Learning Theory: Constructivism

Hi Readers,

I recently read two articles about cognitive and constructivist learning theories. The theory that resonated with me the most was the constructivist theory. The constructivist theory was developed and has been supported by observations and scientific studies. It states that people construct or form their own knowledge and understanding of the world through and by reflecting on their experiences. It goes on to say that when we encounter something new, we have to reconcile it with our previous ideas and experiences, possibly causing us to change what we believe or discarding the new information as irrelevant or unprofitable. I believe that this theory resonated with me the most because I often find myself reconciling new information weekly as I pursue my degree in math education. In the subject of math it seems each new principal, formula, and/or concept I encounter is built upon a previous concept, thus causing me to activate my prior knowledge for reference and to help guide my thinking. For example (a simple one), when we advanced from adding to multiplication we had to use our past knowledge of adding numbers to find what multiplication meant [(5+5=10) and( 5×3=5+5+5=15)].

  In a constructivist classroom teachers tend to act as a facilitator, where he/she guide students into and through learning activities using his/her expertise to aid students thinking. The teacher (possibly through thoughtfully constructed assessments) is to know or have an understanding of the previous knowledge, understanding, and application /synthesizing abilities that each student possesses. From there they are to develop exercises, assignments, and/or activities that will help the students discover or learn the aim of each lesson. While the students role in the classroom is to participate in the learning activity, to refer to their prior knowledge and to become explorers seeking out knowledge that is imbedded within each activity the teacher has designed.

Teachers and students can both use technology in the classroom to aid them in fulfilling their individual roles in the classroom. For example, in a math class (my content area), as a teacher I would use projectors, smart-boards and/or calculators to give students visuals of graphs that I designed for the students to analyze and derive meaning from. Hopefully through exploring the title, labels and the number units on the graphs, they’ll be able to understand the information the graph is displaying, thus learning the skills needed to read/understand graphs. In addition, another example would be for a student who’s studying biology who has been giving an assignment to understand the growing process of plants or the pregnancy process, to seek out through the internet an animation of how a plant grows or how a fetus grows in a mother’s womb. By watching the animation the student can develop their own theories based on what they saw and then compare it to what accredited scientist have found to be true about either process. Then after reading the expert’s commentary of either process, go back and watch the video again and see if the new information they obtained changed what they see during the second viewing of the video

Furthermore, I look forward to using constructivist concepts in my future classroom. Two of the examples I would use is written above (possibly finding an animation of the law of cosines instead of biological animations). But another example would be by finding unique problems for my class that involves or mix newly presented material with old material that will requires students to think critically, which causes students to not only use the methods known to solve simplistic question but also requires them to use the skills they have to analyze the problem, to determined what’s being asked (the conditions and/or restrictions)and to consider the different ways they may have to change as they attempt to solve the problem. I may make it into a social constructivist activity putting students into groups. I actually have used social constructivist learning methods before. I’m currently a Supplemental Instructor for my college (York College) where I’m in charge to facilitate learning. In my last S.I. session I had 14 students (highest so far), so I decided to split the students up into groups of four to five to work together on their struggles. Moreover, I encouraged them to communicate and discuss the problems they were having and if they weren’t able to come to an understanding of the material to call me. Some students did call me however I didn’t come to them with an answer or a solution but rather with a number of questions that caused them to think and reflect on their prior knowledge. Through my observations I saw that they were then able (through the questions I asked) to formulate (through what they already knew) the correct method to solving the problem.  Thus I think that questioning is a key tool in a constructivist classroom (the article also supports this notion). However, it’s not only a teacher’s tool to promote learning but also tool for students, to help them think about the problems they’re facing. It is my belief that the right questions will help them focus on the right aspect(s) of the problem, “Why or how did this become that?” “What happen during each stage to lead to the change?” All these question and more can lead to focus thinking or even at times lead to needed broader thinking. Overall integrating constructivist theories and practices in the classroom correctly (I believe) will lead to learning that meaningful to students and learning methods that will prepare them to become productive citizens!

Thanks for reading, comment below,


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