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Constructivist Learning Activities

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Constructivist learning is active, involves real-life problem-solving, reflection, and student investment in learning. In this lesson, we'll provide some guidance for developing constructivist learning activities, and give some examples.

Constructivist Learning Activities

Constructivist learning is about students being actively involved in the process of constructing knowledge and creating meaning from the world. It's the exact opposite of lecture-based learning, where students receive information as passive bystanders. Constructivist teaching methods have been around since they were first promoted by John Dewey and Jean Piaget in the early 20th century, though they only became more widespread in the 1960s. These days constructivism is essential to most theories on how to optimize education. By keeping certain things in mind, we can tailor the way we teach to constructivist principles and improve the quality of student learning. In this lesson, we will go through a few ideas for activities, separated by category, that use the principles of constructivism.

Discovery and Active Learning

A big part of constructivist learning is having students learn through active means, investigating and discovering knowledge for themselves. One of the best examples of this is so-called ''discovery learning''. This is a form of science education where students learn through inquiry (through experiments). Students will be shown something interesting or puzzling, and be asked to investigate it and discover how it works, and why. The problem with discovery learning is that it is impractical for students to discover things that scientists took centuries to figure out. However, with guidance and scaffolding, they can use their modern prior knowledge to build on what they know, and figure out far more than you might expect.

For subjects other than science, students still benefit in general from active learning. This is where students complete tasks physically, instead of learning from books and lecture. Students might create a poster, build models, analyze data on the computer, create maps, and more. Any activities that involve these kinds of active processes are very much based in constructivist learning.

Real-life Problems

One of the reasons that active learning is valuable is because it can put students' learning in a real-life context. This can be extended into many other subjects by posing real-life problems for students to solve. You can have students create a budget, design a mock business, figure out how to resolve conflicts between different interests when it comes to land use, design a political poll, or build a bridge from Popsicle sticks.

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