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.
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.
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.
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
- ATTENTION GRABBING
- 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:
Turning a didactic lesson into a constructivist lesson so students can participate in their learning rather than listening to me teaching. pic.twitter.com/VwGDadZfVh
— Dr. Sharma (PhD) (@DrSunainaSharma) October 5, 2017
- 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.