Constructivism in Practice

This week’s resources dealt mainly with instructional strategies that integrate the constructivist/constructionist learning theories.  One of our book resources, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works (Pittler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007), had a chapter titled “Generating and Testing Hypotheses.”  This chapter correlates well with the constructivist learning theory because it suggests that when students are using technology tools (spreadsheets, data collection tools, interactive applets and simulations) to create and test ideas in all content areas, students are able to construct meaningful knowledge and apply what they learn.  Thus, students are actively learning and understanding more of the content area.  Of particular interest to me in this chapter were the collaborative project Web sites, the Collaboratory Project, and the simulation websites.  Many of these sites are excellent resources for engaging students in learning about different content areas. 

I am trying to find more ways that I can get my students to not just be active in their learning, but to push them to that next step (constructionism) and have them find tangible ways to DO something with the new knowledge or skills that they have learned.  For example, this last week my class was learning about local government and their role (now and in the future) in our community as citizens.  One of the books we read together was about political activism.  One of my students came up to me the day after that lesson and said that she was ready to start an investigation into why our school cafeteria served corn that was less than appetizing (this girl lives on a farm and I’m sure has some experience with growing and eating fresh corn).  Sadly, our school year has concluded before she could begin this inquiry, but if we had more time, I might have facilitated a study into different kinds of corn,  and how it is grown and processed for consumption.  We could have done several taste test surveys and used technology to organize and graph our findings.   Then, perhaps a presentation (Powerpoint or iMovie) to the Health Services department in our district might be effective in changing what is served in the cafeteria.  Sounds interesting and fun, doesn’t it!

I hope that as I continue to learn and practice these constructivist/constructionist teaching strategies, that my students will be able to see themselves as scientists, activists, citizens, inventors, explorers… ready and able to change the world and make it a better place to live!

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

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7 Responses to Constructivism in Practice

  1. Jodi Lemaster says:

    What a valuable lesson that would have been for your student to move into an inquiry about the food served in your cafeteria. That seems like a topic that students in any building would be interesting in taking to a deeper level. The use of taste surveys turned into graphs definitely would have been a good use of constructionist techniques. The chapter in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works (Pittler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007), on testing hypothesis would go along with this idea perfectly because you could ask students to find ways to clearly explain their hypothesis on the subject. Experimental inquiry, problem solving, and possibly even system analysis could take place in a study of the cafeteria food.

    Do you think that you would try to recreate this topic with another group of students next year?

    • butkusfamily says:

      We have done a few other similar inquiry projects this year and they have been effective. If this particular subject comes up naturally, why not? 🙂

  2. Mark Fisher says:

    Your idea with the corn served in your cafeteria sounded like an excellent idea. I especially liked how you planned to use all those different types of technology to enhance the project. I actually did something similar with one of my high school applied math classes earlier this year. They had been complaining about the amount of food they were getting for lunch, and still being hungry. So we collected a bunch of data from the cooks at our school, as well as other resources on nutrition for different age levels, etc. The students ended up collecting a bunch of data, using spreadsheets to organize and analyze the data, as well as graph and display the data. Our principal was so impressed that he took the data to the next board meeting, which was really exciting for the students. Not only did they learn a lot about data analysis, graphing, etc. But this had all been spurred by them complaining about the school lunches one day and me wanting to show them that if they really wanted to affect change, whining about something was not going to change anything. It was really great. I wish you the best of luck with your project too when you are able to do it, I think it will be really great!

    • butkusfamily says:

      That is really a great example of constructionism, Mark! It is all about kids learning by doing and having an end result in mind. Did you use Excel or was there a better program that your students used?

      • Mark Fisher says:

        We used Excel actually. Part of the project was dealing with different types of graphs too, so the students had to utilize the graphs/charts function on Excel and decide what type of graph and what parameters best displayed their data to help their argument. It was really neat to see, especially with these being a group of students that generally do not have a lot of success, or care for, math.

    • Rachel Hopkins says:

      This is great! I bet the kids were really excited about their information being used by the principal. Nice work!

  3. Rachel Hopkins says:

    I love hearing about all of the ideas around improving nutrition for your students…. the health teacher in me. The students at our feeder middle school did something similar and actually we heard by our district. A few changes were made in regards to the menu we had but we would have to do something a little bigger to make anything great happen. Great ideas.

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