Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Constructivism in Practice

In our study of learning theories and instruction practices we have explored behaviorism and cognitive philosophies, our attention will now turn to the constructivism.  Anchored in the work of Lev Vygotsky’s social development theory and the zone of proximal development, constructivism theory asserts that learning is actively created through an individual’s interaction with the environment (Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K, 2001).   As a result, instruction is more students centered in that the students construct understanding and meaning through the development of an external artifact. This project based learning approach shifts the focus from teacher driven lecture models to that of inquiry based questioning is posed to students.  The teacher subsequently acts as a facilitator to learning and monitors student progress and development.  According to Jacqueline G. Brooks and Martin G. Brooks, (1993) a constructivist classroom is and environment in which: student autonomy and initiative are accepted and encouraged, the teacher asks open-ended questions and allows wait time for responses, higher-level thinking is encouraged, students are engaged in dialogue with the teacher and with each other, students are engaged in experiences that challenge hypotheses and encourage discussion, the class uses raw data, primary sources, manipulatives, physical, and interactive materials.

As a project based style, constructivism lends itself to a number of instructional strategies and technology tools. An example of one of these instructional practices is found in the process of generating and testing hypothesis.  This process of generating a theory requires students to engage in higher level thinking skills, apply the content in a deeper more authentic way, and apply facts and content vocabulary in a logical and systematic way (Pitler, et al, 2007).  According to the MREL research recommends that when applying this practice into your classroom students must be able to articulate and explain their hypothesis and conclusions, and teachers must develop and guide structured activities for students generate and test their hypothesis (Pitler, et al, 2007).
As a result there are six ways in which a teacher can guide students through this process: system analysis, problem solving, historical investigation, invention, experimental inquiry and decision making (Pitler, et al, 2007).  In order to facilitate these practice, teachers can integrate a number of technological resources such as spreadsheets, web based tools, and other data collecting tools.  Spreadsheets can assist student in organizing their data and findings in a clear and concise document.  The sorting and filter aspects of a spreadsheet allow student to manipulate their data in order to prove or refute a hypothesis.  In addition, spreadsheets can upload to virtual programs such as Google Doc so students can edit and engage collaboratively outside the traditional school day.  With spreadsheets, one can then use data tools to displays their finding in a variety of modes.  The most common would be the creation of bar graphs and other graphing tools.  These tools provide students with a translatable and visual form of the data thus making the content more accessible for the learner. 

Finally, web based tools such as Web quests, mock scenarios and other live action activities allow student to explore a variety of hypothesis in a controlled environment.  They are able to test various theories and see how the results in real time virtual environments.  When accompanied with an avatar students can witness the human aspect and consequences that occur with different learning scenarios.

Although in many schools direct instruction is still utilized as a primary form of teaching, project based instruction and constructivist principles are emerging as a more effective resource to demonstrate 21st century skills. 


Brooks, Jacqueline Grennon, and Martin G. Brooks. (1993). In search of understanding: the case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved September 23, 2012, from

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cognitivism in Practice

In education, we are guided by a number of psychological principles which attempt to define how individuals learn.  Although educators generally do not subscribe to only one learning theory, the principles gathered from a variety of resource define a teacher’s pedagogy and overall philosophy regarding student learning.   It is these resources that guide educator’s instructional practices and approach to curriculum development.  Last week I explored the relevance of behaviorism in modern education.  This week I will delve into the theories of cognitive learning and how these principles correlate to instructional strategies utilized in today’s classrooms. 

Cognitive learning theory was initially developed during the 1950’s as a direct response to the principles of behaviorism (Cherry, 201 2, p. 1).   Where behaviorism asserts that learning is acquired through conditioned responses to stimuli that can be manipulated through positive or negative reinforcement, cognitivism, maintains that the human brain is similar to a computer processor.  Information is obtained through a variety of mental processes such as thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving ("Cognitivism," 2012, p. 1). This information is then used to create mental schema or a conceptual framework to process and create meaning for the learner. 

The concept of schema development and mental processing found within cognitive theory, lends itself to a number of instructional strategies and technology tools. Tools such as cueing and questioning are memory devices educators can utilize to trigger information, prior knowledge and memory progress (Pitler, et al, 2007).   In order to facilitate cueing, one can utilize concept mapping or advance organizers.  These cognitive tools allow learners to represent knowledge in a graphic manner.  It is a tangible representative of the mental schema’s that is created within the brain, and allows students  to generate ideas, to design a complex structure, to communicate complex ideas to aid learning by explicitly integrating new and old knowledge,  to assess understanding or diagnose misunderstanding(Robertson et al, 2007).  Presently, there are a number of technology resources that allow students create a multitude of concept maps.  Microsoft Word has developed SmartArt inserts which provide users with a selection of concepts mapping tools.  In addition, websites such as Cacoo and Grapholite, educators and learners can create virtual maps which are easily accessible during instructional sessions and presentations.

Another common cognitive tool similar to cueing and advances organizers relates to summarization, and note taking.  Both of these tools require the learner to organize and synthesize information into a logical and systematic document (Pitler, et al, 2007).  In terms of note taking, similar technology tools utilized in concept mapping can be applied.  As stated these graphic organizers can be developed utilizing both virtual software and Microscoft Office software.  Educators can also create PowerPoint presentations with key words and phrases removed, thus requiring students to fill in the blanks. This variation on note taking allows educators to differentiate for students who may require additional support or processing time.  Summarization is the process of synthesizing key concepts and ideas into a short concise statement.  Pitler, H., Hubbard, E. R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K, (2007) recommends u     sing rule based strategies, summary frames and reciprocal teaching strategies  in order to facilitate summarization process. Through the use of tracking tools and auto summarization tools within Microsoft Word, users are able to implement and demonstrate rule based strategies. 

Through the use of these tools, technology resources and other cognitive learning principles, educators can develop concrete and meaningful resources for their students.  Learners are able to organize, recall and employ information with greater ease and proficiency.


Cognitivism. (2012). Retrieved September 16, 2012, from

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

Robertson, B., Elliot, L., & Robinson, D. (2007). Cognitive tools. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging   
perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved September 16, 2012, from