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,


  1. Vicki, I agree with you that it's important for students to take control of their learning. Hopefully, the more control that the students have, the more interested they are in their own learning process, thus creating a scenario in which the students learn more in the process.

    I noticed in your post that you mentioned the website Collaboratory Project. Is this site similar to wiki pages? How does it work?


  2. Vicki, it is important to allow students to take control fo their learning. When they have this control they are more responsible in learning and how they learn. Students also take more away from these experiences and the knowledge is more apt to go to their long term memory.

  3. My blog and concept map experience with my students is a true testament to the constructionism theory and its effectiveness on student learning . As my students and I worked on our blog and concept map as “co learners”, I realized how using technology to build things created an environment in which all students wanted to participate.

    The website, Collaboratory Project, as referred to in my blog, is no longer available. Global Schoolhouse is ( is another website in which collaborative projects are created and shared and collaborative partnerships can be established. Students are also invited to participate in Online Expeditions in which they can participate in real-time expeditions to remote and interesting locations. This website also invites students to participate in a CyberFair. Students from all over the world conduct research about their local communities and then publish their findings going on line.

  4. Rubrics should be set clearly when project is given to students. I think it helps students to understand the expectations of the teacher. I think you can also use technology for a PBL. I had a wonderful experience related to WIKI. It really helps students to collaborate and create artifacts