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.


  1. Hi Jaime,

    I enjoyed your post and your thoughts on Constructivism. Have you thought much about which of the various types of constructivism/constructionism is the most appealing to you? I have not studied each type enough to say that one is better - in fact, maybe it's best to use them in combination. I was just curious what your opinion is.


  2. Jeremy:

    Thank you so much for your response. In all honesty I think I am in the same boat as you in terms of constructivism/constructionism. I have not studied either extensively to determine which is better. What I have found is that when I use PBL with in my classroom my students are more engaged and put forth a greater amount of effort. As a Spanish teacher giving student opportunities to engage in various scenarios cements understanding and proficiency. As an educator, I find PBL to be more fulfilling than paper and pencil exams simply because I get to engage with my students in inquiry dialogs and determine errors in thinking.


  3. Jeremy,

    I think that direct instruction is also still the primary source of teaching. Although many schools want to see teachers moving on to 21st century skills, they also want to see teachers that have students performing above standards even more. Once we break that barrier with teachers, schools will see teachers effectively allowing their students to create student centered projects that do more than just use Microsoft Word to type out their findings. They will be able to explore other applications that will teach them much more.