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Key Principles
Three Constructivist Design Models
Step-by-step Lesson Planning with Prompts and Tips

Step-by-step Lesson Planning with Prompts and Tips

Try building a lesson plan yourself using one of the three constructivist design models we outlined -- the Learning Cycle design, of discovery, concept introduction, and concept application. In the following pages, you will find sets of questions to consider when developing each step of your lesson plan. You can use the blank boxes to fill in your own ideas for your lesson plan.

What big topic are you addressing?
Do your students have any previous experience with this topic?
How relevant is this topic to your students?
What connections to the students' lives can you offer? What connections do the students see?

Opportunities for Open-ended Discovery

What materials will you make available?
What stories or experiences can you relate?
What learning stations might you set up?

You may wish to review Section 4 of Session I in the "Tapping into Multiple Intelligences" Workshop. The organization of the classroom into Multiple Intelligence Learning Centers may be a natural way for you to provide opportunities for students to make meaning.

Plan For Using "Learning Centers"

Organize each of your learning centers so that it contains materials appropriate to the concept(s) the students are exploring.

How will you structure students working together?

How will you foster dialogue necessary to assess your students' current thinking?

Plan For Learning

Once you have given students the time to determine what they need to know and "discover" the new knowledge, lead them into the introduction through what Gagnon and Collay call the "bridge," as we saw above. Introduce the concept you wish to visit by addressing their questions.

  • What investigation(s) might students undertake to frame questions and hypotheses?
  • Will it (they) be:
    • class discussion?
    • a game?

Introducing The Topic

It can be simple or elaborate. (A large multiclass project, for example, introduced the concept of conservation and depletion by having each student in the school represent X million people. The students were then placed on a world map that covered a gymnasium floor.)

Estimate the amount of time students will need to explore this concept(s).

Help students to scale the "size" of their investigation to what is manageable in the time allotted.

Available Time (Days, Weeks, Class periods)

Reflect on your understanding of students' readiness. Do you need to present any other information or develop any other skill? Are there films, videos, recordings, or slide shows that might provide opportunities for meaning-making? What Web collections can you make available? What resources can be gathered from your library media center?

In this phase of the learning cycle, students often work on a new problem -- a problem with different parameters, different contexts and, in general, different variables, but with similar underlying concepts as the original problem.

As students work through the problem, help them plan appropriate ways to construct and demonstrate their solutions.

The following list of exhibit, presentation, and demonstration methods will provide you with some useful starting points. (They also build nicely on the Multiple Intelligence techniques mentioned in the first workshop.)

Students can construct additional knowledge by figuring out/analyzing:

  • solutions to problems in your school or community
  • math formulas to explain a problem, or pose a solution
  • categorization method for some plants or animals in your area based on careful observation (perhaps a small collection, or homemade "museum")
  • a plan for a scavenger hunt
  • a treasure hunt (in which clues involve vocabulary from the topic)
  • a collection of objects from nature
  • the night sky, food chain, water cycle, or other science topic
  • local, national, or international environmental concern

Students can construct additional knowledge by writing:
  • poems
  • short plays
  • screen plays
  • legal briefs
  • song lyrics
  • journals
  • diaries
  • memoirs
  • travelogues
  • interviews
  • letters (or e-mail) to experts
  • original advertisements
  • new endings for stories or songs
  • "what if..." thought experiments

Students can construct additional knowledge by making/inventing/designing/drawing:
  • posters
  • cartoons
  • timelines
  • models
  • charts
  • maps
  • graphs
  • board games
  • concept maps
  • multimedia presentations

Students can construct additional knowledge by performing/presenting:
  • a play
  • a concert
  • role-play lecture (such as a well-known person from history)
  • a dance based on literature or historical event
  • collected songs about a topic from another era

Are there field experiences or other special events that can provide an extension of research opportunities?

How will you gauge the students' understandings of the concept? What strategies will you use to merge assessment with teaching?

See the Exploration section of this Workshop for a variety of methods for students to demonstrate their knowledge.

Supplies, Materials, Resources

Be sure to provide plenty of time for reflection -- your own, as well as the students. Provide guidance in how to reflect with a focus. Help students to eliminate general statements like "This was fun." Or "I really liked the activities." Or "Writing is boring." Help students replace those general statements with statements like "Mary told me that my question about the tone of her poem helped her gain a new insight into what she had written." Or "Keeping track of how high the ball bounced each time helped me to see a pattern that I didn't see yesterday when I didn't keep track of what I was doing."

Here is a list of formats for reflection that you may wish to incorporate:

  • journals
  • diaries
  • audio tapes
  • video recordings
  • e-mails
  • online conferences
  • knowledge maps

Which of them suit an assessment of learning?
Do the students have ways to assess their imaginative growth, attitudes, skills, and content knowledge?

Assessment And Reflection

As you are developing your lesson plans, consider sharing your thoughts and questions with other educators.

Once you have tried out one of your new lessons, share your results with colleagues. What you learn can help others learn too.

Investigating the nature of how human beings build knowledge is a rich and rewarding area in which to develop your teaching.


Workshop: Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning
Explanation | Demonstration | Exploration | Implementation

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