Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Constructivism in Practice

Dr. Orey (Laureate Education, Inc, 2011) describes constructivism as a theory of learning, stating people learn best when they build an external artifact. When a student creates a project, she or he individualizes their learning and creates something for themselves that is unique, a condition which ties cognitive learning to constructivism. Dr. Orey (Laureate Education, 2011) also talks about assimilation, in which new knowledge is fit into an existing schema, and accomodation, where an existing schema is altered to fit the new data. Accomodation happens less frequently, as it requires a larger intellectual and emotional investment to actually change part of a person's belief structure and rebuild it to gain knowledge.

Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski (2007) give several examples of projects and concepts which fit into constructivism in their chapter titled Generating and Testing Hypothesis. Students are using spreadsheets to test hypothesis based on how to save money, testing hypothesis for existence of acid rain in a community, and participating in war games to teach actions taken during World War II. In all of these project examples, students are either assimilating or accomodating their schemas based on their own individual experiences. The projects make this learning almost transparent to the student, as they are engaged and excited to think through and test their hypotheses.

The concepts described by Pitler et al. (2007) which fit into the constructivist theory are experimental inquiry and decision making. Although these are part of the steps for the project completion in testing hypotheses, they need to be mentioned separately as they are the steps that will most likely alter schema in some way. During the experimental inquiry stage, students are most likely assimilating various amounts of data, as they are in the most exciting phase of their project. Their beliefs are becoming more strengthened or more challenged. In the decision making phase, students will have to assimilate and accept their hypothesis, or they may have to accomodate, change their schema to match what they have found, and reject their hypothesis.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1

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


  1. Michael,
    Fantastic job in explaining the Constructionist/Constructivism Theory. In generating and testing hypotheses my students are applying the scientific method to daily life situations. I believe that this stragegy is helping my students build external artifacts. LaVerne

  2. Thanks LaVerne! It is an exciting theory that really explains why project based learning works. I'm excited to see what my students create with their project for exploring Detroit which will be due before Christmas.