Constructivism

I’m reading Exploring Current Issues in Educational Technology (2001, pg 65). Quotes are from this book. Right now I am quoting a lot. Constructivism is a learning theory. “The key to understanding constructivism like in the belief that people learn by actively trying to make sense of information and experiences….They construct knowledge through their interactions with people and their activities in the physical world…..Therefore, good teaching does not involve simply telling people facts or conveying information. It means setting up conditions that support and encourage individuals in developing their own concepts and comprehension.”

Ahhh! That’s why I can listen to types on how do use a particular software, go through the exercises, and still not retain the knowledge! Not only does it put me to sleep after a while, but if the exercises do not mean anything to me personally, I have a hard time doing them. That’s why I work better if when I am following along I am working on a real project.

Constructivists believe that 1. “knowledge depends on the situation and the context.” So “it is important that we ground our learning and teaching in specific situations.” 2. “learning is….social…..we must test our ideas against those of other people: arguing, explaining, collaborating, and discussing.”  Ahhh! So that’s why we are doing discussions in every class!

Effective learning is relevant. Effective learning is active. Effective learning is personal. Effective learning is social.

Activities should be “experiences that are personally meaningful to the learners, that require significant amounts of work to master, and that are not especially ‘canned’ to produce a given result.” (65) “intellectual detours are ….the central point of the learning.” “Focus on the process of learning and inquiry.”

Scaffolding–instructor helps you but doesn’t lead you.

Situated learning–“ground all learning …in tasks, activities, and problems that are meaningful to the student.” We learn better when what we are learning is more meaningful to us. I seems simple as I read it but it makes so much sense that I can’t believe that it took so long to discover constructivism!

The constructivists argue that a better approach is to ground all learning as much as possible in tasks, activities, and problems that are meaningful to the student. If it is important that we learn facts, then we will learn them most effectively while engaged in meaningful tasks. To see what this means consider something that you are “expert” in, whether it is sports statistics, popular movies, or anything else. If you are well-versed in the area, then clearly you know a lot of facts and concepts related to it. How did you learn them, by sitting down and tediously memorizing them? Of course not. You picked them up as you went along, pursuing your interest for its own sake. As you learned more and more about your area of expertise you undoubtedly have found it easier to learn more. In addition, your understanding of the area has deepened and become richer. All this happened not because you drilled yourself in the basics but because you were engaged in activities that were important to you. The learning then came naturally.

Another principle of constrictivism is the idea of collaborative learning. According to constructivists , “we learn by expressing our ideas to other people, testing them, and getting feedback.?” It makes sense now why when we turn in a project, we go through a peer review before the professor grades the paper, as in my Computers in Education class. It is also why the discussions are graded in content. We are not just supposed to say something because we need to post, we are supposed to think through what the others have said, and say something meaningful in response,–challenge–debate–collaborate! According to the book, by working with other students we “naturally engage in many of the social aspects of good learning….to come to a shared and deeper understanding of the subject.” Wow. I had no idea.

How does this translate into teaching?

Problem based learning–where student is given a problem to solve and in order to solve the problem, s/he has to find out the concepts and research the answers.

Goal-directed scenarios–where the student is given a realistic situation and has a goal to reach.

“All this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. but you should realize that a good constructivist-style lesson , including a goal-based scenario, will be long and complex one for the students as well. You are trying to develop meaningful goals and missions for the students to achieve. These goals should require them to learn and use a variety of skills, perhaps in more than one discipline. Therefore, a good lesson will probably take the students many days or even weeks to complete….a goal-based scenario or PBL problem will keep you and the class busy for a long time while teaching much more in the process.”(72)

These are questions in the back of the chapter. Maybe later I will answer them.

  1. What do you think about constructivism as an approach? Will such a
    potentially unstructured strategy work?
  2. What is the most effective way to plan class activities which give students
    more freedom (and more responsibility) to learn ?
  3. From your experience, do you believe that constructivist teaching methods
    are appropriate for all students? Or might some students benefit more from
    those methods while others do better with more instructivist methods? How
    would you characterize the types of students in each group?
  4. Do some subjects lend themselves to more constructivist methods than
    others? If so, describe them. Why do you think this is so?
  5. Perhaps we do not have to choose either constructivist or instructivist
    teaching methods. Perhaps instead we should see teaching strategies as
    lying on a continuum between the two extremes. If this is so, then maybe
    different strategies are most appropriate for different situations, subject
    matters, and audiences. Discuss this possibility and how you might put it into
    practice.
  6.  Perhaps even more difficult than reconciling the idea of “planning” with that
    of “constructivism” is the problem of reconciling the fact that states and
    districts have prescribed curricula. How can you plan lessons that teach a
    given curriculum and still use genuinely constructivist methods?
  7. You have spent years in various educational institutions (although hopefully
    were never “institutionalized!”). As a student, did you ever have a teacher
    who used constructivist teaching methods? How did those experiences differ
    from more traditional ones? Which did you think were most successful?
    Which were more enjoyable?

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