Running head: CONSTRUCTIVISM AND JIGSAWS

Constructivism as Applied with Jigsaw Activities to Improve Cooperative Learning in the Social Studies Classroom Evan Sellers Boise State University

CONSTRUCTIVISM AND JIGSAWS Abstract

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This paper will examine the learning theory of constructivism as applied with 21 st century skills and jigsaw activities to improve cooperative learning in the social studies classroom. Likewise, the paper will focus on how constructivism combined with technology can be utilized in the digital age to help learners form opinions and engage in discourse to support those opinions with factual evidence. Since 21st century skills are incorporated into current learning standards at both state and national levels, the paper will emphasize the need for teachers to use technology as a tool of instruction rather than seeing technology as a hindrance to the learning process. Technology, specifically the Internet, has flooded students with information. Therefore it is even more important to develop students’ ability to judge information. Furthermore, the use of critical thinking and analytical skills to construct knowledge will be examined. The importance of these skills will be discussed in relation to how they relate to the student and the use of technology.

Introduction 21st century skills are being pushed to the forefront of educational theory and being touted as

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a necessity for success. Students are born into a digital world and are “digital natives” while educators are struggling to figure out how to work the newest gradebook program (Lambert & Cuper, 2008). In a report released by Partnership for 21st Century Skills Alvin Toffler argues, “Literacy in the 21st century means more than basic reading, writing, and computing skills. The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” (Salpeter 2003, p. 20). Consequently this may suggest that traditional learning theories are no longer applicable in the classroom of the digital age. The days of the chalk and talk teacher have disappeared as 21st Century students do no relate to that method. However, research supports that learning theories such as constructivism when coupled with 21st century technology couched in tested learning strategies offer successful learning opportunities for students of the digital age. Constructivism Constructivism is a learning theory “based on the notion that people are active knowledge seekers powered by innate curiosity” (Ayas, 2006, p. 18). Kanuka and Anderson (1999) say learners, “…construct knowledge through a reasoned integration of internal contradictions though our internal contradictions occur as a result of interaction with the environment” (para. 17). Since students are already curious about technology, it is sensible to incorporate technology into learning strategies that students may be more familiar with such as jigsaw. This allows students to construct new knowledge in a forum that offers familiarity. Because constructivism “emphasizes the active role played by the individual learner in the construction of knowledge,” the student’s individual experiences are a contributing factor in a student’s development of perspective concerning the objective the teacher wishes the student to master (Doolittle & Hicks, 2003, p. 6). Advances in technology have altered the way in which technology is used in the

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classroom. Jonassen, Carr, and Yueh (1998) state that, “…instructional technologies have been used as media for delivering instruction, that is, as conveyors of information and tutors of students (p. 24). The fact that knowledge is not transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed, is a core component that makes the role of the teacher as facilitator crucial to the success of constructivism in the classroom (Ayas, 2006). Constructivism relies on a more “flexible, culturally relativistic, and contemplative perspective, where knowledge is constructed based on personal and social experience” (Doolittle & Hicks, 2003, p. 5). If a teacher were to ignore the cultural and personal experiences a student brings to the learning environment, knowledge would not be constructed rather it would become meaningless trivia to which the student could not connect any relevancy. When considering constructivism, it is important to remember “knowledge attained by the learner may vary in its accuracy as a representation of an external reality” (Doolittle & Hicks, 2003, p. 6). Therefore, each student will bring a different perspective on any given topic. Yet, those perspectives can be tapped into in order to construct new knowledge. However, constructivist theory doesn’t imply that just because a student constructed knowledge that the knowledge is correct or free from evaluation (Hyslop-Margison & Strobel, 2008). It is essential that the facilitator considers this when creating interactive learning

situations because a student’s perception about a topic may be correct in light of the prior knowledge that he brings to the learning situation. Instruction with minimal guidance can create problematic learning outcomes if proper cognitive strategies are not implemented (Kirschner, Sweller & Clark 2006). The constructivist theory often suffers when teachers fail to make students support assertions with reliable evidence (Hyslop-Margison & Strobel, 2008). Technology can aid teachers in creating learning environments where the learner is enabled

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through data to adjust his original perspective based on factual information thereby constructing knowledge (Hyslop-Margison & Strobel, 2008). Likewise, technology can serve as a bridge to span various concepts and allow for students to make connections in their learning. Furthermore, constructivist educational models are more closely aligned with complex, high order thinking (Kanuka & Anderson, 1999). Constructivism in the digital age The importance of technology in education is at the forefront of all current educational policies. However, positive effects of technology will only be experienced if implemented with proper design (Kanuka & Anderson, 1999). Administrators often push the use of technology in the classroom and teachers seek competency with technology through trainings. Likewise, “… complementary relationship appears to exist between computer technologies and constructivism, the implementation of each one benefiting the other. (Nanjappa & Grant, 2003, p. 39).

Furthermore, an analogy has been made by Martorella equating technology “to a sleeping giant” because, while many educators wish to incorporate technology into classrooms, the resources to get functional technology into the hands of every student is lacking (Doolittle & Hicks, 2003, p. 4). In addition, many teachers desire training in how to use the constantly changing technology the national standards suggest. Also, it is important to include instruction on and develop skills such as acquiring information and interpreting data; developing and presenting policies, arguments, and stories; constructing new knowledge; and participating in groups should be promoted in any social studies program (National Council for the Social Studies [NCSS], 1994). Essential literacies for the digital age are no longer simply word processing skills or snazzy PowerPoint presentations. Computers and other technologies can offer assistance in the

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construction of knowledge (Jonassen, Carr & Yueh, 1998). Students must be able to critically analyze media, be able to differentiate Internet research sources, and use computer software to create a product (Kimber & Wyatt-Smith, 2006). The shear amount of information now available at the click of a mouse makes critical analyses a critically important skill. While many educators are trying to embrace the need for students to construct their own knowledge, many more struggle with figuring out how to create situations that allow students to construct their own knowledge while addressing 21st century skills. Therefore, “…critical thinking and information literacy skills are needed to choose pertinent information that has been sufficiently evaluated for accuracy and appropriateness” (Lambert & Cuper, 2008, p. 272). Doolittle (2003) asserts a “grounded framework for implementing technology in social studies is necessary for advancing the domain of social studies beyond vacuous memorization into a realm of active inquiry, perspective taking, and meaning making” (p. 22). Technology allows teachers to create this type of learning environment by easily using relevant current events to establish links with historical events in a medium students find interesting (Jonassen, Carr & Yueh, 1998). Students that have grown up on video games and television are extraordinarily more interested in technological mediums than traditional methods of instruction. According to Morrison, Lowther, and DeMeulle (1999): …technology and a constructivist approach need not be at odds with each other. If we change our view of computers from merely a means to deliver instruction to one of a tool to solve problems, then the reform movement can influence the use of technology, and technology can influence the reform of education. (p. 5) The pervasive amount of technology available makes it easier for classrooms to become a place where students can take standards-driven objectives and establish a meaningful context because

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of the interactive nature of technology (Hannafin & Land, 1997). Likewise, many classrooms are now equipped with highly interactive tools such as Smartboards that teachers and students both can utilize. The recent Common Core standards highlight the need for technological literacy. Students must be able to “integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem” (Common Core Standards [CCS], 2010, p. 40). This interactive nature of technology creates the perfect classroom climate for cooperative learning and opens the floor for academic discourse, which allows meaningful learning to take place rather than just rote memorization (Keengwe, Onchwari & Wachira, 2008). These types of skills, although the may be more difficult to quantitatively measure, are necessary skills for students in today’s world. Yet, teachers should understand that even though knowledge construction by the individual is the goal of constructivism, it does not mean that constructed knowledge should not be evaluated and used as a means of assessment (Hyslop-Margison & Strobel, 2008). Rote memorization and

sequential learning were necessary for the assembly line workers the education system was responsible for producing during the industrial era (Salpeter, 2003). However, critical thinking skills, creativity, and collaborative skills are much more valued by employers in the 21st century. Students in the 21st Century must be prepared to solve problems and engage in high-level thinking. In the digital world knowing information is less important than knowing how to find information. Furthermore, traditional education only stifles the creativity and critical analysis skills necessary for constructivist thinking because traditional education is more about the transmission of knowledge rather than the constructing of knowledge (Nanjappa & Grant 2003). Jigsaw strategy: 21st century style

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The jigsaw strategy is designed for cooperative learning. Cooperative learning provides opportunities for students to engage in thinking activities and develop thinking skills (Ciardiello, 1993). The idea is analogous to a jigsaw puzzle in that “pieces” or topics of study are researched and learned by students within groups and then put together in the form of peer teaching between groups (Gregory & Chapman, 2007). The jigsaw strategy includes a variety of steps that foster collaborative and constructivist learning. The instructor divides students into groups, each

member of the group is in charge of a specific area of the topic, and then the groups teach the material they created and then learn from the other groups (Heeden, 2003). This method allows for students to interact and build on previous knowledge through research and discussion. In a social studies classroom, technology could be incorporated through the use of historical artifacts such as web-based interviews, first-person video experiences, various propaganda, and authentic historical documents. The Internet allows students to access material that they would have never been able to access before. This interactive strategy assists students by focusing their attention in a learning situation where the lack of attention is a constant problem (Kimber & Wyatt-Smith, 2006). Jigsaw activities provide an opportunity for students to use prior knowledge along with factual information to form an opinion because “…as specialists students have the opportunity to delve deeply into the topic and enhance their thinking skills” (Ciardiello, 1993, p. 8). In addition, students will have the freedom to navigate and explore topics that they found most enthralling. Therefore, students will be more likely to engage in meaningful construction of knowledge. An example of a successful jigsaw was one that involved an analysis of landmark Supreme Court cases. Students analyzed a specific court case in expert groups then reconvened in learning groups to share information and determine which of the court cases was most influential. In the expert groups, students had to look at different elements of the court case

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including transcripts, news analysis, video interviews of people involved, and public response to the case. Then the expert groups then had to determine the historical importance of the case and devise reasons to defend the case’s importance. When students returned to the learning groups, each student had to explain his case to the rest of the group. After each student presented to the group, the group then decided which of the cases had the most historical influence and presented findings to the class, which created a climate for academic discourse. The structured small group discussions in the jigsaw strategy “foster synergism, snowballing, stimulation, security, and spontaneity in student deliberation” (Hedeen, 2003, p. 330). This type of student interaction creates a situation where knowledge is constructed while allowing students to a chance to access prior knowledge. Constructing knowledge, then, is a “socio-linguistic process where there is gradual advancement of understandings built upon previous knowledge resulting in multiple dimensions of the truth” (Kanuka & Anderson, 1999, para. 7). However, this activity could incorporate more technology by having students create a video, podcast, or Glogster about each court case. By creating a product based on the data gleaned from the activity, students achieve the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy. Administrators implore the use of Bloom’s taxonomy and require teachers to create lessons based on higher order thinking. It is also important to build in time for a reflection activity so students can process the experience and learn from the experience itself (Lambert & Cuper, 2008). In order for students to further their technological capacities the reflection could be created in the form of a weblog. The jigsaw activity allows for ideal constructivist thinking where critical and creative processes are both addressed (Nanjappa & Grant 2003). Conclusion The purpose of this paper was to examine the connections between constructivist theory and

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the use of technology to aid in implementing constructivist theory. In particular, the utilization of Internet based jigsaw activities to develop higher order thinking were discussed as a useful method of employing constructivist strategy. Constructivism helps foster the skills that 21st

learners need: creativity and critical analysis. Jonassen, Carr, and Yueh (1998) note that, “the goal of educators, should be to allocate to the learners the cognitive responsibility for the processing they do best while requiring the technology to do the processing that it does best” (p. 30). When this scenario is also coupled with include collaborative skills and technological skills, an ideal situation is created for optimal student learning. However, it is critical that educators become facilitators of knowledge rather than “dispensers of knowledge” (Doolittle, 2003, p. 12). For educators to make this paradigm shift, facilitators must know their students and be able to determine what prior knowledge exists in order to design learning situations that will help challenge and expand that prior knowledge. Throughout the paper, the focus was on the social studies classroom. Indeed, studies have shown when paired together, constructivism and

technology can promote higher-level thinking and skills in a social studies classroom (Ayas, 2006). However, technology and constructivism can bring positive impacts to virtually any subject area. If an educator is teaching a unit about the Middle Ages and the only prior knowledge a student has about the Middle Ages is watching a dinner show at Medieval Times, the educator needs to design learning opportunities that help expand that student’s prior knowledge to help reveal the less than chivalric living conditions of that time period. A jigsaw activity that allowed students to experience those conditions through first-person accounts and historically accurate reenactments would help the student reshape that prior knowledge. It is important to emphasize that the collaboration of constructivist theory and technology can create powerful learning opportunities. When used properly, technology and constructivism can

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provide students with innovative ways to make connections and expanding on prior knowledge. Furthermore, for constructivism and technology to be integrated seamlessly, teachers must be dedicated to expanding their own knowledge of both aspects (Kengwe, Onchwari & Wachira, 2008). . Educators must understand that, “Technology-enhanced student-centered learning environments are not simply dichotomous alternatives to direct instruction; they represent alternative approaches for fundamentally different learning goals” (Hannafin & Land, 1997, p. 197).

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