Why the Emotions Matter

When you think back to high school, what kind of people were your favorite teachers?  Were they the boring kind that just stood at the front of the room and lectured?  Probably not.  I know my favorite teachers had us getting involved with what we were learning and exploring it in groups or on our own as much as possible.  This is what we call constructivism.

What is Constructivism?

Constructivism is an idea that has been around for a long time in teaching.  The theory holds that students come in not as blank slates, but rather as active learners that already have experiences in their lives that they can use in their learning.  The teacher doesn’t just dump information to the students and then they learn it, but rather they use the information given and their past experiences to produce an effective learning experience.

Making Constructivism Work

Not every teacher can just teach with constructivism and hope to be successful.  The backbone of constructivism is the emotions behind it.  The relationships that are built between students, and the students and teacher.  These relationships and specifically the latter one are what Sherry Herron writes about in A Curious Thing Happened on the Way to Constructivism.

Herron writes that “..attributes such as empathy, courtesy, and respect should be part of a teacher’s value system before constructivist methodologies can be fully realized.”  What does this mean?  The more that a teacher cares  about his students and shows them respect as individuals, and not act as higher authority figures, the more successful the individual will be at using constructivism.

Once this connection is made, then constuctivism can begin to flow within your classroom.  But it is up to you to make it work.  Here are some ways that it can be done:

  • Have students work in teams (Cooperative learning!)
  • Don’t just lecture, let the students think and put things into their own words
    • Get them involved in the lesson
  • Get students actively doing an activity such as putting together a project
  • Do labs, but take away the step by step procedures (always be safe!)
  • When misconception arise, give students another way to think about it
    • Stop the misconception before it festers
  • Use the 5E’s!
    • Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate

The whole idea of constructivism is in the name.  Your students should be constructing their knowledge, not just having it dumped onto them.  Transferring knowledge from one person to another is impossible, it’s better that we let them construct that knowledge with some guidance and care along the way.


Activity: Can you Adapt?

  • Engage
    • Show students a video about one of the most well adapted animals on Earth: the Tardigrade (water bear)
    • Have students write down the features of a tardigrade that make it so unique
  • Explore
    • Have students research and interact with various features of animals that show unique or interesting features to them
    • Give them things such as a turtle shell, crab claw, etc.
  • Explain
    • Present students with terms such as adaptation, vestigial structures, etc.
    • Have the students come up with their own definitions in groups and then the entire class can use these definitions to make one unified definition for each
  • Elaborate
    • Each group can pick the animal that most interests them and then find multiple unique adaptations and possible vestigial structures that animal has
    • Put together a pros and con to each of the adaptations and produce something visual for the class (Poster, PowerPoint, video, etc.)
      • Present this to the class with more information on the animal they chose (where does it live? What does it eat? etc.)
  • Evaluate
    • Students will be assessed on their understandings informally while they are going through the cycle and through their presentations of their animals
      • Their presentations/posters could be used to evaluate their understandings formally as well

Herron, S. (2009). A Curious Thing Happened On The Way To Constructivism… . Journal of College Science Teaching, 8-11.


  1. @Tom
    Thanks! I absolutely loved Dr. Herron’s article. I didn’t go into the explanations of constructivism too deeply, but rather showed what happened when how a student’s and the teacher’s emotions can impact the knowledge that students are constructing. I loved that I could tie this all together and show her perspective on constructivism, and how important it ends up being for us as future educators!

    I thought the same thing! It’s down to forming trust and bonds with your students. They want to explore what they love and what they are passionate about, but if they don’t feel that they can share their thoughts and ideas, then they won’t be constructing the knowledge that you so hope they do. And this ties back into the lesson plan, because students want to pick an animal that they enjoy a lot or that they share in common with others in the classroom!

    Thanks! I really wanted to make the lesson plan as open ended as possible. I wanted the students to be able to explore on their own and do their own research, then bring it all together and tie it in with the lesson itself. My favorite part was the engage, because I know the tardigrade is such a strange creature that students will get very interested (especially if you start off with something like, “Can you think of an animal that can survive in the coldness of space or the extreme heat of a supernova?”). The TEDTalk was so good I had to include it, the idea of students being able to construct their own ideas to change something in the world and starting with just one school was so empowering!

    Yes! That was a great summary of everything from my blog and Dr. Herron’s article! If you take away the emotions and students aren’t getting excite by what they are learning, then how will they ever construct the knowledge? The students will just struggle to take interest and only try to memorize random things they don’t understand. Once the emotions are there, the learning is going to truly begin!

    Thanks! The post isn’t quite middle or high school teaching, but it’s still very important! It’s the first steps for getting students to construct knowledge by working it out! I personally enjoyed the engage the most, because it is such an interesting animal to get students interested into the topic! The explore is great if you have the ability to get students to actually feel and interact with the different things you want them to take an interest in!

    Thanks! I really liked the quote too! That’s why it came at the beginning of the post, as it encompasses so much of what constructivism is. I loved tying emotions and relationships to constructivism because it’s important for everyone to form positive ones within the classroom, and even more important that students are forming strong enough relationships to work well together!

  2. Dillon,

    I really liked your blog this week! Your first quote really hit home for me. It encompasses the meaning behind constructivism. Then you connected constructivism to relationships in the classroom. This is one of the most important aspects in teaching. Students need to feel comfortable to learn. They also need to have collaboration to learn best! I enjoyed your lesson plan and it will create a constructivist classroom. Your media graphics helped get your point across. I thought your video went well with your blog. Great job!


  3. Dillon,
    I loved the Instagram post you included! I almost used that exact same one in my post. I also really liked your list of ways to incorporate constructivism into the classroom. The 5 E’s learning cycle is crucial to a constructivist classroom. It allows students to bring and showcase their prior knowledge and experiences to make that material relevant to their own lives. It also allows students the opportunity to be active in the learning. Another thing I enjoyed was your idea for an explore activity. This is a very broad spectrum activity that gives the students the freedom to explore something that truly interests them, while also focusing on the topic. Nice job!


  4. Dillon-

    I loved your article about the emotions behind constructivism! I feel like many times teachers come in with ideas of dumping knowledge, completely taking emotion out of teaching and focusing specifically on content. But when is the last time you had an unemotional classroom experience that meant something to you? This is why emotion is so important to constructivism–we have to be excited and engaged with our students in order to best help them construct knowledge!

  5. Dillon,

    I loved your lesson plan! I think the entire learning cycle tied together super well and really flowed from beginning to end, giving the students lots of freedom and chances to improve what they already know (very in line with constructivist principles). I also thought that the TED talk that you referenced did an excellent job of supporting the information in both your article and your blog. Awesome!

  6. Dillon,
    I really liked your lesson plan! It really gives the students a chance to share with the class what they know about the animal they picked. The groups will pick an animal that they know more about and they can build on that with their research.
    I like how you brought in the emotion side of constructivism. The students have to trust you enough to want to share their experiences with you. If a teacher does not have the trust of their students, they are not going to want to share anything so implementing a constructivist lesson will not go over well.

  7. Dillon, I love your title and your blog here. I love how you look deeper into what effects a students experiences have on them. It shapes them emotionally. This is something that is important to be conscious of as educators. However, it is something that I feel is frequently overlooked, even with people in the constructivist community. It is a very important issue and I am glad you have discussed it at length here!

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