Now for some concrete examples of constructivism in the classroom!
In this section we show you some actual programs and activities
that illustrate constructivism IN ACTION.
Schools and Projects
the Discover Lab
Do Constructivist Lesson Plans Look Like?
We know there are many kinds of constructivist classrooms. What
common features do they share? What are things we will always
see in a constructivist classroom?
In Tim Simonds's sixth- and seventh-grade classes at the
Sulk School of Science in New York, students simulate an emergency
session of the U.N. Security Council to address a scenario
the teacher has constructed. The students have been studying
the history of the people, nations, and governments involved
in a dispute between Venezuela and Guyana. Both nations claim
sovereignty over the territory of Essequibo, a region in Northern
Guyana. In order to provide the context for "learning-by-doing,"
the teacher presents a hypothetical scenario in which Venezuela
attacks and occupies Essequibo.
| Students adopt the role of U.N. delegates
representing the member nations. In order to serve their
nation's interests and understand the nature of the dispute,
students research "their country's" historical background
as well as the factors leading to the conflict they are
attempting to resolve. During the course of the simulation,
student delegates present and debate their viewpoints,
learning how to negotiate a compromise resolution that
will be voted upon during the session. Following an initial
presentation of each side's claims, students switch positions
in order to reformulate arguments according to the opposing
camp's perspective. As a result, students learn to appreciate
diverse perspectives on a given issue because they are
compelled to understand the forces that drive an opposing
point of view.
| During the caucuses, students debate, justify
their claims, and try to persuade other delegates to vote
in favor of their position. This process allows students
to discover and understand the factors that influence
actions and events in history. After student delegates
have argued their positions, they are prepared to vote
on a resolution. Students are not merely learning history,
they are creating history by experiencing the multiple
complexities of historical events.
The sciences are a particularly fruitful area for students
to draw on their previous knowledge and experience to conduct
experiments and construct knowledge about various scientific
|Once again, rather than merely reading about and being
"informed" by the teacher, these eighth-grade students
at the Spry Middle School in Webster, New York, try to
understand the interaction between motion and speed through
the mechanisms that drive a ride at an amusement park.
The first step is to brainstorm ideas based on their own
experiences and other related knowledge that they already
possess. These assumptions are tested and confirmed or
rejected by subsequent research the students actually
|| A critical knowledge-building step entails conducting
research in order to draw conclusions that will help students
to answer their questions and verify their assumptions.
In addition, students must explain the results of their
research, a step that engages the students in the critical
thinking process as they draw their conclusions. They
create their own mental models in order to explain their
results, draw conclusions, and communicate these conclusions
to their peers.
|Here, children are designing a parachute in order to
explore the effect of shape, size, and weight on the rate
of descent. In a traditional setting, the teacher "teaches"
these facts in the classroom. However, a real-world design
problem allows children to discover the interaction between
these variables. Through trial and error and collaborative
learning, children attempt to figure out which combination
of conditions will enable a parachute to descend.
In Schools and Projects
The following schools and projects incorporate aspects of constructivist
School, New York
Well-known constructivist private school, considered to be one of
the most innovative reform models in education. According to the Web site, "Inspired by the
intellectual ferment at the turn of the century, educational thinkers
such as Dewey began to cast a bold vision of a new progressive American
approach to education. Helen Pankhurst caught the spirit of change
and created the Dalton Plan." You can read
about such aspects of the school as the "House," the "Assignment,"
and the "Laboratory."
Brunswick Charter School, New Jersey
A charter school based on "broad themes of child-centered learning
in the vein of constructivism" and other innovative approaches to
learning stemming from the work of Howard Gardner and Maria Montessori.
Students "direct their own learning" via Personal Education Plans.
affiliated with the Apple
Classrooms of Tomorrow
ACOT is a project in which international schools explore computer-mediated
constructivist projects. The following are four of the sites:
Elementary School, Nashville, Tennessee
The constructivist Dodson School "teaches academic and life skills.
Its curriculum is as vast as the world around us and as small as
the needs of a single child," according to its statement of philosophy.
The school also houses the Teaching and Learning with Technology
Center that serves the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. The
Web site has good links to projects.
W. Parker School, Chicago, Illinois
Established in 1901, this independent school prides itself in the
teaching of "critical thinking, providing not only a framework for
students to learn about the world, but also a self confidence that
will sustain them through risk, challenge and uncertainty." This
statement reflects the constructivist approach to teaching and learning.
Community building is also a major emphasis of this school.
Foxfire Schools are an exciting experiment in democratic and constructivist
learning in rural, Appalachian Georgia. Their thirty-year history
illustrates how schools in economically distressed areas can excel
based on participatory democracy. The mission of these schools is
"to teach, model, and refine an active, learner-centered approach
to education which is academically sound and promotes continuous
interaction between students and their communities so that students
will find fulfillment as creative, productive, critical citizens."
The Foxfire projects became a model for schools nationwide to implement
learning strategies that build minds, communities, and inroads to
historical and cultural continuity. One of the most famous is Rabun
Gap-Nacoochee School, Rabun Gap, Georgia (http://www.rabungap.pvt.k12.ga.us/Rabun%20Gap/RGNS_Frame.htm)
-- the school where students have preserved the historical traditions
of Appalachia through Foxfire writing projects that have gained
Emilia Schools, Reggio Emilia, Italy
Schools in the community of Reggio Emilia, Italy, are based on
a child-centered philosophy developed there. They emphasize a
wholistic approach to critical and creative inquiry, with themes
drawn from the works of John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget,
and Jerome Bruner. These include "approaching old activities in
newer ways," "exploring hundreds of languages," and "collaborative
learning." Reggio Emilia-style schools have sprung up elsewhere.
The Web site is unofficial, but schools submit explanations of
their teaching pedagogy there.
At the Discover
Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, EdD. (this CONCEPT TO CLASSROOM workshop's
content expert), Cathy Bennett, and the Center for Science, Mathematics
and Technology Education run the Discover Lab at SUNY Stony Brook.
The Discover Lab features classrooms-in-a-classroom where education
students teach K-12 students while learning about constructivist
Following are some examples of the type of activities going on there.
Last year, many people were wondering about the Y2K problem
and whether many services we take for granted would really
break down. The Discover Lab developed a curriculum (one
among many) called "Starting from Scratch," designed to
start students thinking about what people would need to
know if we really had to start from scratch. Below are some
of its components, as described by Jacqueline Grennon Brooks:
We don't have anything to use for writing. But we do have
some soil and wax. Could we make our own crayons? How hot
do we need to get the wax for it to melt? Does it always
melt at the same temperature? How do we mix the soil and
the wax to get the smoothest color crayon?
Photo by Catherine Bennet
Photo by Catherine Bennet
Maintaining a Garden
We have a garden on a hill and a pond below it. We want
to use the pond to water the garden. But, water always seems
to flow down. We could carry buckets. But, there must be
an easier way! We have some siphoning tubes, an aquarium
aerator, and materials to make water wheels and aqueducts.
Will any of these items be useful to help us solve our problem?
Pasta is a comfort food for lots of people. Without any
boxes of spaghetti around, could we make our own? Take out
the flour and water and a little olive oil, if you're lucky,
and let's find out how much flour you need with how much
water to get a dough that's not too sticky, but not too
dry. After we make our dough, we need to determine how big
to make the pasta pieces. We can use the pots of boiling
water to cook the pasta. But, there are so many of us, we
each only get five minutes of boiling time. Does the size
of the pasta matter in how long it takes to cook?
Appreciating the Life around Us
In the movie THE LION KING, Mufasa told Simba that, in the
end, we're all food for earthworms. Maybe we need to learn
a little about earthworms to know what that means? We have
some questions: Do earthworms prefer the light or the dark?
Can they swim? Can they hear? It appears that asking them
won't give us an answer. So, how else can we find out? We
have the earthworms. What else do we need, and what do we
need to do to find out the answers to our questions?
Expressing Our Artistic Selves
We have some cloth we can use to make clothes. But, it's
too plain and we like color. A friend told us that we could
get the orange out of yams, the red out of beets, the purple
out of cabbage juice, and the green out of spinach, and
then we could use the color to dye the cloth. But, how do
we go about doing that? Do we chop or grind the vegetables?
Can we mix them with water? Does the temperature of the
water make a difference? Another friend said that vinegar
somehow helps. What does it do?
Photo by Catherine Bennet
Keeping Our Property Clean
We found a huge collection of old pennies. But, they're so grimy
that the bank wouldn't take them. The bank tellers told us that
the dirty pennies would jam the counting machine. We need to clean
them, but we have no cleaning supplies, only some leftover items
from the refrigerator and kitchen cabinet: ketchup, salt, oil,
some lemons, vinegar, baking soda, and chili sauce. Will any of
these items help solve the cleaning problem?
Photo by Catherine Bennet
Learning about Other Ways to Grow Plants
We've heard of hydroponics many times, the science and art
of growing plants without soil. The seeds and the plants that
grow from them need some type of support and a way of getting
the water and fertilizer that they need. With the materials
on the table or others that you need and we can get for you,
design a system whereby your plants can grow. One major challenge
to hydroponic gardeners is the wicking system that brings
the water to the plants. We have three different types of
wicks. Which is the "best"? How do you know? What is your
Let's look at a student response to the last lesson on hydroponic
Workshop: Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning
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