Constructing the Future: Constructivism

Think back to any psychology class you’ve ever taken. Do the names Piaget and Vygotsky ring a bell? If so you’ve heard of constructivism! And this is how it applies to the classroom:

Defining Constructivism

Constructivism is a theory that says learning is built on the foundation of prior knowledge through experiences and past ideas (Krahenbuhl, 2016).  This means that students can learn through what they already know and are able to build on to that past information.

Now this might sound a little bit confusing still, so allow this video to break it down further:

In the article “Student-centered Education and Constructivism: Challenges, Concerns and Clarity for Teachers” by Kevin Krahenbuhl, he mentions ten principles of instruction that “are intentionally designed to scaffold students towards deep and vibrant learning” (2016).

They are:

  1. Review of previous learning
  2. Present new material in small steps, practicing after each
  3. Ask many questions and check understanding of all before moving on
  4. Provide models such as worked examples
  5. Guide student practice
  6. Check for student understanding and address misconceptions quickly
  7. Obtain a high success rate before moving on
  8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks
  9. Require and monitor independent practice when they are prepared
  10. Engage students in frequent, and spaced-out over time, review

(Krahenbuhl, 2016)

Constructivist Learning Cycle

I compared the principles of instruction with the learning constructivist learning cycle which is separated by 5 Es:

  • Engage: assess prior knowledge
    • This part of the lesson should be an ‘attention getter’ and is a quick way to assess what the students already know about a topic
  • Explore: what did the students obtain from the engage?
    • Following the engage, students should be able to explore the topic in an inquiry-based activity
    • Stations are perfect for this section
  • Explain: students create a definition
    • BEFORE giving students your definition, they should come up with their own definition of the topic based on what they saw in the engage and explore sections
    • This section is student-led and can be followed by a mini lecture to keep all students on the same track
  • Elaborate: applying what they’ve learned
    • In this section, students should be challenged with the new ideas they’ve learned
    • Real-life examples are encouraged to be discussed in this section
  • Evaluate: assessment (formal/informal)
    • Teachers should assess students new and prior knowledge in this section
    • Mini-assessment can be used throughout the entire learning cycle

Example of how to apply the learning cycle to the earth science classroom:

  • Engage: Show students a demonstration melting crayons to form new compounds
    • See what they know about how this relates to the rock cycle with probing questions
  • Explore: Have students go around to different station and explore different kinds of rocks and how they formed
  • Explain: Guide students towards the differentiation of the three rock types and their properties they witnessed previously
    • Follow up with a mini lesson on how this actually happens in real life
  • Elaborate: Have students research different places on Earth that have these various types of rocks and create a poster (different colors for each student) with what they found and provide an example
  • Evaluate: If taken place over multiple days, follow up with an exit slip to gauge student learning and end the unit with a quiz covering the content

Krahenbuhl, K. S. (2016). Student-centered Education and Constructivism: Challenges, Concerns, and Clarity for Teachers. Clearing House89(3), 97–105. Retrieved from:


  1. Kacey, I really enjoyed your blog. My favorite part had to be the example learning cycle you included at the end about rock formation. Since rock formation is such a slow natural process, it may be difficult for students to envision what is actually taking place. Your ideas about melting wax is brilliant! Students will be able to see any possible layers forming, along with possible gas bubbles that may be relatable to igneous rock formation. This allows for students to get a real experience with the topic, which is a crucial foundation to beginning the lesson. I am no expert on rocks, but I think this would be really cool! How could you manipulate the wax melting to show the three main types of rocks? How could you emphasize that these are very different rock types, even though they are all composed on the same material within this experiment?

  2. Kacey

    I loved how you started your post by connecting the topic of constructivism to psychology! Because Piaget and Vygotsky are some of the original founders of this idea. I quite enjoyed the relevancy of the video too. From your article, I like the steps towards achieving a good scaffolding technique in your classroom; it’s great advice to look back on. The learning cycle you made for earth science is amazing! It is a very interactive way for students to understand the three different types of rocks and learn more about them. Will you use this technique of the learning cycle in your classroom throughout your career? What are some other ways you can evaluate your students other than exit slips?


    • Micheal,

      I am hoping to use the learning cycle in my career because it organizes ideas and helps make lessons and activities much more student-led. I think it makes it easier to get information to the students and allows them to be more successful. For your second question, I would try quizzes as well over little bits of a topic and end the unit off with a project or unit test just to see what the students know and truly understand. Personally, I like informal ways of assessing when an idea is new and then making it more formal when they ideas are more solidified!


  3. Kacey,
    Amazing post! The video that you used definitely helps to break down what constructivism means in an easy-to-digest way! I also love the lesson that you designed with the learning cycle and constructivism!

    • Bryce,

      Thank you! I tried to make the ideas as simple as possible since they can be a bit overwhelming. Also, your feedback really helps my future posts!


  4. Kacey,

    Great tweet! I really liked the ten principles from the article. I think they fit in really well with the 5 E’s of learning cycle and can picture them at work in the classroom, really helping the students. I also liked your bullets for the learning cycle. I thought they were short and to the point while still giving enough information to be able to understand what should be happening at each step. Great job!

    • Claire,

      Thank you! I thought the ten principles from my article were very interesting so I thought I’d allow those who view my post to be able to compare the 5 E’s and the principles to see the connections. I tried to make my post more easier to digest because I’ve been told that sometimes my posts are a bit overwhelming so your feedback helps!


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