Constructivism; Rebuilding the Classroom

Constructivism is…

Constructivism is a theory in education that holds a few central ideas about learning. In “Science Education: An International Course Companion” by Keith Taber and Ben Akpan, the big ideas in consturctivism are laid out as follows,

1 Learning is an active process

In constructivism, students are called to have a more active role in the classroom. Students must interact with the world around them and reconcile what they find with their prior knowledge and experiences.

2 Knowledge is not given, but found

The traditional classroom is not welcome within the realm of constructivism. Teachers cant just stand up at the board and lecture about a topic. Teachers dont GIVE information to their students, students are meant to find the information themselves.

3 Learning is a social process

By engaging with others in the classroom, students are able to challenge and develop their ideas. Debate is an important part of constructivist teaching. Students are meant to engage with the environment and that includes other students. Opposing ideas clash together and are modified and reconstructed to fit with new knowledge that has been obtained.

4 Learning doesnt start in the classroom

Kids already have ideas about the world. They have lived their entire lives in the real world and have come to their own conclusions about how their environment works. Constructivist theory states that those preconceptions are vital and important. They help build the framework opun which new information can be assimilated and accomodated.

In this video, a young girl looks at a field of ducks and geese and decides to share her knowledge. She looks at them and thinks “These are smallish white birds, I know what those are called, they must be chickens.” She came to the situation with prior knowledge. After this situation, she was likely given new knowledge (these birds are not chickens) and had to assimilate that new knowledge.

Soo, How do I implement this?

The easiest way is to implement a process called the 5e’s learning cycle.

The 5 e’s are


The Engage stage is where the students attention is brought in. Often times this stage is a demonstration of a scientific concept


Now that something has changed in the environment and students are engaged, students are encouraged to interact with the material and deepen their understanding of the environment.


In Explain, the students verbalize their new understanding and come up with a more concrete definiton of the concept


The Elaborate stage is where students get to apply their new knowledge. Often this takes the form of a variation of the original demonstration, or a manipulation of concept into a presentation or project


Evaluation occurs as the final stage. At this point in the process, students are tested over their mastery of the concept, although it doesnt need to come in the form of an explicit test.

But lets get more specific

Lets lay out a lesson plan built in the constructivist style.


Get the kids to go outside and check out the area around the school. Get them to look at areas where the ground has been disturbed. Is there water pooling in places? Has soil been removed or collected in some of those areas? Have them write down their observations from checking out those disturbances


Give the students plastic trays and samples of different types of soils (sand heavy soils, clay heavy soils, potting soil). Ask them to create a sample of the ground outside with the different kids of soil . Now give them water and small tools like shovels to replicate the disturbance in the ground. Ask them how something like that could have happened. Has is it rained recently? Has there been contruction going on? Are there signs that people or animals may have disturbed the area.


Ask some guided questions to get them to an understanding of the types of soil and the effect that the environment has on it. The goal here is to get them to come to the definitions for erosion and weathering.


Give them the same materials as before, but also give them model trees and other building materials. Have them create a landscape with the purpose that it has to stand up to the environment and prevent erosion from occuring. Then, simulate some of the causes of erosion. Pour some water on the landscape and observe how it changes.


Have the students write a reflection. How did it work? What aspects of their environments stood up well to weathering, and which ones didnt? Have them grade themselves on how effective they withstood the weathering conditions and have them detail what other improvements they could have made.

The Strength of Constructivism

The real value of this thoery is that it gets kids out in to the real world. Students want to see how science effects their lives, and this is an excellent way to show them exactly that.

Taber, K. S., & Akpan, B. (2017). Science education. [electronic resource] : an international course companion. Rotterdam : Sense Publishers, [2017]. Retrieved from,url,uid&db=cat00344a&AN=mucat.b4513827&site=eds-live&scope=site


  1. Thank you for including the chicken video! As basic as this is, I think it gives a simple example of how a schema can lead a child to one definition, yet they will have an entirely new schema when they learn the differences in the new terms. Your 5 E’s are easy to follow into your specific example as well, and I can see this being applied to a classroom.

    • Will! Thanks for your comment. I think the chicken video (as silly as it is) is a really simple demonstration of the concept. I’m glad you liked it as well.

  2. Great post! I think you did a great job summarizing what constructivism and the learning cycle are. The video also does a great job of connecting with your audience to relate to them and help them understand the concept better. I think your learning cycle is also great! I love the idea of adding in houses or structures that could influence how erosions and weathering affect an area so that students can connect it with the real world and maybe their neighborhood. Making those connections to the real world is so important. What do you think the hardest part will be in incorporating this into your classroom will be?

    • Margaux! I’m glad you liked my learning cycle. I think that the toughest part of implementing it into the classroom will be the potential for mess and keeping a grasp on the timing of things. Moving kids in and out of the classroom has the potential to waste a lot of time if students aren’t brought back to focus quickly.

  3. Peter,
    Love the post! The thought that knowledge isn’t given, but instead found, is an amazing concept! I also like how you fully explained the 5 E’s of the learning cycle, and then went even more in depth with what they would look like. What kind of lessons would you write with the learning cycle in mind?

    • Bryce! Thanks for your comment. The 5e cycle does a really great job of laying out the steps in a lesson. I think because its such a good framework, I could see myself using it a lot in the classroom. In the future, I could see writing lessons similar to the one I put in my post. One of the strengths of the cycle is how much it encourages getting students involved with the outside world and making science real for them.

  4. Peter, first I would like to say how much I enjoyed reading your blog and also how informative it was. I especially liked the four paragraphs that described each part of the constructivism theory. Those allowed you to get a deeper look into constructivism as a whole and as individuals parts. I liked how you incorporated the “look at all those chickens” video. I also liked how you also stated the strengths of constructivism. I also really like the first picture you used on the blog. The quote was awesome. So my question for you is, do you think constructivism can have negative effects in the classroom?

    • Bailey! I’m really glad you enjoyed my blog post. I think the chicken video I used is pretty silly but it helps to illustrate the concept well. One issue I see with constructivism is that it can lack a bit of structure because students have a much bigger role in the learning process. The 5e learning cycle seems to mostly fix that problem though.

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