Applying Constructivism to the Laboratory Experience

  • “Why should friction act on a sphere rolling down an incline differently than on a block sliding down that same incline?”
  • “Why should an object accelerate differently when pulled up an incline compared to when it’s sliding down?”
  • “Do heavier masses slide down slower if the angle is the same?”

David B Pushkin is a an assistant chemistry/biochemistry professor at Monclair State University. The questions above are some thoughts that his students have shared with him during physics lab.

Students are constantly trying to make sense of concepts and their potential applications at both the high school level and college level. However, students also have their own ideas on how to carry out their investigations. Students’ have their own unique experiences, so they will not all view science topics in the same way. So, why should we assume they do?

What is Constructivism?

Above is a short video on an example of constructivism in a classroom.

Below is the constructivist cycle called the five E’s that teachers can use to implement constructivism in the classroom.

Why Use a Constructivist Approach?

Labs can provide wonderful opportunities for students to apply concepts that they may not have thought about before. HOWEVER, when labs are centered around a lab manual, the manuals dictate how students think, what students should think, and when to think.

A constructivist approach in a lab setting can make the experience more stimulating and meaningful.

What Does a Constructivist Approach Look Like in a Lab Setting?

David B Pushkin uses the constructivist approach in his classroom. How does he go about this?

  • 1st students are introduced to the equipment needed for that lab (ENGAGE)
  • Next, students are asked to generate some questions that lay the foundation for their investigation (EXPLORE)
    • each class is given the opportunity to develop their own perspective for each lab activity
  • Next, ideas are exchanged within the lab groups, but also between other lab groups (EXPLAIN).
  • Students then conduct the investigation, further extending their mental models (ELABORATE).
  • Finally, students will have group discussions about their findings (EVALUATE).

What are Other Constructivist Approaches for the Classroom?

  • Research projects: students research a topic and present their findings to the class
  • Field Trips: allow students to put the concepts of class in a real-world context. A class discussion is often followed after completion of the field trip.
  • Films: provide a visual for students and bring another sense into the classroom
  • Class Discussions: this is the most important part of any constructivist lesson, because it allows students to share their thoughts and ideas. It is used in all of the techniques listed above.

Work Cited:

Pushkin, D. B. (1997). Where Do Ideas for Students Come From? Research & Teaching, 238–242. Retrieved from


  1. Hi Shelby! I really liked how you explained exactly what constructivism looks like in lab and incorporated the 5 E’s into it. I also really enjoyed your tweet with the tips. Which tip was your favorite?

    • Hi Natalie! My favorite type was understanding how constructivism develops. Without the full understanding, the constructivist approach may not be done correctly and students may not be able to get everything out of the lesson that they need to.

  2. Hi Shelby! I really enjoyed reading your post! I also read the article by David Pushkin and I thought it was rather insightful as to the ways that constructivism could be included in a lab setting. It is so important that we as teachers allow our students to make sense of what they are learning by using their personal experiences, but could there ever be an instance in which this could be harmful to a student’s learning? Could having students learn by connecting concepts to their prior knowledge cause them to develop misconceptions in science?

    • Hi Anna! This is a very good point that you brought up. Some students may not be very knowledgable on certain lab topics. This could be dangerous because a student could make a mistake in lab which could end up extremely dangerous.

  3. Hi Shelby!
    It seems as your have a great grasp as to what constructivism is and how it can be applied inside a science classroom. I really like how you included using field trips as a source for constructivism. Do you ever remember a time when this approach of constructivism was used in your previous classes in your schooling?

    • Hi Caitlin, unfortunately no specific time comes to mind during my schooling experience when constructivism was applied in the classroom. I really wish my teachers would have taken this approach however, because I feel as though it would have enhanced my learning tremendously.

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