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. 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.[1]

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.".[2]

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.".[3]

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.[4]

Instructional principles (problem-based learning)[edit]

Here is one type of theory that constructivist learning theory can be applied in a classroom setting. This is known as problem-based learning. Problem-based learning is 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.[5] There are different types of instructional strategies to make problem based learning more effective.

1. Try to create all the learning activities for the learner to be related to a larger task. This is important because it allows student 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.[6]

2. The learner needs to be supported to feel that they are beginning to have ownership of the overall problem.[7]

3. An authentic task should be designed for the learner. This means that the task and the learner's cognitive ability have to match with the problems to make learning valuable.[8]

4. Allow reflection on the content being learned so the learner can think through the process of what they have learned.[9]

5. Allow and encourage the learners to test ideas against different views in different context.[10]

These are some examples of problem based learning and is an example of a constructivist approach to learning.[11]

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. 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

Constructionist learning have also been put into practice by the World Wide Workshop Foundation. With Papert as an advisor, the foundation established the Globaloria program in 2006 to teach youth to become game and simulation makers using constructionist learning principles.

Constructionist learning theory has influenced the computer science education, as well. Some educational programming languages have been created, wholly or in part, for educational use, to support the constructionist theory of Seymour Papert. These languages have been dynamically typed, and reflective. Logo was the best known of them, which is superseded by Scratch (programming language) and BYOB (programming language).At MIT, Papert went on to create the Epistemology and Learning Research Group at the MIT Architecture Machine Group which later became the MIT Media Lab. Here, he was the developer of an original and highly influential theory on learning called constructionism, built upon the work of Jean Piaget in constructionist learning theories. Papert worked with Jean Piaget at the University of Geneva, considered the most brilliant and successful of Piaget's proteges; Piaget once said that "no one understands my ideas as well as Papert." Papert has rethought how schools should work based on these theories of learning.

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 compelling 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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.
  4. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Wilson, B. (Ed.) Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instrumental design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  7. ^ Wilson, B. (Ed.) Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instrumental design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  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. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.
  13. ^ Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html.
  14. ^ 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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