Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Constructivism in Practice

Constructionism suggests that learners are particularly likely to create new ideas when they are actively engaged in making external artifacts that they can reflect upon and share with others, for example, helping them create their own video games, robots, and simulations (Thurmond, 1999). My students simply enjoy using technology to learn, they prefer wikis, podcasts, PowerPoints over textbooks, worksheets, and rote learning. I recently surveyed my sixth grade students about incorporating technology in our classroom and found that over 90% would rather create a podcast or an iMovie instead of a research paper. This data suggested that I should change my curriculum to accommodate my student’s desire to learn using technology.

Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn and Malenoski stated in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works in Chapter 11 (Generating and Testing Hypothesis) that when students generate and test hypotheses, they are engaging in complex mental processes, applying content knowledge like facts and vocabulary, and enhancing their overall understanding of the content. I love the idea of using game software and simulations to teach content. My students would jump at the idea of playing an online simulation such as the Calm and the Storm, a World War II simulation where students take on the role of leaders of several different countries. They make economic, diplomatic, and military decisions to achieve their country’s goals.
High School history teacher Dave McDivitt used the game to teach World War II and also taught it the traditional way. After testing both groups, he found that the students using the simulation software scored significantly higher than those who learned the material the traditional way (Pitler, et. al., 2007, pp. 214). This is significant because using simulation software (learning in a way that my students love) will be more effective than the normal, boring school lessons that I experienced when I attended school. By implementing technology, my students will be engaged, apply new content that is introduced in the simulation, and enhance their understanding.


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

Thurmond, A. (1999). Seymour Papert & Constructionism. March 24, 2009 from


  1. Craig,

    Your comment about the application of vocabulary, use of knowledge, and incorporation of facts highlights the primary benefit of constructionism. As you stated, constructionism/constructivism theories suggest that students will best learn when they engage in creating an artifact that somehow illustrates their learning.

    Technology affords a variety of opportunities and mediums for students to explore. The various sources, such as the game you mentioned, allow students to create without the burden of literal construction. Students are able to use technology to create, compare, and retry in a way that they previous were unable to do. The use of simulation software and ability to re-input data in spreadsheets allow students to quickly create and modify their work. This encourages and supports the goals of assimilation and accommodation that make constructionist learning effective.

    Thanks for your thoughts.


  2. Craig,

    One thing you mentioned which I have thought about a lot, is that your students you surveyed would rather create an Imovie or a podcast than write a research paper. I realized this as well with my students, and my department has discussed this often. We know that students would rather do the fun projects instead of writing. But then we discuss how much our students struggle to write well, and how that skill is so much more necessary in their future. It is a tough decision for teachers like us. We know they will learn something more deeply if they enjoy the activity, but we can't neglect teaching them crucial skills like writing papers for the subject they are learning. I wonder if there is a middle ground? A way to use technology in the process of constructing and writing a paper that keeps the students interested. I guess we could always assign both, though that would take a lot of time.


  3. I think the middle ground is to produce an IMovie or Podcast have the students write a rough draft and then have the students use the technology for their report. I think that the technology would be their incentive for writing. I agree that writing is often neglected and the neglect is ever increasing.

    I also found a site that walks students through the process of developing videos. Much like the writing process, there a steps: scripting, editing, making, and showtime. Step One-Scripting is where the students would write their script and could develop writing skills.


  4. Mr. D:

    I was reflecting upon a theory of yours that these kind of lessons will engage today's learners. Will we be able as educators to stay ahead of the technology our students know? Will our students find this as boring as we found our lessons? What will be next in this ever changing world of technology?

    I also allow my students to "play games" that generate Art based upon the Art of famous Artists. I know they are engaged, but I m not convinced they have yet made the connection as games are not paint and canvas.

  5. I have been learning about my world through video games, strategy and RPGs for just over two decades now. My first piece of educational technology was the 1981 Fleer MLB sticker album, which had the list of all-time homerun hitters in the front insert. I collected the stickers from packs that my Dad bought me. I memorized the top 20 players because there very illusive foil stickers of the top 4 that made the entire list all the more intriguing.

    In the late 80s Coleco put out a gaming console with a simulator called Utopia in which the player competed for survival against time and natural disasters by purchasing Hospitals, schools, houses, churches, or factories.

    In 1990 I played my first Nintendo strategy RPGs Ghengis Khan and Defender of the Crown. Things have improved dramatically since then, but the principal remains the same. If a teacher correlates the class material to the RPG/simulator/scrapbook in a way that has students test hypotheses and create something meaningful out of the experiencce, then we are talking about taking learning to the next level.