Saturday, January 19, 2008

Constructivist classroom procedures

Well, I did not meet my goal with regard to participating in and possibly drawing others at D-E into the K12 Online Conference as I proposed in my previous post. However, I still think the conference is a resource with potential so I'm going to keep it in mind.

Anyway, what I have been doing is a lot of reading of research articles related to using computers in the classroom, one-to-one computing, and constructivist pedagogy. When I started my review of literature for a research proposal related to one-to-one computing and faculty professional development, I didn't expect to find a lot. I was pleasantly surprised (and occasionally overwhelmed) by what I did find. While every useful article and research study I've read does not specifically deal with one-to-one computing, I've learned that articles on constructivism and, of course, use of computer technology in classrooms with more students than computers also have a lot to offer on this subject

Since teachers who practice constructivist pedagogy or tend toward establishing a student-centered classroom seem to be the most successful with using computers in a a one-to-one environment, I've become interested in trying to finding ways to help faculty move in that direction. I don't have any magical answers, but here are some techniques consistent with the constructivist learning model that are worth keeping in mind:
  • Seeking out and using student questions and ideas to guide lessons and whole instructional units;
  • Accepting and encouraging student initiation of ideas;
  • Promoting student leadership, collaboration, location of information, and taking actions as a result of the learning process;
  • Encouraging the use of alternative sources for information both from written materials and experts;
  • Using open-ended questions and encouraging students to elaborate on their questions and their responses;
  • Encouraging students to suggest causes for events and situations, and encouraging them to predict consequences;
  • Seeking out student ideas before presenting teacher ideas or before studying ideas from textbooks or other sources;
  • Encouraging students to challenge each other's conceptualizations and ideas;
  • Using cooperative learning strategies that emphasize collaboration, respect individuality, and use division of labor tactics; and
  • Encouraging self-analysis, collection of real evidence to support ideas, and reformulations of ideas in light of new experiences and evidence.
These are all quoted from Robert Yager (a professor of science education at the University of Iowa in 1991) originally published in a 1991 article specifically talking about science education. The article may seem a little old to some and was not written about using computers in classrooms, but the statements are relevant now and to more than just a science classroom. The article contains more techniques than I listed. I included the ones I believe are most relevant to my local colleagues in all academic disciplines.

While going through the history of those who have written about cognitive construction, Yager raises one point I particularly like. He says of Giambattista Vico, a philosopher who wrote a treatise on the theory in 1710: "[Vico] substantiates this notion by arguing that one knows a thing only when one can explain it."

All good teachers know that to be true even if they struggle with how to provide students that opportunity in the classroom while still working within the perceived and real constraints of time, meeting standards, and covering subject specific curriculum.

Reminding ourselves how much we have learned about our subject from teaching it, should encourage all of us to find ways to bring at least some constructivist techniques into the classroom.


Yager, R. E. (1991, September). The constructivist learning model. The Science Teacher, 58(6), 52-57. (Get from ProQuest)

Yager, R. E. (2000, January). The constructivist learning model. The Science Teacher, 67(1), 44-45. (Get from ProQuest)

(Excerpts from the 1991 article were republished as the 2000 article.)

The "Get from ProQuest" link should work if you are on-campus at D-E or first access the D-E library databases web page from home. If you are not a member of the D-E community, the links might still work if you have access to a ProQuest research database.