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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Cognitivism in Practice

The resources I have read and watched this week provided a number of excellent instructional strategies that correlate to the cognitive learning theory.  They help to strengthen memory and understanding by increasing engagement, making connections to previous learning, and by making the learning more meaningful, and thereby, increasing retention.  Here are the strategies that I felt were the most applicable to my classroom situation and are ones that I would like to integrate more often into my practice:

Concept Mapping-  I like the ideas about advance organizers on pages 75-76 in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007).  Our grade level takes various field trips during the year and having them research and create a brochure beforehand and then add to it after the experience is a wonderful strategy.  It is a good way to activate prior learning and integrate new concepts into memory.  I am looking forward to trying it!

Integration of Multiple Senses- In the video Cognitive Learning Theories, Dr. Orey (Laureate, 2011) states that information should be presented using as many senses as possible (visually, auditory, kinesthetically) for the learner to create a lasting memory.  Technology in the classroom, and in particular, the use of a computer with a projector or a Smart board really facilitates this strategy.  Students can see icons/pictures along with words and can manipulate these things to construct meaning.  I use this strategy frequently in my classroom, but I am usually the one manipulating the computer and the students are more passive in watching and responding verbally.   It would be more effective to have the students active in the process and be able to create and explore more of the content on their own computer or with a partner.  Perhaps using the portable computer lab would facilitate interactive learning activities.

In Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007), the authors also suggest using multimedia (video, graphics) to activate background knowledge and to reach students with various learning styles.  I often begin a new series of lessons with video clips or pictures and notice that my students are much more engaged when I do this, but I could definitely do this more often to make lessons more memorable.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program five: Cognitive learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology.

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

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It’s a new adventure!

I am one and a half weeks into another class in my “Technology in the Classroom” Masters program.  This class is called “Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction and Technology” and I am excited because it looks to be a good review of learning theories that I haven’t revisited since my undergraduate program and it also will address how to support best teaching and learning practices with the latest in technological resources.

This week’s resources dealt mainly with the behaviorist learning theory, which basically states that learning occurs when a certain behavior is rewarded or reinforced (also called operant conditioning).  On the other hand, punishment decreases the likelihood that a behavior/learning will reoccur.  I believe, as does Dr. Orey (Laureate, 2011), that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment in achieving and maintaining a positive, successful, classroom atmosphere.

Other resources I read this week also correlate to the principles of this learning theory.  In chapter 8 of “Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works”, the authors discuss and suggest the use of spreadsheet software or other data collection tools (such as Survey Monkey) to track effort and achievement in the classroom (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007).  I do explicitly teach my students about the importance of effort, along with a number of other important learner attributes and attitudes.  I have been looking more into how growth and performance in this area (particularly in behavior and work habits) can be tracked over time for positive reinforcement.  Recently, I have become aware of a free online program called “Class Dojo (” that I would like to try.  It is a behavior management software program that helps teachers keep track of various desired behaviors and provides instant recognition in class.  There is a shorter time between an action and feedback, which leads to greater reinforcement.

I also agree with the authors of “Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works” that assigned homework and skill practice should be purposeful, focused on specific elements, and supported with feedback from the teacher (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007).  I have been experimenting this year with various online programs that I think fulfill these requirements and have had various levels of success with them.  One of the most effective programs I have found so far has been Khan Academy (  It is a engaging program that covers subject from math to history.  Students receive positive reinforcement by earning points and badges.  My students have really enjoyed this program and I have seen significant improvements in effort and learning with its use in the classroom and at home.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program four: Behaviorist learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory,  instruction and technology. Retrieved from

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

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My second Master’s class, “Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society”, has been a challenging, yet fun class.  I am surprised at how much I have learned in only 7 weeks about teaching 21st century skills and strategies for implementing these skills into my classroom using technology! When looking over the checklist we were given at the start of this class, I can see that I am much more adept at designing instructional activities that require students to collaborate and then give them opportunities to share and present information that they have learned using technology.

This course has helped me by forcing me (not that I didn’t want to learn, but I never seemed to find the time) to explore new-to-me tools that I can then teach my students to use.  My favorite tool that I learned to use was the blog.  I was able to explore, learn to use it, and teach my students to use it in a few short days.  I found it amazing (see previous blog posts) and exciting to see how quickly my students learned to communicate online and their passion to discuss various educational topics.  I have found in subsequent uses of a classroom blog that it is especially helpful at determining what students already know about a topic or what students are interested in learning about. In Will Richardson’s book, “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms”, there is a long list of ideas for using blogging in the classroom (pages 39-40) and I think just about every one of these may be possible in my classroom and I am eager to try them out.  The second tool I learned to use was a Wiki.  I appreciated learning how to use this tool, but I think that for me, using Google docs for an interactive, group project might better suit my classes’ needs.  I also learned how to pod cast, which was valuable practice.  My students have already had some practice in making iMovies, but we have not published them online for others to view and so this was a new process for me.  In the future, I would like to explore this idea so that their families and friends might be able to interact with their learning experiences also.

This course has also helped me grow as an educator by exposing me to new ideas and knowledge and helping me grow in understanding my own students.  I think one of the most eye-opening experiences in this course was the technology survey I gave to my students.  It shed light on how much time they spend at home using technology and gave me some insight on how they learn best and what I can do to better capitalize on their interests.  I always appreciate the comments and suggestions given by my colleagues through our interactions via blog, wiki and discussions, also.  It is good to hear other’s points of view and receive feedback and encouragement and it helps give me courage to tackle new and sometime daunting projects.

Dr. Chris Dede stated in one of our video resources in this class that students must be experts in communication and decision making to be successful in whatever field they choose to pursue (Laureate, 2010)). As I have thought, studied and discussed my way through this course, I have come to this conclusion: If the core instruction in my class is the acquisition of 21st century skills and I teach them the importance of questioning, problem solving, being creative, taking risks, receiving and expressing ideas and information appropriately, and reflecting on their learning, then my students will be successful at engaging in any culture or society with any kind of new developments in technology or shift in global issues, needs, or advances.  To achieve this, I must take the role as a teacher/facilitator and lead the students in meaningful, practical, experiential, inquiry learning processes where they can learn, practice, and apply these skills.

I am excited to learn more about integrating 21st century skills and technology into my everyday classroom practice. I agree with Donald Leu in the article “New Literacies” when he talks about the importance of inquiry and self-directed learning.  He says that teachers/facilitators need to come up with a problem and then let students decide how to go about solving it (2007).  I would like to start using this approach to cover more grade level standards.  I have two units that I teach currently that I would say are completely inquiry, learner-centered units that integrate technology in engaging, collaborative ways.  So, there is much work to be done.  It sounds easy to have your classroom be learner centered and directed, but I have found that it takes a lot of work and preparation!  I feel it will be worth the effort, however, and I am looking forward to learning about more technology tools that will help me in this endeavor.  My goal is to expand and improve my inquiry units.  I would like to have another two units ready to go by next fall and another two (for a total of six) completed by the fall of 2013.  This will take many hours of planning, research, and organization, but I feel like many of my assignments during my Walden courses have been already helpful in this process and I think that new learnings will mesh well with these goals also.  I also have three wonderful colleagues that I am blessed to work with on a daily basis that support and encourage me in this process and are willing to try new ideas as well.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program nine. The changing work environment: Part 2 [Webcast]. Understanding the impact of technology on education, work, and society. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Miners, Z., & Pascopella, A. (2007). The new literacies. District Administration, 43(10), 26–34.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

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My first podcast!

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21st Century Learning

This week, I have familiarized myself with an organization called P21 (Partnership for 21st Century Skills) and their website (  This website and organization is new to me, but I am excited and relieved about its existence.  I am excited because it emphasizes and promotes the development and infusion of 21st Century skills into our current educational system.  The mission of P21 is to integrate what they call the 3Rs (core subjects) with the 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity).  I am relieved because I don’t believe that our government and educational system in its current state is capable of this reform, but with the powerful backing of this initiative from wealthy and influential companies, I am hopeful that this transition can be a catalyst for change in every school in America.

The information on this site did not surprise me, but it did inspire me.  This is my first year teaching in an IB PYP (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme) candidate school.  I am finding that the focus on 21st Century Skills at an IB school is very much the same as P21’s.  In fact, much of the same language is used in their mission statements and on their websites.  I have been through much professional development this year about the importance of inquiry, self-directed learning, collaboration, communication, risk taking, problem solving and global awareness.  I am thrilled to know that these skills that I am trying to incorporate into my classroom are the ones that the experts in highly technological fields and companies are and will be looking for in the future business world.  I want my students to have every skill, advantage and opportunity for success when they finish their schooling.

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I can’t believe it.

Well, I did it.  I tried student blogging for the first time today.  As a class, we developed our “Essential Agreements” for online publishing and talked extensively about internet safety, etiquette and thoughtful responses.  I posted a piece of poetry and asked for students to analyze and share their interpretations of it.  That was at 2:30 this afternoon and the last time I checked our weblog, my students were still discussing it.  It is now 8:30 pm and I am hoping they go to bed soon.  I have learned two valuable lessons today. First, I need to just dive in and try things and quit being such a chicken about experimenting with new technology.  My students need it.  Now.  No.  Yesterday.  Second, from now on I will substitute the term “Short Constructed Response” with “Blog”.  I will get much more enthusiastic and meaningful responses.

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