Constructionism (learning theory)

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Seymour Papert

Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. Constructivism advocates student-centred, discovery learning where students use information they previously know to acquire more knowledge. [1] This is done through participation in project-based learning where students are able to make connections between different ideas and areas of knowledge that the teacher helps them to form: “In the constructivist paradigm, the teacher’s role is not to lecture or provide structured activities that guide students, step by step...Instead, teachers in a constructivist classroom are called to function as facilitators who coach learners as they blaze their own paths toward personally meaningful goals.” [2] However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world. In this sense, constructionism is connected with experiential learning and builds on Jean Piaget's epistemological theory of constructivism.[3]

Seymour Papert defined constructionism in a proposal to the National Science Foundation entitled Constructionism: A New Opportunity for Elementary Science Education as follows: "The word constructionism is a mnemonic for two aspects of the theory of science education underlying this project. From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing is a meaningful product.".[4]

As Papert and Idit Harel say at the start of Situating Constructionism, "It is easy enough to formulate simple catchy versions of the idea of constructionism; for example, thinking of it as 'learning-by-making'. One purpose of this introductory chapter is to orient the reader toward using the diversity in the volume to elaborate—to construct—a sense of constructionism much richer and more multifaceted, and very much deeper in its implications than could be conveyed by any such formula.".[5]

Papert's ideas became well-known through the publication of his seminal book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas (Basic Books, 1980). Papert described children creating programs in the Logo language. He likened their learning to a living in a "mathland," where learning mathematical ideas is as natural as learning French while living in France.[6]

Instructional principles (problem-based learning)[edit]

One application of constructivist learning theory in a classroom setting is known as problem-based learning, a method which allows students to learn about a subject by exposing them to multiple problems so they will be able to construct their understanding of the subject through these problems. This kind of learning can be very effective for mathematics where students try to solve the problems in many different ways which allow the students' brains to be stimulated.[7] There are different types of instructional strategies to make problem based learning more effective.

1. The learner's learning activities should be related to a larger task. This is important because it allows students to see the connection to the activities that can be applied to many aspects of life. As a result, the learner will find the materials and activities they are doing useful.[8]

2. The learner needs to be supported to feel that they are beginning to have ownership of the overall problem.[9]

3. An authentic task should be designed for the learner. This means that the task and the learner's cognitive ability have to match the problems to make learning valuable.[10]

4. Reflection on the content being learned should occur so the learner can think through the process of what he/she has learned.[11]

5. Allow and encourage the learners to test ideas against different views in different contexts.[12]

These are some examples of problem based learning, a constructivist approach to learning.[13]

Constructivism also encourages building upon students' previous knowledge. Not only can Constructivism be applied to mathematics but the social sciences as well. For example, instead of having students memorize geography facts, a teacher could give students blank maps that show unlabelled rivers, lakes, and mountains and then ask his/her students to decipher where the major cities might be located without the help of books or maps. This would cause students to locate these areas without using these resources, but their prior knowledge and reasoning ability instead [14]

Constructionist learning involves students drawing their own conclusions through creative experimentation and the making of social objects. The constructionist teacher takes on a mediational role rather than adopting an instructionist position. Teaching "at" students is replaced by assisting them to understand—and help one another to understand—problems in a hands-on way.[15] The teacher's role is not to be a lecturer but a facilitator who coaches students to attaining their own goals.[16]

Bringing IT to a classroom[edit]

Papert has been a huge proponent of bringing IT to classrooms, as in his early uses of the Logo language to teach mathematics to children. While constructionism has, due to its impetus, been primarily used in science and mathematics teaching (in the form of inquiry-based science), it is arguable that it developed in a different form in the field of media studies in which students often engage with media theory and practice simultaneously, in a complementary praxis. More recently it has gained a foot hold in applied linguistics, in the field of second language acquisition (or SLA). One such application has been the use of the popular game SimCity as a means of teaching English using constructionist techniques (Gromik:2004).

Beginning in the 1980s, The LEGO Group funded research in Papert's research group at the MIT Media Laboratory, which at the time was known as the "Epistemology and Learning Group." When LEGO launched its LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System in 1998, which was based on work in his group, they received permission to use the moniker "Mindstorms" from Seymour's 1980 book title. In The LEGO Group's LEGO Serious Play project, business people learn to express corporate issues and identity through the medium of plastic bricks—another form of constructionist learning.[17]

In 2005, Papert, together with Nicholas Negroponte and Alan Kay launched the One Laptop Per Child initiative to put constructionist learning into practice in the developing world. The aim is to provide $100 laptops to every child in the developing world.[18]

Computer programming languages[edit]

A number of programming languages have been created, wholly or in part, for educational use, to support the constructionist approach to learning. These languages have been dynamically typed, and reflective. They include:

  • Logo is a multi-paradigm language, which is an easier-to-read adaptation and dialect of Lisp, without the parentheses. Logo is known for its introduction of turtle graphics to elementary schoolchildren in the 1980s. Its creators were Wally Feurzeig, and Papert.
  • Smalltalk is an object-oriented language that was designed and created at Xerox PARC by a team led by Alan Kay.
  • Etoys is being developed since the 1990s under the direction of Alan Kay, most recently by the Viewpoints Research Institute, based on Morphic tile scripting. Etoys was initially targeted at primary school math and science education.
  • Physical Etoys is an extension of Etoys that allows to control different devices such as Lego NXT, Arduino Board, Sphero, Kinect, Duinobot, Wiimote among others.
  • Scratch was developed in the early 21st century at MIT Media Lab under Mitchel Resnick. Like Etoys, it is based on Morphic tile scripts. Scratch is initially targeted at programming interactive multimedia, in primary and secondary education.
  • StarLogo TNG was developed by the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program under Eric Klopfer. It combines a block programming interface with 3D graphics. It is targeted at programming games and game-like simulations in middle and secondary schools.
  • NetLogo was developed by Uri Wilensky. It was developed to teach children computational reasoning and thinking, and extends the Logo language by enabling the existence of many, many turtles at the same time. NetLogo is widely used not only in the K-12 environment, but also by researchers interested in the concept of Agent-based modeling
  • Easy Java Simulations or Ejs or EJS was developed by Open Source Physics under Francisco Esquembre. The user is working at a higher conceptual level, declaring and organizing the equations and other mathematical expressions that operate the simulation. It is targeted at programming physics simulations in secondary schools and universities.
  • LEGO WeDo is a graphical programming language for children age 7+, used with the LEGO WeDo power function hub.
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 is a dataflow graphical programming language for children age 10+.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Alesandrini, K. & Larson, L. (2002). Teachers bridge to constructivism. The Clearing House, 119-121.
  2. ^ Alesandrini, K. & Larson, L. (2002). Teachers bridge to constructivism. The Clearing House, 119-121.
  3. ^ Cakir, M. (2008). Constructivist Approaches to Learning in Science and Their Implications for Science Pedagogy: A Literature Review. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 3(4), 193-206. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
  4. ^ Sabelli, N. (2008). Constructionism: A New Opportunity for Elementary Science Education. DRL Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings, 193-206. Retrieved from http://nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=8751190.
  5. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.
  6. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.
  7. ^ Hmelo-Silver, C. E. & Barrows, H. S. (2006). Goals and strategies of a problem-based learning facilitator. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1. 21-39.
  8. ^ Wilson, B. (Ed.) Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instrumental design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  9. ^ Wilson, B. (Ed.) Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instrumental design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  10. ^ Wilson, B. (Ed.) Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instrumental design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  11. ^ Wilson, B. (Ed.) Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instrumental design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  12. ^ Wilson, B. (Ed.) Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instrumental design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  13. ^ Wilson, B. (Ed.) Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instrumental design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  14. ^ Biehler, R., Snowman, J., D’Amico, M., Schmid, R. (1999). The nature of meaningful learning. Psychology applied to teaching, 387-403.
  15. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.
  16. ^ Alesandrini, K. & Larson, L. (2002). Teachers bridge to constructivism. The Clearing House, 119-121.
  17. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.
  18. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.

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