Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Constructivist Approaches to Learning

This week we looked at the idea of generating and testing hypotheses (inquiry learning) for application in classrooms beyond science.  Having students formulate questions, create a theory of how or why something is the way it is, research it, and then test these hypotheses is what inquiry learning is all about.   It is an active method engaging the student in all stages of the learning process and can be either inductive or deductive.  Critical and complex thinking skills are emphasized in this method as students inquire and formulate their findings.  This correlates to the constructionist approach to learning where students are actively engaged in the process of constructing learning within their minds (knowledge is not simply transferred from teacher to student).  The constructionist theory of learning takes inquiry learning one step further in that the learner creates an artifact of some sort with which they can share their knowledge or learning with others.  It can take many forms as each learner is unique and has different experiences to draw from (or connect the learning to).      

The constructionist classroom is student-centered where the instructor is relegated to the role of facilitator, guiding the learner on their path.  Elements of this classroom include but are not limited to:

            Rubrics that define expectations

            Projects based on the research

            Collaboration with other learners

            “Genuine” or authentic real-world tasks

The teacher must be familiar with multiple strategies to allow the students various methods of solving the problems that arise within the learning platform.  Scaffolding, or building upon what is already known, is very popular with this theory.  Feedback from the instructor throughout the entire process is critical for students to alleviate misconceptions and revise their hypotheses.  Placing the application in a real-world context, helps with the connections that are created in the mind of the learner and is a motivating factor for many.

I found this link helpful in explaining inquiry learning as applied in a regular classroom.

The book Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007) breaks down this theory into six tasks that teachers can incorporate in the classroom to assist students with their hypotheses generating and testing.  The first is system analysis where students study the parts of the system and predict what would happen if something in the senario were changed.  The second is problem solving, investigating the various possible solutions in light of the obstacles posed.  Third is the task of historical investigation where there is no definitive resolution.  A myriad of senarios could be examined and explored in this step.  Forth is invention where creative solutions are thought through to test the hypotheses.  Fifth is experimental inquiry, a process whereby students test their predictions.  Sixth is decision making, the step where students use agreed upon criteria to choose which senario is the most logical or practical.

Technology is useful in helping students collect and record data to formulate these hypotheses or inquiries.  Spreadsheets, data collecting software, and web resources (especially in the form of simulations) allow for the quick gathering or consolidating of information so that students may concentrate on construeing their hypotheses.

Works Cited

Laboratory, N. R. (2005). Research-Based Strategies. Retrieved March 21, 2012, from Focus on Effectiveness:

Orey, M. (2008, December 15). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology:

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology with Calssroom Instruction that Works. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.


  1. Hi Sandra,

    I think that the idea of project based learneing has positive effect on students learning is not new. What is new is the variety of technolgy based tools that became available to classrooms teachers, which will definitely change the whole learning experience in the years to come.
    On the other hand, project based learning supports and develop the social skills that are so important for the students' future.
    Lastly, you are correct by saying that project based learning shifts the focus from the teacher to the students, in such a way that the teacher has the role of guiding and correcting the students, but ultimately the students are building their own understanding.

    1. I agree that as newer technologies emerge project-based learning will become easier to implement. The challenge for the educator will be in keeping up with what is being offered. It seems that just when I become comfortable with a type of technology, then something better comes along to replace it.

  2. Sandra,
    I have used the NETC site before, it is very thorough. However, you may want to look into other sites that are a little easier to use like Pb Wikis and I also use RubiStar to develop rubrics for many of my projects. These are just some sites I find easy to use when developing problem based learning lessons.

    1. Thanks for the resources. I am always looking for any technology that will make my job easier and keep students engaged in the content.

  3. Sandra-
    I agree with you that technology has become more useful in helping student collect and analyze data (in this case for the purpose of generating and testing hypotheses). Technology can also be helpful in helping students construct their own ideas about the world around them concerning a variety of topics. Some of the resources presented this week gave some great ideas and templates for implementing constructionism in the classroom. Wiki pages are great ideas for collaborative project-based activities but I also think the concept mapping ideas from last week also help support constructionism when working on project-based activities. I like to use the website for creating individual and collaborative concept maps to see how individual and groups of students construct their understanding of topics such as savings and investing and credit card debt. You can use this as a pre-test type activity to see what they know (like a KWL) or as a summative or formative assessment of knowledge. Hopefully you can explore this resource as well to add to your teaching repertoire.