Providing Intellectual Soil and Nutrients so the Roots of the Trees of Knowledge will be Deep



Back when I started teaching and even now, I had no idea of the importance of a thing called constructivism. I didn’t even know what it meant. Now, I have an idea of what it means, but sometimes struggle in using this principle when teaching. Think of knowledge as a tree, not as simply a vessel in which information is poured. The tree is in each of your student’s minds. It started out as a small seed and has the potential to grow into a mighty sycamore. You must provide basic nutrients for that tree to grow, right? You must start with the intellectual soil, the nutrients of critical thinking, and the sunlight of problem solving. You must provide them with ways to access their current knowledge, work to build upon it, and to grow. Students each come with their own background. As a teacher, you must work on this knowledge and relate new information to what is already there. In this post, I will first describe what constructivism is, then I will talk about an interesting article that I read from American Biology Teacher, then I will discuss the 5 E’s of the learning cycle, and finally I will create two lesson plans where I use constructivism.

Let’s Get Started!

What is constructivism?

Constructivism, to me, is how the 21st century thinkers work. I have learned (the hard way at times) that we are a generation of doers, not merely listeners. Constructivism is defined, by Vytosky, as the idea that children’s minds are malleable and that they are not simply vessels in which we pour knowledge. Rather, they are like trees. Children bring their own ideas, backgrounds, and past memories to each lesson we teach. They start with this. We must relate what we are trying to teach to a child’s background to help them understand the information better. Instead of just telling them how to think, we must teach them how to access previous knowledge and use this to cement new knowledge into their brains. When children relate what they are learning to what they already know, this is constructivism! They create new neural connections in their brains are able to recall information. This is because this new information means something to them. Children’s minds are like trees in the fact that they start out small, but with the right nutrients, you can foster them to grow exponentially!

Characteristics of Constructivism:

  • Student-led, not teacher led
  • Works on Student’s previous knowledge
  • More doing instead of just listening
  • Relates concepts to real-world experiences
  • Makes learning enjoyable
  • Allows students to grow
  • Goes well with collaborative learning
  • Gives nutrients to soil to allow growth
  • Facts and knowledge are easier for students to remember and understand












Reflection on The Article from The American Biology Teacher Journal

I will list a several of important points from this article:

  • The Article is titled “Biological Dialogues: How to Teach Your Students Fluency in Biology”. It was written by S. Randolph May and David L. Cook.
  • This article is very fascinating and I believe that every biology teacher should take the time to read the article. It talks about constructivism through dialogues (May, 2013).
  • The article starts by pointing out that biology is taught with vocabulary words and that many kids feel overwhelmed with these vocabulary words. Knowing vocabulary and being able to relate it to their own experiences is very important in biology. If this does not happen, biology can be quite confusing. The new terms can be daunting (May, 2013).
  • Teachers need to know how to use constructivism to introduce vocabulary words in a way that allows students to access their previous knowledge and relate it to their newly acquired knowledge (May, 2013).
  • The author suggests that dialogues are used for students. This makes it easier for students to know the vocabulary words rather than just memorizing them. This needs to be student centered, not teacher-centered (May, 2013).
  • The author suggests that teachers give students vocabulary words to contextualize. They are then allowed to pick partners to create dialogues, which are similar to presentations, and present them in front of the class (May, 2013).
  • Students should be given the vocab words before reading, be allowed to relate them to previous knowledge, and to be encouraged to not only memorize the definition, but understand what the word means (May, 2013).

“Yager (1991) has pointed out that words alone do not have meaning. Students’ knowledge of biological vocabulary must be combined with contextual meaning to produce true biological literacy (May, 2013).”

This quote was taken out of the article and I agree with it very much. Contextual meaning and relating biological vocabulary to past experiences, students’ backgrounds, or prior knowledge is one of the only ways to produce “biological fluency”.







5 E’s of the Learning Cycle


  • Assesses prior knowledge and develops plan on how to build on that prior knowledge.
  • “Attention Getter” It gets students interested in the topic and lets them reflect on how it relates to them and the importance


  • Assesses prior knowledge about subject
  • Allows students to discover new information and experiment
  • Introduces students to the topic without telling what it is
  • Exercises problem solving skills and critical thinking skills.


  • Allows students to come up with their own definition of the topic and relate it to previous knowledge
  • Involves communication and critical thinking skills
  • Provides students with opportunity to “cement” new skills or knowledge into their minds.


  • This is where students apply concept
  • They use it to solve real-world problems and see how it relates to the real world
  • Involves critical thinking and problem-solving skills


  • Students evaluate new knowledge and their grasp of it
  • Can be assessed in formal manner, like a test
  • Students can be asked to solve a problem to show what they have learned
  • Allows students to apply their understanding of the new topic to real-world applications.

Here is a video explaining the learning cycle in more depth. Check it out!


Lesson Plans for Biology and Chemistry that Involve Constructivism

  • In a biology class, when learning about the parts of the human body and the vocabulary involves with it, students can each pick partners to explore a topic, vocabulary word, or organ. They can each write a definition about it in their own words and draw a picture that will help them remember it. For example, for the word genotype, they can draw a DNA molecule and actual jeans. Each group can get a series of vocab words or parts of the human body to write about and draw, then they can explain their new knowledge to the class on that topic.
  • In a chemistry class, students can learn about different compounds by drawing pictures of different things that we use those compounds for. For example, they can draw a car being filled with gas to study gasoline. They could also each get a group of compounds and write/ draw pictures of how we use these compounds in daily life. For example, a student can write that we use the compound aspirin as a pain killer. They can draw a picture of a person with an ice pack, taking an aspirin pill.

I used the use of dialogues in the article to add to my list of tools to teach. These lessons are inspired by the use of constructivism and the use of dialogues in the article. I found the article quite helpful.


May, S. R. (2013). Biological Dialogues: How to Teach Your Students to Learn Fluency in Biology. The American Biology Teacher, 486-493.



  1. Delaina, wonderful blog post! The article you have chosen seems to focus primarily on biology vocabulary and the importance of it. I have personal experience with issues with biology vocabulary. You state that the difference between memorizing and understanding these words is a result of how they are taught, not necessarily how they are studied. I couldn’t agree more! It’s quite simple to memorize the exact definition of a word or term and not really understand what the word means. The meaning of a word is compromised of its applications, contexts, and much more. Once a student learns these aspects of a vocabulary word, they have mastered the term. This is a result of constructivist thinking! One cannot build on an idea with a simple definition–there is not progression with this. The key to to build accurate conceptual knowledge on top of other knowledge. In your classroom, what sort of assessments would you use to make sure students are learning, rather than just memorizing words?

  2. Delaina,
    Really great post! I think you included some really important ideas about constructivism and how it works in the classroom. I liked how you went into a bit of the history of constructivism before breaking down the 5 E’s. You also included some great visuals throughout your post. Your lesson for biology and chemistry were also great! I really liked how you made two tweet and included them both because they have some awesome ideas that I agree with! If I had to give any feedback it would be to make the post less wordy and get more straight to the point since it was a bit intimidating to look at before reading. Overall great ideas!

  3. Delaina, the simple comparison to constructivism to 21st century learners makes a lot of sense. I see this structure as very modern, and I agree that we have been thinking in different ways as times change. Your 5 E’s are well defined, and I would like to see them applied to one of your lesson plans that follow.

  4. Delania, this is a really awesome blog post. I loved all of the graphics you used through the blog as well. The video you used to help describe a learning cycle in very good detail. The way you described constructivism and also the strategies of constructivism were spot on. Your two tweets are awesome as well. The description of the learning cycle is great. I did a different article than you but you put so much information I feel like I read the whole article during the reflection which is the goal! My question for you is do you think that some lessons can’t be taught using the 5 E’s learning cycle? Great post!

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