Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Constructivism in Practice

The principles of constructivist and constructionist theories correlate with the instructional strategy of Generating and Testing a Hypothesis. According to Dr. Orey, Constructionism involves the building of something, while Constructivism involves constructing meaning (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010). With both theories, students can create something to construct meaning through critical thinking an unforgettable hands-on experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed the example from our book of the fifth grade class that began to collect data and investigate whether or not their town had acid rain fall. The great thing about this scenario was that the students “heard rumors” that their town might have acid rain. There was a spark of interests captured. I think this is vital when students are taking on an investigation as such. The students were able to create a table to record the data collected. Once they made their predictions, collected data, and compared their data, they had the opportunity to share it. This step completely amazed me. Instead of just doing a traditional “sharing” in the classroom, which is what I seem to do often, students had the opportunity to visit a collaborative project website. There they can provide sharings of their data with others doing the same project. They can then compare their data.

“When students generate and test hypotheses, they are engaging in complex mental processes…” (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.202). Ironically, I am teaching scientific investigations in my small literacy group. We call these small groups our WIN (What I Need) groups. We go through a unit of science lessons in preparation for ISTEP+ (IN state test). Because the text we are reading mentioned the fact that scientists could be children, a light bulb went off! My students began to brainstorm ideas of what we could do for an investigation. Because I only meet with them 30 minutes per day, I asked them if they would be willing to work outside of our meeting time. They all agreed.

I immediately knew I had to follow through with this because in the past, I have taught these short lessons with no thought of actually “doing” the investigations. After reviewing previous examples of investigations, they came up with their own. They want to find out how much and what kind of precipitation we will have in our town in one week in the month of February. Right now, they are brainstorming the tools we will need to begin our investigation. Today we came up with a question and a hypothesis. I am so excited to use our classroom laptops to have them create a table to collect the data. Afterwards, they can chart their comparisons on a line graph. They can also record patterns in their findings. Because we will not begin until February, I would like to check out an online collaborative site where my students could share and compare data with other students in a similar investigation in either another town or state.

As my students engage in this investigation, they are not only creating, but they are constructing meaning throughout the process. In the past, we have always just read the text and “discussed” the text a little more in depth - I am positive that experience quickly left their short-term/working memory. If a similar scenario is on our state test, my students will be able to recall that information because of their real-life experience.

A posting from AnnMarie Thurmond (1999) on the Seymour Papert and Constructionism site, she emphasized the importance of constructing knowledge in the mind of a learner rather than learning from direct instruction from the teacher:
     Constructionism asserts that knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but is actively constructed by the mind of the learner. Moreover, constructionism suggests that learners are particularly likely to create new ideas when they are actively engaged in making external artifacts that they can reflect upon and share with others (


Laureate Education, Inc.(2010). Constructionist and Constructivist Theories. Baltimore, MD: Dr. Michael Orey.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Thurmond, A. (1999, May). Constructivism and Constructionism. Retrieved January 25, 2012, from


  1. You really have a great lesson going with the amount of rainfall in your town. The students must love the time that they are getting to research their hypotheses. I have found that students learn better when they are responsible for own learning. Being able to incorporate technology while constructing their own information is crucial and extremely important. I like to watch the 'Aha moment when a student learns that their hypothese was not quite right and that they need to continue looking into it. Students learn a valuable lesson when they understand that not everything comes out perfectly the first time and that not even teachers always have all the answers.

  2. I also really enjoyed reading about your lesson. I think it’s an excellent idea and an activity the students can relate too. I agree that students learn better when they are responsible for their own learning. In my middle school experience students rise to the occasion and complete the activity and assignment at a very high level when challenged. Using technology helps keep the students attention and in turn students produce a quality product and truly learn the new concepts we are trying to teach them.

  3. What a great idea for a lesson. I have no doubt that when it comes time for the state test your students will retain the information. When we can give them experiences to tie the information in with it will help them retain the information instead of just memorization.