Allowing Constructivism Into the Classroom

An Overview of “Constructivism and Conceptual Change, Part I”

Alan Colbern provides his definition of constructivism and applications of it towards philosophy, learning styles, and teaching topics such as Newton’s laws and photosynthesis. Colbern notes that a classroom centered around constructivism will introduce the idea that “human being have brains, and that learners’ experiences affect how they understand science concepts.”

These notes on Piaget and Vygotski outline several key points to constructivism from a psychological perspective, which sets the basis for applying the theory to education.  Colbern mentions that constructivism grows from Piaget’s reasoning that when a student learns a new idea, they “will unconsciously compare what you say with all the rest of their knowledge.”

Colbern concludes his ideas with the note that not all students can be asked to revolutionize their worldviews with every new lesson.  The difference for constructivism, however, is providing an opportunity where kids have the chance.

Applying the Article to the Classroom

The following lesson plan could be used to apply these constructivist principles to introduce evolution.

Engage: Instruct students to research different examples of animals who have changed significantly due to evolution.  Have them make notes of specific traits and what benefit they provide to the organism.

Explore: Have students come together in groups to share their findings, including their theories on why each trait is helpful.

Explain: Have students make connections to traits and their functions, and why certain traits are no longer useful.  Have them explain why they think certain organisms were more fit than others.

Elaborate: Tie in the proper terms of evolution to various situations, including the natural selection that favored the more fit organisms and the genetic drift that occurred in certain populations.

Evaluate: Allow students to present their findings as a group to the rest of the class.  Be sure that they tie in the new vocabulary that they learned in terms of their organisms.


To put the difference a constructivist approach adds to a class simply,

Constructivism is

  • A teacher working with students and posing questions about a subject
  • Students hypothesizing their own answers
  • Engaged students working together and developing discovery
  • Students making connections with what they’ve previously learned
  • Students asking questions when information is contradictory

Constructivism is not

  • A teacher standing at the front of the room spitting out facts to be memorized
  • Bored students memorizing “the answer”
  • Students dozing off to sleep when they don’t understand the new concept
  • Memorization of new, unrelated facts
  • Students trying to remember the new information blindly, even if it contradicts prior knowledge

This image provides a basic flow of constructivism in the classroom.  When students discover new topics, the learning and reflection keep the cycle going, until the concept is applied to new situations.


The Simpsons

This early episode of the Simpsons has Bart moved to a new school with less boundaries on learning so that he can learn through inquiry. While it may have been a mistake in the show, there are plenty of students who benefit from an atypical environment where they can let creativity drive the process.

In terms of constructivism, students like these are able to use their previous experiences and knowledge to further develop their learning. The two students in Bart’s class strike up a discussion about freedom of humankind.

Their conversation structure can be applied to science classroom as well. If the topic were something more expandable, like different examples of evolution, students would be able to trace similarities of the species they already know. The teacher could then help guide the discussion towards terms like natural selection and inheritance.


Colburn, A. (2007, October). Constructivism and Conceptual Change, Part I. Retrieved October 14, 2018, from

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