Monday, March 28, 2011

Conversations in Learning

            Social learning theories propose that learning takes place when students are actively engaged in constructing artifacts and in conversation about what they are building (Laureate Education, 2010a ). By engaging in conversations with their peers, students socialize, validate thoughts and answers, and provide encouragement to foster additional risk taking. 
            Cooperative learning is a strategy that fully embraces the social learning doctrine. Students work in teams to investigate a significant question or create a meaningful project.  While in the process of constructing artifacts together, students acquire valuable skills that include leadership, decision-making, trust building, and conflict management, needed to function in society and the workplace. A support system that includes the instructor administrators, community experts, and peers naturally evolve   Communication skills are developed and refined when students explain their reasoning and receive constructive feedback  resulting in heightened student satisfaction and self esteem (Palmer, Peters, & Streetman, 2007).
            Technology tools such as Voice Thread, closely aligns with the social learning theories that support student learning.  It can be used as an independent activity or an engaging cooperative learning opportunity for students to construct meaning.  Suited to all learning styles, students actively engage in creating visual artifacts that are explained through print or audio files. In accordance with the social learning theories, group conversations are collected and shared from anywhere in the world. Files can be publicly shared or limited to invited guests only.  Learning takes place through the collaborative efforts of the group members to complete a standards based product and the extensive feedback received from conversations from around the world (Laureate Education, 2010b).
            Another technology tool that supports social learning theories is WebQuests.  This is an inquiry based tool in which participants from a class or different locations actively engage in critical thinking skills to solve a problem or work on a project (Pittler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  When working cooperatively on a Web Quest, group members must come to a consensus on decisions to be made based on a variety of perspectives.
            Creating online communities by sharing calendars, Web links, and bookmarks is another example of the social learning theories at work.  These Web 2.0 resources provide teachers and students alike the opportunity to create a conversation about how to use technology tools to help organize and share information that will contribute to student success.  For example, in my school. special education personnel  presently use Google Calendar to coordinate all special education meetings with the remainder of school events ( Pittler, et al., (2007).
            When reviewing all of the learning theories that we have studied, the importance of social learning theories and strategies to support them must be implemented into our 21st century classroom.  Students who build something together, and engage in conversations to support their learning will be prepared to enter the tomorrow’s workforce.  It is up to us, as teachers, to provide opportunities that engage students and fuel their imagination to cooperatively build something.   Web 2.0 technology can help us toward that endeavor.


Palmer, G.,  Peters, R., & Streetman, R. (2010). Cooperative Learning.  Emerging perspectives     on learning, teaching, and technology.  Retrieved     20Perspes%20on%20Learning,%20Teaching,%20and%20Technology.pdf

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010a). Program eight. Social learning theories [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010b). Program ten. Spotlight on technology: VoiceThread [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom
        instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Teacher's Challenge VoiceThread

Here is my VoiceThread depicting a universal challenge that teacher's face in today's classroom.

Click on the title to access the VoiceThread.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kids in Control

            The constructivist /constructionist theory asserts that kids in control of their learning, who create an artifact and can share it with others, will develop a deeper understanding of what they need to know Knowledge and understanding is constructed in the individual’s mind and is related to one’s own unique experiences.  It takes place when people make accommodations and assimilations to return to a state of equilibrium while in the process of constructing things. (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010). The question before us is how to create this environment where our students will flourish.  
            Learning by design (LBD) and project based learning (PBD) are strategies that adhere to the constructivist theory.  In order to make learning meaningful, creative, personalized and effective for students, the roles of the participants in the traditional instructional model must change.  In the learning by design and project based environments the teacher sets clear expectations and then relinquishes her role as the deliverer of instruction to become a  facilitator and guide to learners along the way (Han  & Bhattacharya, 2007).  Students take on the role of director of their own learning..  . 
            Although learning by design and project based learning both are embedded in the beliefs of constructionism, they have some similarities and differences.  Both uphold that the environment is student centered where the participants take the responsibility for their own learning.  Furthermore, students have choices in achieving the assigned goals and participate in real world tasks.  True to the constructivist doctrine, the learner’s role becomes that of a researcher, investigator and artist in designing a learning environment for their audience (Han & Bhattacharya, 2007). The enhancement of learning takes place within the confines of constructionism where ideas are not acquired, but created when learners are actively engaged in building an artifact that they can reflect on and share with others
            When identifying differences in the aforementioned models, learning by design strategies may be individual or in a group where as project based learning can involve a long term project or working with other people.  In the learning by design, constructionism is reflected by clearly articulating expectations, objectives, and how they will be evaluated.  The teacher acts as a facilitator scaffolding and challenging learners while reinforcing concepts and addressing misconceptions.  In addition, receiving feedback through peer evaluation, piloting to a target audience, and portfolio assessment requires the students’ active participation throughout the lesson.  Project based learning focuses on the planning, creating and implementing, and processing of an artifact.   Learners are called upon to choose their activities, conduct research and synthesize information. Components of project based learning include practicing collaboration skills, projects based on standards, and authentic tasks that connect students to sources outside the classroom.  In addition, integration of technology with the curriculum and the opportunities to learn necessary time management skills are built into these learning experiences. Finally’ frequent and varied assessment that includes teacher assessment, peer assessment, self assessment and reflection will ensure that learning for understanding takes place (Han & Bhattacharya, 2007).
            Students that engage in generating and testing hypotheses are participating in another strategy that follows the guidelines of constructivism.  Using technology such as spreadsheets to streamline time consuming calculation, students use critical thinking skills to make predictions, manipulate data and instantly compare results (Pittler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  They generate and test hypotheses in system analysis, problem solve, conduct historical investigation, create inventions to solve a problem, engage in experimental inquiry, and make decisions.  As consistent with constructivist theory, technology tools such as simulation experiences provide engaging and motivating opportunities by requiring students to use background knowledge, make decisions and see the outcomes of their hypotheses in a virtual situation.  Collaborative project Web sites such as Collaboratory Project (http://collaboratory afford students the opportunity to share and compare their data outside of classroom walls. 
            A fourth strategy that embraces the theories of constructivism and constructionism is problem based instruction/learning.   Similar to the previous strategies discussed, learning is student centered with the individual directing his or her own learning. A focus question grounds the activity about a problem that has multiple possible answers and methods of answering the question.  Students are empowered to become critical consumers of information and are limited by an established curriculum.   The teacher serves as a facilitator, providing feedback with which collaborative teams use to devise methods to answer questions (Glazer, 2007).  Teams build skills for consensual decision making, become interdependent, and are challenged to work together to address and resolve real-world problems. Problem based learning encompasses a situated learning perspective where learning by practical application-participation is crucial.  Ideas are generated within the community and based on social interactions.
            Engaging students in constructivists/constructionist strategies to stimulate higher order thinking skills is the right thing to do. If our goal is prepare them for active citizenship, then we need to restructure our instructional practice to include opportunities for learning by design, project based learning, generating and testing hypothesis and problem based learning.  When participating in activities related to these strategies, kids are in control, actively participating in the construction of their own unique body of knowledge.

Glazer, Evan. (2010). Problem-based instruction Emerging perspectives on             learning, teaching, and technology.  Retrieved             es%20on%20Learning,%20Teaching,%20and%20Technology.pdf
Han, Seungyeon., & Bhattacharya, K. (2010). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology.  Retrieved es%20on%20Learning,%20Teaching,%20and%20Technology.pdf

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program seven. Constructionist     and constructivist learning theories [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory,            instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cognitivism: What Does it Look Like?

         Exemplary teachers incorporate strategies that encompass the theories of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism to teach the diverse landscape of today’s classroom.  This week’s resources focus on the benefits of the cognitive learning theories and how that translates into classroom practice.  Taking into account what we know about how information is processed, using a variety of cognitive tools, teachers can provide meaningful experiences that require students to think critically about their learning. Students are challenged to acquire, synthesize, create and share new knowledge (Robertson, Elliot, & Washington, 2010).  They take control of their learning by analyzing and filtering the information they encounter.   Newly acquired knowledge is connected to prior knowledge while students revise their schema to match their understanding (Robertson, Elliot, & Washington, 2010).  Furthermore, cognitive tools are used to retrieve and identify information, present information in a meaningful way and establish relationships among information.  Cognitive tools such as cues, question, advance organizers, summarizing, and note taking are examples of strategies teachers use to help students focus their learning.  These tools improve students’ ability to retrieve, use and organize information (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. 2007). 
            Technology can easily be integrated into instruction to support the cognitive learning theory.  In accordance with this belief, students must learn with computers not from them. (Robertson, Elliot, & Washington, 2010).   The computer’s role is not to serve as a teacher expert but that of a mind-extension.  According to the information processing theory, the acquisition of knowledge passes through three sequential stages:  sensory input of information, short term memory, and after rehearsed, into long term memory (Laureate, 2010a).  According to Dr. Michael Orey (2010), the brain is only capable of processing seven, plus or minus 2 pieces of information at once.  Incorporating cognitive tools such as concept maps, word processing note taking templates, and Excel spreadsheets help students to retain, focus, and organize their learning    Furthermore, all of these tools invite their users to expand, revise, and edit their newly acquired knowledge independently or collaboratively.  They can also be used effectively as advanced organizers in which the teacher provides key terms or data (cues) to trigger higher order questions and discussion.  PowerPoint can also be used as advanced organizers to facilitate sensory experiences that motivate students to be active participants in their learning (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K., 2007).  Dr. Orey (Laureate, 2010a), also proposes elaboration as a primary mechanism for storing information in long term memory.  Using a Microsoft Word template, students can expand upon their knowledge from a state or country report and create a research based travel brochure with learned content, images, and data.  This activity also aligns with Paivio’s (in Laureate, 2010a) dual coding hypothesis that states that individuals remember information when words and images are presented simultaneously. Multimedia is among the most all inclusive of the technology tools.  Virtual field trips are example of multimedia at its best.  Of course, a real trip is ideal; however through virtual field trips students can experience episodic experiences that otherwise could not be accessed without the use of technology. Students are able to witness history, compare information with other primary sources, and engage in critical thinking that allows them to make important connections (Laureate, 2010b).  Examples of these include The Underground Railroad and the Great China Wall.
            Cognitive tools stimulate critical thinking, help students make important connections, and organize information to make it meaningful.  Research has shown that implementing these strategies into classroom instruction help students to develop higher level thinking skills that enable them to problem solve (Robertson, Elliot, & Washington, 2010).    Through the use of technology, teachers have access to a myriad of engaging tools that can support all students in their learning.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010a). Program five. Cognitive learning theory
[Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010b). Program six. Spotlight on technology: Virtual field trips [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author

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

The China retrieved (n.d.).  Retrieved March 14, 2011 from

The underground railroad (1966).  National geographic. Retrieved  March 14, 2011 from

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Behaviorist Theory: A Place in the Classroom

The Behaviorist Theory:  A Place in the Classroom
The behaviorist theory, according to John Watson (in Smith, 1999), proposes the stimulus-response model as the way to study the effects of the environment on an individual’s responses.  Contrary to the psychologists view, behaviorists are concerned with observable and measureable aspects of human behavior (Orey, M., 2010).  According to their conjecture, human behavior is learned and can also be unlearned and replaced by new behaviors.  This is good news for me as a teacher.  Prior to my recent research, I understood the behaviorist view to be the environment, as it is, acting upon the learner. I now understand that the manipulation of the environment is what will trigger the desired response as in a rewards and punishment scenario.

This week’s resources provide many examples of ways behaviorism can positively affect learning in the classroom.  I now recognize that I use many of these practices regularly in my classroom to motivate and engage my students.  The website, Education Resources for K-8 Students follows James Hartley’s (in Smith, 1999) four principals essential for learning:  activity, repetition, reinforcement and clear objectives.  Students type the answer to a clearly stated question, receive instant feedback, and monitor their progress through a graphic tally.  After using this website and another website, Brain Pop, to support grade level skills, my students confirmed Hartley’s theory.  When asked why they were engaged, their response was that they liked the challenge of a time limit to respond to the content and the repetitive practice inherent in the game content.  Furthermore, they enjoyed being able to monitor their progress as they answered questions and the immediate feedback and support they received after answering a question.

In addition to student engagement, Pitler, Hubbell, and Kuhn (2007) assert that the degree of effort a student puts forth has a direct correlation to that individual’s success. As a teacher, it is my job to help my students understand this principal and provide motivation to increase their effort.  I can use an Excel worksheet to support this endeavor.  As recommended by Pitler, Hubbell, and Kuhn (2007), students record their effort grade and correlating achievement grade using a point scale on an Excel spreadsheet.  Next they plot their results on a comparison bar graph.  As the proponents of behaviorism suggest, by providing this visual stimulus, students are then motivated to increase their effort to improve their grade. 

Repetitive practice is an integral component of behaviorism.  Hubbel, Huhn & Malenoski (2007), report in order for students to reach proficiency, they need 24 practice sessions with a skill in order to achieve 80 percent competency.  Student engagement is often lost through boring, laborious repetitive paper/pencil practice. Well planned student or teacher created Power Point games that include hyperlinks and action buttons ascribe to the behaviorist theory of how students learn best.  One example of this is the BattleGraph PowerPoint Game created by Sarah Grabowski Lodick in which students identify and graph x- and y-coordinates to find enemy ships and defeat the opponents.   The Starfall website is another excellent example of how drill and practice can be engaging for students while targeting specific phonics skills. 

My new understanding of the behaviorist theory supports my present practices of providing incentives for my students to become active participants in their learning.  Through my research, I have acquired a new arsenal of strategies and technology based tools to ensure best effort, engagement, and positive attitudes toward learning.

Brain Pop (1999-2011).  Brain Pop - Animated Educational Site for Kids. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from

Grabowski, L. (n.d.).  Battlegraph PowerPoint Game.  Retrieved from

Online Basic Skill Games. (n.d.). Jefferson County Schools, TN. Retrieved March 6, 2011, from

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

Smith, K. (1999). The behaviorist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from

Starfall's Learn to Read with phonics. (n.d.). Starfall's Learn to Read with phonics. Retrieved March 6, 2011, from