An Interesting Perspective: Mirrors and Windows

Howdy Bloggers,

Today marks the fifth official installment of An Interesting Perspective. In this post, we will discuss constructivism and the significance behind a student’s prior knowledge and experience.

What is Constructivism? 

As defined by David T. Crowther in his article Cooperating with Constructivism – Getting the Word Out on the Meaning of “Constructivism,” “constructivism means that as people experience something new, they internalize it through past experiences or knowledge constructs that have been previously established.” So, in an educational context, you must realize that all students come into the classroom with an understanding based on their own life experiences.

This means that students do NOT come into the classroom as blank slates. They come into the classroom with predetermined notions and ideas about topics that relate to their own past experiences.

Image result for constructivist learning

This idea of blank slates is the old model, and is known as positivism. Positivism is like a mirror. You come into the classroom as a teacher ready to give all the information you have to the students. When you look at them at the end of the year, you simply see a reflection of yourself and your knowledge; hence a mirror.

On the other hand, constructivism is like a window. After the school year is over, each student will have a unique view out of their window that was formed by the information presented. This view represents how the students can take that information and apply it to their lives. Their view is also shaped by their experiences prior to walking into the classroom. These experiences lay the framework for their view out the window.

Image result for window landscape

So when you as a teacher go to look out each student’s window, you will see a uniquely different landscape. However, if you look closely, you will be able to see a slight reflection of yourself in the glass. This reflection is important, but unlike with a mirror, it is not at all the focal point of the window.

Image result for constructivist learning quotes

How can constructivism be applied to the classroom?

An easy way to implement constructivist ideas into a lesson is by using the 5 E’s learning cycle. The 5 E’s of the learning cycle are Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.


  • Assess prior knowledege
  • Measure depth of prior knowledge
  • Assesses and creates interest in the topic
  • Example: Lab demonstration


  • Develop better understanding of the depth of prior knowledge
  • Involve students
  • Introduces concept characteristics without labeling concepts
  • Requires data collection and analysis
  • Example: Making and documenting observations from multiple stations around the room


  • Students develop definitions of the concepts collectively
  • Allow students to assimilate new information
  • Requires critical-thinking and communication
  • Here is an example of an explain type exercise:


  • Allows students to apply the concepts
  • Requires communication and cooperative learning (you can learn about an interesting perspective on cooperative learning here)
  • Here is an example of an elaborate type exercise:


  • Assess level of understanding formally
  • Requires separate activities from the ones used in the other aspects of the learning cycle
  • Requires application of information to a new situation
  • Example: Presenting research to a board of teachers

Example Lesson – Arrangement of Periodic Table


  • Do a demonstration with helium and sulfur hexaflouride gases to make your voice sound higher and lower pitched. Inquire why this might be the case (their properties change the frequency at which sound can travel)


  • Have students examine the periodic table and think about how the numbers on the periodic table are significant. Note trends or patterns that are observable.


  • Break students into cooperative learning teams consisting of four teammates. Have them become experts in a particular area by breaking them into Jigsaw II groups that focus on Atomic Number, Valence Electrons, Elemental Family Characteristics, and Bonding Tendencies.


  • Do a missing person activity. Have a “family” of people with different features such as arms, fingers, hairs, body size, etc. Have students organize these people in a particular order based on their features, similar to how the periodic table is organized. (For example, everyone with two hairs will be in the same family (column) and the smaller people will be on top and heavier on bottom. The number of hands can determine the number of energy levels and fingers can show the number of electrons in each of those energy levels.)


  • Take a short quiz on the trends of the periodic table.


Crowther, D. T. (1999, September 1). Research and Teaching: Cooperating with      Constructivism—Getting the Word Out on the Meaning of “Constructivism”. College Science Teaching.


  1. Tom,
    I think the 5 E’s learning cycle is crucial to incorporating constructivism into the classroom. It allows students to contribute their prior knowledge to help not only themselves, but their classmates as well. They can take that knowledge and apply it to the new concepts.

  2. Meghan,
    I actually struggled with whether or not to put that activity as explore or elaborate. Originally, I actually had it as an explore activity, but I ended up switching it. I did that because I thought having that background and understanding of trends within the periodic table would allow the students to apply their understanding to a different set of characteristics. This would demonstrate that they truly understand the material. It is definitely a close call, though.

  3. Billy, I love how you put constructivism into action in this post. Constructivism is something that I feel is somewhat easy to under stand conceptually. However, sometimes we as educators have trouble implementing it into our classrooms. I love your examples that you have provided in your post, and also the description of the Five E’s cycle as it relates to teaching as a constructivist.

  4. I love the analogy you used with the mirror and window, especially how you describe how you can faintly see yourself through the reflection on the glass, but how you aren’t the focal point.
    I’m still getting to know the 5 E’s better myself, but my only comment there is that I think your Elaborate is more of an Explore activity. I could be wrong, but in my mind I connect Elaborate specifically with the newer content material, and the Explore with prior knowledge. I really like the activity, but I think it would improve the lesson to connect it to the content more. I could be misunderstanding the activity, though.
    Overall, I think this blog post was insightful!

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