The future depends on what we do in the present. - Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Constructionism in Practice

(image from

This week, in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, I read about an instructional strategy called "Generating and Testing Hypotheses." This strategy is a method by which students create projects (constructionism) to explain hypotheses when faced with disequilibration.

According to Dr. Michael Orey, equilibration (external reality fits to what we know) is one of the building blocks of the Constructionist learning theory, the other three are assimilation (reality is made to fit ones own belief and understanding), accommodation (current belief is altered to fit external reality), and schema (own understanding). (Laureate Inc., 2009) Dr. Orey also goes on to say that Constructionism is "simply using whatever tool you have at hand and actively engaging students to create and build stuff." (Laureate Inc., 2009)

"Technology can play a vital role in generating and testing hypotheses because new developments in probeware and interactive applets allow students to spend more time preparing the data rather than gathering the data." (Pitler et al., 2007, p.203) For example, with data collection tools such as spreadsheets and the internet, students are able to gather information much quicker, create artifacts to "analyze and synthesize" (Pitler et al., 2007, p.211) data, formulate hypotheses, and then "share and compare" (Pitler et al., 2007, p.211) data results by using collaborative internet tools. Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski (2007) provide an example of a middle school science class who wanted to know how much acid rain they were getting in their community. Students collected a variety of water samples, tested the pH levels in the water and recorded the data in an excel spreadsheet and then generated a chart to demonstrate their results. (Pitler et al., 2007, p.210) Students were collecting data, building an artifact, and using critical thinking skills to arrive at a conclusion to their hypotheses about acid rain. This is a good example of how testing for hypotheses does correlate to constructionism, as students are engrossed in creating some sort of container or project that supports their results.

Furthermore, project based learning (constructionism) as defined by the Buck Institute of Education, is " a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning essential knowledge and life-enhancing skills through an extended, student-influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks."


Buck Institute for Education. Project Based Learning, the online resource of PBL. Retrieved March 24, 2010 from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009). Constructionist and Constructivist Learning Theories. [Educational video]. Baltimore: Author

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


  1. I liked your example of the problem based as it dealt with pH levels. It correlated effectively with constructionism. When ever you can build a unit similar, in that the students have to attempt to solve something that may affect the entire community a strong learning environment is built. I am sure the students that participated in the pH study will remember what they did for years to come. The students exhibited hands on learning experience, as well as they made many connections to prior knowledge and schema. On top of all that, if you bring in the technology, I would think it would almost be difficult not to learn something in a classroom that had all those tools. Thanks for the post!
    -Nick Renninger

  2. Marcella,

    The use of the probes and technology that takes and record data allow students to work with reliable data that makes the findings and understanding more accessible. In my 6th grade math class, my students measure parts of a circle and see if they can "discover pi" through simple calculations. If I could be assured that the measurements they were using were accurate, I would know that the work would be reliable and likely provide students with the outcomes and artifacts that make the most sense, thus resulting in greater understanding.

    Have you been able to incorporate any of these activities in your classroom? With or without technology? I am curious to hear about peoples' successes.

    Thanks for sharing!


  3. Marcella,

    Your lesson allowed students to work together and build knowledge that no textbook could offer and that no student will forget. When students are engaged and can see data about acid rain that is affecting their community with technology, greater understanding occurs.


  4. I think that like you, many students take ownership and learn from project based activities. I love putting my students in their “base” groups and watching them learn from one another. I think that with building and constructing students learn more and will retain the information because they have the experience in their memories. I didn’t particularly always like working in groups because sometimes the other group member wouldn’t participate. I think that one way we can solve this issue is by creating small groups of 2-4 students and assigning groups or individuals specific objectives. This takes o lot more planning on the teacher’s part but creates a much more effective lesson.

  5. Marcella:

    We are as a district still learning the "ask 3 then ask me" process. Students still rely on the teacher instead of asking simple questions of their neighbors. But we are learning and it is so exciting to see the students help each other. I have begun to request students go to "X" for help or "Y" to shoe them where something is so my time can be utilized for teaching instead of problem solving.

    Allowing our students to think for themselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give. We also need to teach our students to be accountable for their efforts. By giving students a group rubric to grade each other, a teacher can get a better idea of how each member participated. The more often you use this practice the more honest it becomes.