Take me to Africa

My grandparents were avid world travelers when I was younger. Every time they would come home from a trip they would show me their pictures of where they went. The pictures that I really cared about were the animals. After looking at their pictures from safaris in Africa, I would go to the zoo and be able to tell anyone where the animal was from (if the animal was from Africa that is). When I was twelve, I had the great experience of going to Africa myself. I was able to see these animals in real life and was also able to see some of the native culture by visiting a Maasai tribe.


David T. Crowther (1999) discusses constructivism in an all encompassing approach. He talks about the history of it and how to implement it in our classrooms. He also talks about the struggles that some people had with accepting constructivism. While this article was more written towards college science educators, I think it still have some value for high school science teachers. Here is the link to the article: http://static.nsta.org/files/jcst9909_17.pdf

Constructivism Defined

Crowther defines constructivism as when “people experience something new, they internalize it through past experiences or knowledge constructs that have been previously established” (p. 18).

So what does constructivism in science look like? It has the same general background as the definition, but then adds on that students already have ideas and knowledge about natural phenomena, and use this knowledge to make sense of the world.

  • Each person has their own definition of constructivism, but they all agree that constructivism relies on social interaction and building on what you already know


Historical Perspective 

  • Most people think of constructivism as a recent development in education, but it has been around for a long time
  • Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all speak of the formation of knowledge
  • St. Augustine went against the church to say that learning had to involve a sensory experience

Practical Applications of Constructivism 

  • Problem centered learning where the teachers role is to provide experiences to the student from which they can build on their knowledge
  • Three components
    • Tasks
    • Groups
    • Sharing
  • Constructivism for science
    • Organize hands on investigative labs with no prescribed methods
    • Active cognitive engagement
    • Students work in small groups
    • Higher level assessments that match the types of activities that were done


So what does my story about Africa have to do with constructivism?  I learned from my grandparents pictures what animals were from Africa and was able to carry that knowledge over to a zoo setting. I was able to formulate knowledge from other peoples experiences and make it into my own. When they took me to Africa I was expecting certain things, but once I got there I had to construct new learning. In the airports I had to pay to use the bathroom. In restaurants I had to ask to not have ice in my drink. I learned more about the animals from the eyes of locals than I ever could in a zoo. I was able to see a pride of lions stalking antelope from a hot air ballon. I was able to see a van being charged by a mother elephant for driving between her and her calf. I was able to see a hippo footprint compared to mine to experience how enormous they really are. I was able to see how the direction the water spins actually changes when you stand on one side of the equator compared to the other. I was able to have hands on experiences to grow and change my perception of Africa.

Now, I know we can’t take our students everywhere to experience everything, but each student will walk through our doors with their own set of experiences to share and to grow on. It is our jobs to find out what our students know and what experiences they have and help them learn from them.

Activity: Superposition 

This is something that every person has experienced in every day life. You come home, take off your jacket and throw it on the ground or on “the chair” that collects clothes that are dirty but not dirty enough for the laundry.

  • When students enter the room, the teacher will hand them a colored piece of paper, have them write their name on it, and then put it in a pile on the teachers desk.
  • After all the students have arrived, ask them what observations they have about the pile of papers.
    • these observations might be things like there are changing colors in the stack and that the stack got taller as more people came in the room
  • After they discuss what they can observe, you will lead them through this next activity.
    • The teacher will have on at least 6 shirts of differing colors
    • The teacher will talk about how their laundry basket works the same way as the law of superposition
    • The teacher will take off one shirt for each day and put in in a pile where the students can see the changes in color for each layer
    • The teacher will ask the students to make observations. The teacher should be trying to guide them to see that the older clothes are on the bottom.
  • Then the teacher will revisit the pile of papers. The teacher will ask what they can figure out from this pile now that they know more about the law of superposition.
  • Then the teacher will show students how they can determine who was in the room first based on the position of their paper
  • Then the teacher will show them a picture of a highway like the one below
    • With the picture, the teacher will discuss how we can see superposition in every day life
  • This lesson is just an introduction of superposition. From here teachers can go into index fossils and many other things

Each student that walks through your door will be passionate about something. By connecting the lesson to something that they are passionate about, they are more likely to want to make meaningful connections to the subject.


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. Meghan,
    I do not think all tasks are inherently constructivist tasks. I think they can be if done a certain way though. If the teacher asks students what connects they have previously to it and help build on those then I think that can make it more constructivist. If the teacher does not give students the chance to reflect on their prior knowledge, they miss the chance to let students make connections.

  2. The Law of Superposition really stood out to me, especially since this process occurs over hundreds of years; students see the product but not the process. With laundry on the chair, students can see the process, and use this knowledge to learn about layers of rock and rock formation.
    My only question is what kind of tasks specifically are a component of constructivism? Are all tasks constructive, or is there a way you would suggest making tasks more constructive?

  3. Shay,

    I really liked learning about your experiences in Africa and how it shaped you. I though it was a good idea relating your personal experiences to constructivism. It is always helpful when trying to connect to the reader. You are right in saying that everyone comes into the classroom with prior knowledge. Your pictures and media graphics went well with your blog! Your activity was great too. It uses the students prior knowledge to build their knowledge. Overall, I thought you did a wonderful job explaining constructivism and how to apply it into the classroom.


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