, learning by design values the final product, however, it also promotes students being a part of the “design” process as they create these products.  In fact, in this model, the students are referred to as the “designers” because they are designing the final product.  This is a learner-centered model in which students are engaged because while creating final products that are meaningful to them. Tasks are authentic, real-world applications.  Collaboration is encouraged through the process, and teachers should offer individualized feedback in which students can reflect upon (Orey, 2001a).

Project-based learning is a teaching and learning strategy in which students create a final product or performance through a long-term “project”. It is learner-centered and requires students to choose and organize the project, conduct research, and synthesize information (Orey, 2001a).  The projects should be complex tasks that are based on an essential question(s) that are meaningful to students’ lives. The teacher serves as a facilitator where many times does not know answers to students’ questions. Project based learning requires varied assessment measures including teacher assessment, peer assessment, self assessment, and reflection. Through project based learning, students have increased motivation, problem-solving ability, research skills, collaboration, and management skills (Orey, 2001a).

Problem- based learning encourages students to create a final product while solving a “problem” that is relevant to students’ lives. These problems are real-world in which the students seek a realistic problem to solve.  There are multiple possibilities for answers to these problems where students must work collaboratively to address the possible outcomes to the essential question(s). This is learner-centered where the teacher acts as a facilitator, and learning is driven by the problem, not the curriculum (Orey, 2001b).

Anchored instruction is an example of problem-based learning where students participate in complex problem solving based around an “anchor” book or scenario.  The anchor possesses a problem that is meaningful to students lives (Orey, 2001b). The teacher serves as a guide, while  students research and explore to find a reasonable answer(s) to the problem. Anchored instruction supports constructionism as students produce answer(s) as the final product(s).

Webquests are web-based inquiry activities in which students interact and find information that has come from the internet (Dodge, 1997). Webquests include an introduction, usually to an essential problem or question.  Students then explore the task, research information, follow the process, and come to a conclusion.  They are often group activities where students are motivated through the task and process (Dodge, 1997). Webquests are most effective when the fundemental question(s) and task(s) stem from higher-order thinking skills and are relevant to students’ lives (Marzano, 1992).

Click to visit the website

All of the examples discussed correlate with the principles of constructionism.  They all allow students to “construct” a final product in an environment where the teacher is the facilitator, the atmosphere is learner-centered, and the tasks are relevant to their lives.  Students participate in problem solving through research, collaboration, and reflection. Technology offers helpful tools in promoting constructionism.  Students are able to use technologies to research, record, and/or present final outcomes. Students are no longer memorizing information to regurgitate back on a test.  Through constructionism, students are more likely to retain information gained because the tasks are relevant to their lives and they produce a concrete final product(s).  Students are able to share their products with peers which enables students to add the information to their episodic memory. From this, students have learned in a meaningful manner which could last a lifetime.

References:

Dodge, B. (1997). Some thoughts about webquests. Definition. Retrieved from: http://webquest.sdsu.edu/about_webquests.html

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2008). Constructivist and Constructionist Theories. [Videowebcast].  Retrieved from http://www.courseurl.com

 

Marzano, R. J. (1992). A different kind of classroom: Teaching with dimensions of learning. Alexandria VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project-Based Learning. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Main_Page

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Problem-Based Instruction. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Main_Page

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

3 thoughts on “Constructivist/Constructionist Learning Theories in Practice!

  1. Hi Janelle,
    I really enjoyed exploring the ideas presented in this week’s resources. I agree with the strategy of anchoring the problem. This provides the teacher with some control, not necessarily over the actual learning, as this will be unique to each student according to the constructivist theory, but over the content and curriculum material that will be covered in the inquiry. As facilitators, we can still exert a small bit of control over what our students explore through guided experiences.
    Lisa LeBlanc

  2. Hi Janelle,
    The learning strategies we explored this week support the tenets of constructivism/constructionism. As such they are all student centered and engage students in real world authentic tasks. The benefits to students are many including the promotion of critical thinking and problem solving skills. However, there are two sides to every coin. Therefore, what do you perceive as a major disadvantage or challenge in the implementation of any of the strategies you described above?
    Andrew Haynes

  3. Thank you for your response Lisa, and thank you for your question Andrew!

    Andrew,

    I am a proponent for implementing a mixture of learning theories in my classroom. Challenges occur when a learning theory is used in an “all or nothing” scenario. Teachers who use direct instruction in a teacher-centered environment all of the time run the risk of losing their students’ interest and efforts. Students may appear to be well behaved, but are they truly learning?

    On the other hand, teachers who use the constructionist model where learning is entirely student- centered, and they are producing projects all of the time can be time consuming and unproductive as well. Teachers must not lose the focus that they are to lead and direct in meaningful ways. In addition to the teacher serving as the “guide on the side”, teachers also have moments where direct instruction should be used.

    I like the following format:

    “I do” – direct instruction – teacher centered

    “We do” – practice examples together – teacher and student centered

    “You do” – students display their learning – student centered

    In my fourth grade classroom, the last step is an ideal time to implement strategies that we learned about this week: learning by design, project based learning, anchored learning, and webquests. However, if the content was learned in a previous grade, I feel more confident using these strategies earlier on in the process.

    Whether you choose student-centered, teacher-centered, or a mixture of both, the constructivist theory says that learning occurs best when students are able to make sense of their world around them (Orey, 2001). This is true across the board, and should be one of the foundations of how we teach.

    Thanks for your question!

    Janelle

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>