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Constructivism is a teaching method and philosophy that is unique in the world of education. This lesson explains the theories of constructivism and shares a sample template for you to use.

What Is Constructivism?

Constructivism is a theory originated by educational theorist Jean Piaget.

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Remember him from your psychology classes? Piaget believed young children learn by doing, constructing knowledge from experiences rather than from adults telling them about their world.Picture young children in a sandbox. As they scoop and shovel sand into a bucket, they’re learning how much sand it takes to fill the bucket. Compare that to a teacher telling students, ‘Seven scoops of sand will fill this bucket.’ Which do you think will be long lasting and more impactful?According to Piaget, and others who practice what is known as constructivist education, the method most likely to truly educate students is the one in which they experience their world. Let’s take a look at how the constructivist model compares to traditional teaching.

Constructivist vs. Traditional Teaching

In the constructivist method, teachers provide learning experiences for students and give students the opportunities to think through problems and find solutions. They see student mistakes as opportunities to tailor learning and allow students to work with others.

Curriculum is ‘top-down,’ emphasizing the big ideas and assessment is formative. Curriculum evolves as student learning progresses.In traditional teaching, teachers give information directly to students and focus on one correct answer.

They view mistakes as wrong and students work alone for most of the day. Curriculum is ‘bottom-up’, presented in parts with stress on individual skills, and assessment is summative, used to grade a student. Additionally, the curriculum is fixed.As you can see, traditional teaching is based on predetermined ideas that students learn at prescribed stages in their lives, regardless of personal development.

Teachers using a strictly traditional method follow a rigid plan of presenting information to students, allowing students to practice the material, then testing students on their knowledge. Constructivist teaching builds curriculum based on student interest and developmental level, guides students as they experience learning, assesses as a method to determine future teaching points, all the while encouraging students to think, explain, and investigate.The fact is, however, that few teachers these days adhere to a strict traditional teaching model.

You’ll likely see your own practice as a blend of traditional and constructivist. Maybe you use both formative and summative assessments. Perhaps you’re able to provide a wide variety of experiences for students within the context of a specific objective. Unless you teach at a school that has adopted the constructivist model, you’re likely required to follow at least some traditional methods of instruction.

Planning for Constructivist Teaching

Though constructivist teaching may look like the teacher just allows the students to ‘play,’ there is the same amount of planning going into these lessons as traditional ones. Educators intentionally guide students in their learning, which takes specific planning. Though methods of constructivist teaching are different than traditional, teachers still rely on a plan based on asking questions, determining outcomes, planning materials, engaging students, and giving students opportunities to explore and explain. Let’s see what a plan includes:

Standards List teaching standards lesson is geared towards.
Essential Question Guiding question students will attempt to answer.
Resources Materials, supplies, and other resources you’ll need for students during learning.

Criteria for Success What will you use to determine student accomplishes objective?
Engage Methods used to get students interested in learning.
Explore Activities and experiences designed for student learning.
Explain Students analyze and explain their experience.

As you can see, constructivist teachers must prepare in much the same way as traditional teachers. Let’s look at a lesson plan with the areas filled in for a science exploration.

Standards CCSS.

Math.Content.8.G.A.3 Describe the effect of dilations, translations, rotations, and reflections on two-dimensional figures using coordinates.

CCSS.Math.Content.8.G.

A.4 Understand that a two-dimensional figure is similar to another if the second can be obtained from the first by a sequence of rotations, reflections, translations, and dilations; given two similar two-dimensional figures, describe a sequence that exhibits the similarity between them.

Essential Question What makes a design a tessellation?
Resources Index cards, scissors, markers, pencils, images of tessellations, Ipads
Criteria for Success Design using tessellations
Engage Show students images of tessellations; wonder about methods of creating
Explore Students explore and investigate images of tessellations; create list of commonalities; brainstorm methods of creating; investigate methods
Explain Students write an explanation of their experiences creating tessellations.

Lesson Summary

Constructivist teaching allows students to employ the three E’s: engage, explore, and explain.

In this way, the students are active participants in creating learning, naturally finding answers to questions, and thinking their way through learning.

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