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 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.
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.
For a learning technique to truly be constructivist, it isn't just about making it active. It's also about students being invested in, and responsible for, their own learning. The heart of this is the use of reflection activities. This could be as simple as having students write a two page reflection at the end of each week, talking about what they've learned, what they did well, what they did poorly, and what they want to improve upon the following week.
However, on the opposite extreme, you can have students use a computer-based system where they literally test themselves on each topic when they are ready, and check boxes to mark what they have learned, and what activities they have completed. In such a classroom, students can be free to work on things at their own pace. In that case, the teacher's role will be more a matter of guidance, and talking to students when they are falling behind, or not succeeding as well as expected during assessments. The other benefit of this kind of system, is that students are given more choices in what and how they learn, and can focus on the topics that interest them most. This really gives them a sense of ownership over their learning.
Finally, constructivist learning is collaborative. This means that many of the activities should involve pairs, small groups, and large groups. Students should be able to work together to help each other construct knowledge. Whereas one teacher can only help a certain number of students in a class period, when students work collaboratively, it's like having a dozen or more teachers in the room.
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