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A Constructivist Approach to Teaching

By Amy Otis-Lange and Dalton Gomez Fall 2013 Teaching in Content Specific Areas, Johnson State College, EDU

Constructivist Approach

Learners make sense of their world by connecting what they are learning to what they know and have experienced and through reflection on their learning and experiences Focuses on large ideas Learning is an active process and involves investigational work

+ Constructivist Theory:
John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky

Three individuals had a major impact on the constructivist approach to learning and teaching in science classrooms John Dewey: Stated that science should be taught through inquiry. The objectives are thinking and reasoning; formulating habits of mind, learning science subjects and understanding the processes of science. Jean Piaget: Proposed that learning occurs through an individuals interaction with the environment. Students assimilate new information and ideas from their educational experiences and the accommodate the new information with previously acquired information. Each student passes through stages of cognitive development. Most secondary students function in the concrete stage of development. This means that students frequently require tangible objects and experiences and their observable relationships to reason logically. Caution is suggested in presenting science tasks that require significant amounts of abstract reasoning. Lev Vygotsky: A learners prior knowledge is a factor in learning. Student and teacher interpretation of concepts may be very different based on prior knowledge. Students learn best when they are learning in their area of proximal development. Students require scaffolding when learning new concepts.

Information from: Secondary School Science - Bybee, Powell, Trowbridge

Constructivist Curriculum

Students make meaning from direct and meaningful experiences

Emphasis on development of thinking skills and conceptual understanding and answering the big questions Utilizes group-work to facilitate collaborative and interactive experiences Makes connections to prior learning Rooted in the social environment that students live and learn in Uses primary sources and manipulative materials

Students in a Constructivist Classrooms

Students are thinkers with emerging thoughts about the world Students are members of a community of learners Students collaborate with their peers Learning is a social experience Students appreciate diversity and a variety of points of view Students have a voice and choice in the learning process

Students create new understanding with the help of teacher coaching, moderating and suggesting

ENGAGE: The purpose for the ENGAGE stage is to pique student interest and get them personally involved in the lesson, while pre-assessing prior understanding. During this experience, students first encounter and identify the instructional task. During the ENGAGE stage, students make connections between past and present learning experiences, setting the organizational ground work for upcoming activities EXPLORE: The purpose for the EXPLORE stage is to get students involved in the topic; providing them with a chance to build their own understanding. In the EXPLORATION stage the students have the opportunity to get directly involved with phenomena and materials. As they work together in teams, students build a set of common experiences which prompts sharing and communicating. The teacher acts as a facilitator, providing materials and guiding the students' focus. The students' inquiry process drives the instruction during an exploration. Students are actively learning through inquiry-based science instruction and engineering challenges. Emphasis is placed on: Questioning, Data Analysis and Critical Thinking. EXPLAIN: The purpose for the EXPLAIN stage is to provide students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned so far and figure out what it means. EXPLAIN is the stage at which learners begin to communicate what they have learned. Language provides motivation for sequencing events into a logical format. Communication occurs between peers, with the facilitator, and through the reflective process. Once students build their own understanding, they may use NASA eClips to help summarize or EXPLAIN their own ideas. These segments introduce vocabulary in context and correct or redirect misconceptions. EXTEND: The purpose for the EXTEND stage is to allow students to use their new knowledge and continue to explore its implications. At this stage students expand on the concepts they have learned, make connections to other related concepts, and apply their understandings to the world around them in new ways. EVALUATE: The purpose for the EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. EVALUATE, the final "E", is an on-going diagnostic process that allows the teacher to determine if the learner has attained understanding of concepts and knowledge. Evaluation and assessment can occur at all points along the continuum of the instructional process. Some of the tools that assist in this diagnostic process are: rubrics, teacher observation, student interviews, portfolios, project and problem-based learning products. Video segments can be used to determine students depth of understanding. Students will be excited to demonstrate their understanding through journals, drawings, models and performance tasks. Who developed the 5E model? The Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS), a team led by Principal Investigator Roger Bybee, developed the instructional model for constructivism, called the "Five Es". .

A constructivist teacher roles +

Facilitator of Construction of Knowledge

Presenter: not a lecturer but one who demonstrates, models, and presents activities to students. Presents options and encourages experiences in an ongoing way
Observer: Works in formal and informal ways to identify students ideas. Interacts and provides learning options. Question asker and problem poser: stimulates idea formation, idea testing and concept construction by asking questions and posing problems that arise from observation using inquiry process Coach/teamplayer and facilitator/learner

A Constructivist Teacher Roles continued

Environment Organizer: carefully and clearly organizes what students are to do; allows freedom for true exploration; organizes from students perspective
Documents student learning: Assesses formatively and provides timely feedback to students in ways that promote learning Facilitates construction of knowledge: helps students form connections between and among their ideas; helps students construct meaningful pattern for knowledge construction

Constructivist Teaching Requires

Shift of emphasis from teaching to learning Individualization and contextualization of students learning experiences Helping students develop processes, skills and attitudes Considering students learning styles Focusing on knowledge construction not reproduction

Using authentic tasks to engage learners

Providing for meaningful, problem-based learning

Reflecting on prior and new knowledge Extending students learning beyond content presented to them Negotiation of meaning Knowledge of growth and development of age group

From: Constructivism a Holistic Approach

Overview of Constructivism Retrieved from internet 8 Oct. 2013

Downside to Constructivism

Information built on misconceptions when students create their own knowledge

Time-intensive to create constructivist learning environments Difficult to create collaborative groups that work well together Increased amount of evaluation/assessment of students Administration may not be onboard with constructivist philosophy Time needed for professional development hinders implementation Some have impression that constructivism lacks structure and encourages permissiveness


Bybee, R.W., Powell, JC., Trowbridge, LW.(2008). Teaching secondary school science strategies for developing scientific literacy. Saddle River, NJ. Pearson. Casas, M (2011). Enhancing student learning in middle school. New York, NY. Routlage Press. Constructivism a Holistic Approach.,576,36. Retreived from internet 8 October 2013 Retrieved from internet 8 Oct. 2013

Cey, T. (2001), Moving Towards Constructivist Classrooms. Retreived 18 October 2013 from internet