What does constructivism have to do with my classroom?
As is the case with many of the current/popular paradigms, you’re probably already using the constructivist approach to some degree. Constructivist teachers pose questions and problems, then guide students to help them find their own answers. They use many techniques in the teaching process. For example, they may:
More information on the above processes is covered in other workshops in this series. For now, it’s important to realize that the constructivist approach borrows from many other practices in the pursuit of its primary goal: helping students learn HOW TO LEARN.
Example: An elementary school teacher presents a class problem to measure the length of the “Mayflower.” Rather than starting the problem by introducing the ruler, the teacher allows students to reflect and to construct their own methods of measurement. One student offers the knowledge that a doctor said he is four feet tall. Another says she knows horses are measured in “hands.” The students discuss these and other methods they have heard about, and decide on one to apply to the problem.
Examples: A middle-school language arts teacher sets aside time each week for a writing lab. The emphasis is on content and getting ideas down rather than memorizing grammatical rules, though one of the teacher’s concerns is the ability of his students to express themselves well through written language. The teacher provides opportunities for students to examine the finished and earlier drafts of various authors. He allows students to select and create projects within the general requirement of building a portfolio 1. Students serve as peer editors who value originality and uniqueness rather than the best way to fulfill an assignment.
In a history class, asking students to read and think about different versions of and perspectives on “history” can lead to interesting discussions. Is history as taught in textbooks accurate? Are there different versions of the same history? Whose version of history is most accurate? How do we know? From there, students can make their own judgments.
Example: Students keep journals in a writing class where they record how they felt about the class projects, the visual and verbal reactions of others to the project, and how they felt their own writing had changed. Periodically the teacher reads these journals and holds a conference with the student where the two assess (1) what new knowledge the student has created, (2) how the student learns best, and (3) the learning environment and the teacher’s role in it.
Example: In the course of studying ancient civilizations, students undertake an archaeological dig. This may be something constructed in a large sandbox, or, as in the Dalton School’s “Archaeotype” software simulation, on a computer. As the students find different objects, the teacher introduces classifying techniques. The students are encouraged to (1) set up a group museum by developing criteria and choosing which objects should belong, and (2) collaborate with other students who worked in different quadrants of the dig. Each group is then asked to develop theories about the civilizations that inhabited the area.
Example: Sixth graders figuring out how to purify water investigate solutions ranging from coffee-filter paper, to a stove-top distillation apparatus, to piles of charcoal, to an abstract mathematical solution based on the size of a water molecule. Depending upon students’ responses, the teacher encourages abstract as well as concrete, poetic as well as practical, creations of new knowledge.
What happens when a student gets a new piece of information? The constructivist model says that the student compares the information to the knowledge and understanding he/she already has, and one of three things can occur:
Example: An elementary teacher believes her students are ready to study gravity. She creates an environment of discovery with objects of varying kinds. Students explore the differences in weight among similarly sized blocks of Styrofoam, wood, and lead. Some students hold the notion that heavier objects fall faster than light ones. The teacher provides materials (stories, posters, and videos) about Galileo, Newton, etc. She leads a discussion on theories about falling. The students then replicate Galileo’s experiment by dropping objects of different weights and measuring how fast they fall. They see that objects of different weights actually usually fall at the same speed, although surface area and aerodynamic properties can affect the rate of fall.
Source: The Thirteen Ed Online