Constructivism and constructionism both have their places in our classrooms, and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each theory can assist in helping our students learn and retain knowledge. Technology, when incorporated with either approach, can facilitate the learning to higher levels that would otherwise be unobtainable.
Each person relates to new knowledge by actively constructing their own meaning based on prior experiences. Dr. Michael Orey uses the example of a chair (Laureate, 2011); specifically, how each of us has had different experiences with a chair. Since our experiences are different, therefore, our detailed definitions of that chair will be varied. Recognizing these differences in our students' prior learning can be used to our advantage if we can learn, recognize, and adapt our classrooms to the prior knowledge. For example, since I teach mathematics, my students have learned to multiply. However, they are split, about in thirds, to the method in which they learned to multiply. Some have used the traditional column method, some have used partial products, and others have used the lattice method. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, but if they are examined closely, each is really just putting the numerical place order in a different location. The students cling to their own methods, so I put them in groupings to teach their method to the other students who have a different method. By doing a compare and contrast exercise, they quickly discover the similarities between all three. Some students actually are angry that the methods are so similar, because they believed their way to be the best.
With constructionism, the students best learn when they build an external artifact or something they can share with others (Laureate, 2011). An example of this creation and expansion is given in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007); specifically an exercise that gathers and compares the pH of various water sources. The students gather data, which is eased and facilitated by using a pH probe hooked to a computer. The data is then entered, sorted, and graphed using a spreadsheet. The graphs allow an easy comparison of rain water, stream water, distilled water, and tap water. The students created the charts, so they had a real investment in the presentation and comparison of the data. The spreadsheet allowed the students to create the graphs in a reasonable time, so the effort and knowledge was spent on the analysis of the graph as opposed to the creation of the graph. The students are then judged on their analysis as opposed to the drawing. This comparison is the higher level knowledge skill, so the time is better spent.
I am lucky enough to incorporate several constructionist projects during my school year. One such project where my students can build something they can share with others is to spend a virtual million dollars creating their home of their future. The students use a spreadsheet to build a table which adds, subtotals, taxes, and then totals the prices of the items the students buy in their home. There are eight categories, including a house, transportation, electronics, food, clothing, and miscellaneous items. The students must spend as close to one million dollars without going over. The spreadsheet facilitates the learning by eliminating the tedious repetition of multiplying, subtotals, and adding to get a total. The students add in hyperlinks to websites to prove the prices of their items, and at the conclusion of their project, must present their new house and its items to the class. When I am introducing the project, the students are more affected by the presentation portion. When they realize their work is going to be shared, the quality of their work improves. This gives the student a sense of accomplishment and pride, while showing the current beliefs and understandings to those around them. The students also construct a collage of their purchased items, along with their total. These collages, along with a printed copy of their spreadsheet, get displayed.
The use of the spreadsheet helps to overcome many challenges, both from the student and from the teacher. By using a spreadsheet, the need to check for correct arithmetic is eliminated. As long as the cell formulas are set up correctly, the totals will sum correctly. The students can then concentrate on finding items that meet the categories. The first pass through the items rarely comes within several hundred-thousand dollars of the million, so the students need to change items, prices, quantities, or a combination of them. Instead of being a boring addition exercise, the students concentrate on correct hyperlinks, ranging the prices to more closely meet the million. Within a few iterations, many students can even get within one dollar. After a little teamwork and brainstorming, a few students find a way to add a sticker, which costs a penny, to get the exact amount. Using the Internet for locating items expands their choices far beyond any newspaper or catalog. Besides allowing the students to find an item with the prices they are looking for, their choices allow me as a teacher an insight to their world, their wishes, and dreams. It is a project that is fun, assimilating the learning into the project.
I would like to take full credit for this project, but I cannot. One of my fellow teachers and I swapped a lesson idea, so I totally stole this from her. Because I stole it, I am duty-bound to share the rubric and a sample spreadsheet with anyone who wants it, as long as they keep paying it forward. The project I shared with the other teacher also uses presentation and collaboration. The students must construct a scale model of a famous landmark, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Space Needle in Seattle. The students do a web-quest to find pictures and dimensions of their building, and then they use scale factors to size their models. We use the Smartboard to project the image of the real landmark onto the scale model to judge the accuracy of the model. The comparison of the models is usually pretty close. The calculator and Internet allow the students to concentrate on the construction of the models rather than computing the dimensions.
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.