Construct your teaching with Constructivism!

One of the greatest ways that you, as a teacher, can ensure your students are grasping concepts in order to apply and analyze them is through the use of Constructivism! Here is a video as an introduction as to what constructivism is inside a classroom:

Constructivism is the theory in which learners rely on tangible experiences and connections to their own reality to truly make sense of a concept. This can be a difficult method of teaching to comprehend and to help I have looked to the wonderful insight of Alan Colburn in his Article on constructivism: The Prepared Practitioner: Constructivism and Conceptual Change: Part 1 and Part II. Here in this two part Science Teacher Journal article series, Colburn dives deeper into the process of Constructivism where he explains:

  • Learning Must be Active
  • Students must be given the opportunity to either process or assimilate new knowledge into their current cognitive structure

Through his articles, Colburn describes how we can help students better accommodate or assimilate knowledge in their minds. These ways are very similar to the Learning Cycle instructional model in which each step, builds upon the last to give the student a helping hand in reshaping their way of thinking about the world.

The steps of the Leaning cycle or the 5 E’s of Learning are:

  • Engage
  • Explore
  • Explain
  • Elaborate
  • Evaluate

Engage is the starting point in which we, as teachers, use to get our students interest. Colburn would describe this as planting the seed inside the students mind. When the student is able to connect this experience with their own construct of reality, then we can begin to grow upon this introduction. This can be in demos and creates curiosity and interest in the student for the subject. I used this step in the beginning of this blog with the video on constructivism. Your interest was spark about the process of constructivism which guides you into the next step of Explore

In the explore phase of the Learning Cycle, students begin to dive into the subject area. The student begins to test predictions and hypothesis. The students are also discussing why certain predictions are false and why others are true. Colburn sees this as an essential part of the learning process in constructivism. While knowledge often fits into a student’s schema, often it does not. It isn’t until students are able to realize why this doesn’t fit into their notions of the world, that they can move on and readjust how the concepts fit into their reality of the natural world.

This link above is an example of this phase where students study how different components of the earth react to erosion. The students would study what differences in the landscape would stand up to erosion best such as rocks, tree roots or plain sand. This would then lead into a discussion in the next phase of explain in which students would discuss weathering and what effect it can have on the natural environment

In explain, this is where the feel of a traditional classroom can be seen. Students and teachers discuss and think critically at explanations found in the previous step. It is this step in which Colburn describes a need for an increase of active learning. Asking critical questions to students prepares them with the knowledge to enter the Elaboration stage. In this Explanation stage, students are also given the comprehensive explanations that they can now accommodate into their cognitive structure. In our Erosion activity, students would:

  • Come to a conclusion as to what erosion is
  • Discuss what issues it can cause in the real world based on the activity
  • Pull examples of erosions and weathering from their own lives

Elaboration is one of the higher thinking phases of the Learning cycle, here, like Colburn describes, students beginning to concretely place knowledge into their reality and how it translates into similar situations. This involves students using previous knowledge to ask more questions and even propose new solutions to issues. This phase also drawing conclusions based on evidence. In our erosion example, this phase would push kids to examine other forms of erosion and why this erosion occurs. They can even study erosion around the school and design an experiment to measure the amount of soil lost in a rainstorm. From this we move into the last phase of the cycle.

Evaluation is a vital step in our learning process, here students are able to demonstrate to you and themselves what they have learned and their ability to apply their skills. Colburn would argue this is where students have finally completely adjusted their schema to fit their new knowledge and view on the world. For example, if students have studied erosion at their school, they can present their findings to the class or even the school with solutions to avoid further erosion.

What’s Next?

Now that the learning cycle has reached its final phase, what is the next step? Well its called a cycle for a reason!! Evaluation leads to further questions which moves our instruction back to the beginning with Engagement and new set of concepts. This method of teaching never stops and constantly challenges students to ask whats next by using their own experiences to construct new skills and abilities.

Colburn, A. (2007). The Prepared Practitioner: Constructivism and Conceptual Change: Part I The Science Teacher. Retrieved from

Colburn, A. (2007). The Prepared Practitioner: Constructivism and Conceptual Change: Part II The Science Teacher. Retrieved from


  1. Hi Shelby!
    Thanks for the question! Labs are a great way to apply constructivism! Labs often force students so use past knowledge to make hypotheses and predictions as to why the results are the way they are. They also make students reevaluate their past knowledge if the outcome is not what they predicted it to be.

  2. Hi Anna!
    Thanks for your passion! Im glad you enjoyed my post! On the topic of erosion, erosion is a favorite of mine, especially to teach because it can be messy! In the engage phase of the cycle, we can use so many everyday items or phenomenon to represent erosion. For example, Root beer floats! Students can watch as the root beer is poured over the ice cream and the ice cream breaks apart where the liquid is hitting it and the root beer begins to change color! You can then ask your students if they think it was the temperature of the root beer or the power of the liquid hitting the ice cream that caused the ice cream to dissolve. You can even try the demo again with ice cold root beer to test to see if it was the temperature or not. From here students can try to think of where this same phenomenon would occur in nature, this would lead to Erosion!

  3. Hi Natalie!
    Thanks for your comments! That is a great question. I believe that everything can connect with everything in some way or form. The key is finding ways to connect your topic with your students everyday life. For example, if we are discussing climate change, litter on the streets and in their communities if something everyone as seen. No matter how small the connection, it still is a connection that the student can build their knowledge onto.

  4. I think this is a great post! I loved how you incorporated the idea of active and passive learning, This is a very important concept for understanding how our students learn. I also really enjoyed how descriptive you were about the learning cycle. How would you handle a situation in which your students had no obviously relevant previous knowledge?

  5. Hey Caitlin! Your post was very informative and gave me a good idea of what constructivism is as well as what defines each stage of the learning cycle. I enjoyed your example with the erosion activity and how it could fit into each stage of the cycle. For the topic of erosion, what would the engage stage of your lesson look like and how would you relate it to your students’ prior knowledge?

  6. Hi Caitlin! I really enjoyed your post. I thought it was fantastic that you went into detail about the 5 e’s learning cycle. I also loved how you mentioned what was next after evaluate. Learning is a constant cycle where past knowledge is able to help form new knowledge aka CONSTRUCTIVISM! What do you think are some ways you could apply constructivism in a lab setting?

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