Constructivism

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page NumberIntroduction 3
Historical perspective of Constructivism 4-5
Defining Constructivism 5-8
Major Theorists of Constructivism 9-12
Guiding Principles of constructivism 12
Constructivism in Education 13
Constructivism in Education in Trinidad and Tobago 14-15
Advantages and disadvantages of Constructivism 16-17
Conclusion 17
Bibliography 18
Appendix 19
Introduction
Constructivism has emerged as one of the greatest influences on the practice of education in the last twenty-five years. Constructivism is hardly a new school of thought. In a variety of post-structuralist theoretical positions, constructivism emerged as a prevailing paradigm.
The meaning of constructivism varies according to ones perspective and position. Within educational contexts there are philosophical meanings of constructivism, as well as personal constructivism as described by Piaget (1967), social constructivism outlined by Vygtosky (1978), radical constructivism advocated by von Glasersfeld (1995), constructivist epistemologies, and educational constructivism (Mathews, 1998). Social constructivism and educational constructivism (including theories of learning and pedagogy) have had the greatest impact on instruction and curriculum design because they seem to be the most conducive to integration into current educational approaches.
Constructivism is one of the hot topics in educational philosophy right now and potentially has found implications for how current traditional™ instruction is structured. This research paper seeks to address the basic tenets of constructivism and its implication on education.Historical perspective of Constructivism
Although constructivist theory has reached high popularity in recent years, the idea of constructivism is not new. Aspects of the constructivist theory can be found among the works of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (ranging from 470-320 B.C.) all of which speak of the formation of knowledge. Saint Augustine (mid 300s A.D.) taught that in the search for truth people must depend upon sensory experience. This of course left him out of balance with the church. More recent philosophers such as John Locke (17th to 18th centuries) taught that no mans knowledge can go beyond his experience. Kant (late 18th to early 19th centuries) explained that the “logical analysis of actions and objects lead to the growth of knowledge and the view that ones individual experiences generate new knowledge” (Brooks & Brooks, 1993, p.23.). Although the main philosophy of Constructivism is generally credited to Jean Piaget (1896-1980), Henrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), also from Switzerland, came to many similar conclusions over a century earlier.
However, Piaget is regarded as the father of constructivism and provided the foundation for modern day constructivism.
In Piagets view, intelligence consists of two interrelated processes, organization and adaption. People organize their thoughts so that they make sense, separating the more important thoughts from the less important ones as well as connecting one idea to another. At the same time, people adapt their thinking to include new ideas, as new experiences provide additional information. This adaptation occurs in two ways, through assimilation and accommodation. In the former process, new information is simply added to the cognitive organization already there. In the latter, the intellectual organization has to change somewhat to adjust to the new idea (Berger, 1978. p. 55).Defining Constructivism
“Constructivism is not a theory about teaching, it is a theory about knowledge and learning, the theory defines knowledge as temporary, developmental, socially and culturally mediated, and thus, non-objective.” (Brooks & Brooks, 1993, p. vii). Martin Brooks and Jacqueline Grennon Brooks articulate here a description of the central role that learners™ mental schemes play in their cognitive growth.
Basically defined, constructivism means that as we experience something new we internalize it through our past experiences or knowledge constructs we have previously established. Resnick (1983) states that “Meaning is constructed by the cognitive apparatus of the learner” (p.477). Saunders (1992) explains that “Constructivism can be defined as that philosophical position which holds that any so-called reality is, in the most immediate and concrete sense, the mental construction of those who believe they have discovered and investigated it.
In other words, what is supposedly found is an invention whose inventor is unaware of his act of invention and who considers it as something that exists independently of him; the invention then becomes the basis of his world view and actions.These past experiences are also referred to as our world view.
Another researcher states that Constructivism is a type of learning theory that explains human learning as an active attempt to construct meaning in the world around us. Constructivists believe that learning is more active and self-directed than either behaviourism or cognitive theory would postulate.
Educational psychologists study constructivism as a theory of learning and consider the implications of this theory for teaching. According to (Brandsford et al.,2000, Bruning et al ., 2004), through the constructivism method, learners create their own knowledge rather than having that knowledge transmitted to them by some other source such as, another or something they read. It also adds to our own understanding of learning.
One of the common threads of constructivism that runs across all these definitions is the idea that development of understanding requires the learner actively engage in meaning-making. In contrast to behaviorism, constructivists argue that “knowledge is not passively received but built up by the cognizing subject” (Von Glasersfeld, 1995). Thus, constructivists shift the focus from knowledge as a product to knowing as a process.
Within constructivist theory, knowledge isnt something that exists outside of the learner. According to Tobin and Tippins (1993), constructivism is a form of realism where reality can only be known in a personal and subjective way. Von Glasersfeld notes that constructivist theory acknowledges reality but he goes on to say, “I define to exist only within the realm of our experiential world and not ontologically¦” (Tobin, 1993, p. 4). While constructivism takes on different philosophical meanings with different theorists and contexts, the over arching concept hinges itself upon the nature of knowing and the active role of the learner.
In essence constructivism is seen as an educational philosophy which holds that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge that then resides within them, so that each person™s knowledge is as unique as they are. It can be helpful to think of two branches of constructivism: cognitive and social. In the cognitive version of constructivism, emphasis is placed on the importance of learners constructing their own representation of reality. Learners must individually discover and transform complex information if they are to make it their own. Social constructivism emphasizes the importance of social interaction and cooperative learning in constructing both cognitive and emotional images of reality.
Some of the key tenets or precepts of Constructivism are:
Situated or anchored learning, which presumes that most learning is context-dependent, so that cognitive experiences situated in authentic activities such as project-based learning.
Cognitive apprenticeships, or case-based learning environments result in richer and more meaningful learning experiences.
Social negotiation of knowledge, a process by which learners form and test their constructs in a dialogue with other individuals and with the larger society. Major Theorists of Constructivism
Jean Piaget is a Swiss psychologist who began to study human development in the 1920s. His proposed a development theory has been widely discussed in both psychology and education fields. To learn, Piajet stressed the holistic approach. A child contructs understanding through many channels: reading, listening, exploring and experiencing his or her environment
Piagets work has identified four major stages of cognitive growth that emerge from birth to about the age of 14-16. A child will develop through each of these stages until he or she can reason logically.
Piaget asserts that the learner is advanced through three mechanisms.
1. Assimilation – fitting a new experience into an exisiting mental structure(schema).
2. Accomodation – revising an exisiting schema because of new experience.
3. Equilibrium – seeking cognitive stability through assimilation .
Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist and philosopher in the 1930s, is most often associated with the social constructivist theory. He emphasizes the influences of cultural and social contexts in learning and supports a discovery model of learning. this type of model places the teacher in an active role while the students mental abilities develop naturally through various paths od discovery.
Vygotskys theory presents three principles:
1. Making meaning – the community places a central role, and the people around the student greatly affect the way he or she sees the world.
2. Tools for cognitive development – the type and quality of these tools (culture, language, important adults to the student) determine the pattern and rate of development.
3. The Zone of Proximal Development – problem solving skills of tasks can be placed into three categories: Those performed independetly by the learner. Those that cannot be performed even with help. Those that fall between the two extremes, the tasks that can be performed with help from others.
Jerome Bruner (1915 -) is an American psychologist and culture-interested educator. His work on perception, learning, memory and other aspects of cognition in young ones has influenced the American educational system; he has been at the forefront of what is often called the Cognitive Revolution. Bruner holds that a theory of instruction should address four major aspects:
1. Predisposition towards learning.
2. The ways in which a body of knowledge can be structured so that it can be most readily grasped by the learner.
3. The most effective sequences in which to present material.
4. The nature and pacing of rewards and punishments.
Bruner™s view postulates that good methods for structuring knowledge should result in simplifying, generating new propositions, and increasing the manipulation of information. He believes that instruction must be concerned with the experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn (readiness), instruction must be structured so that it can be easily grasped by the student (spiral organization), and instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation and or fill in the gaps (going beyond the information given).
John Dewey is often classified as constructivist. His beliefs about education and ways of knowing included the premise that knowing is not done by an outside spectator but is instead constructed by a participant, with society providing a reference point or theory for making sense of the experience (Oxford 1997). Dewey expanded on the notion that all knowledge is constructed by the knower by including the idea that there is a relationship between the individual, the community, and the world mediated by socially constructed ideas (Oxford 1997).
Guiding principles of constructivism
Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.
Meaning requires understanding wholes as well as parts. And parts must be understood in the context of wholes. Therefore, the learning process focuses on primary concepts and not isolated facts.

In order to teach well, we must understand the mental models that students use to perceive the world and the assumptions they make to support those models.

The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorise the “right” answers and regurgitate someone elses meaning. Since education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the assessment a part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.
Constructivism in Education
The recent interest in constructivism in education follows an almost religious dedication to behaviorist pedagogy by administrators and educational psychologists in the United States (Duit & Treagust, 1998; Jenkins, 2000). Constructivisms success may be due in part to the frustrations that educators experienced with behaviorist educational practices. Beginning in the 1960s, behaviorism swept from the arena of psychology into education with an air of authority that was startling. Schooling became structured around the premise that if teachers provided the correct stimuli, then students would not only learn, but their learning could be measured through observations of student behaviors.
Following the legacy of behaviorism, constructivism has been welcomed as a theory of knowing that more fully explains the complexity of the teaching-learning process. Constructivism offers teachers instructional approaches that are congruent with current research on learning. By viewing learning as an active process, taking students prior knowledge into consideration, building on preconceptions, and eliciting cognitive conflict, teachers can design instruction that goes beyond rote learning to meaningful learning that is more likely to lead to deeper, longer lasting understandings.
Constructivism in Education in Trinidad and Tobago
Efforts by successive governments of Trinidad and Tobago to reform the education system to meet the challenges of contemporary society have resulted in the implementation of several educational innovations. These include the Continuous Assessment Programme (CAP), the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination, and the Secondary Education Modernisation Programme (SEMP). However, these educational innovations require teachers to engage in a paradigm shift from traditional methods to new approaches to curriculum delivery.
The Curriculum development division of the Ministry of Education has taken this initiative by revising the Mathematics and Science Syllabi for Primary Schools which has placed a major focus on the Constructivist approach. The new revised Science Syllabus for primary schools provides a focus on both the processes and content of Science. A series of Regional workshops and School-Based Coaching Activities were held to orient educators toward the Constructivist approach to teaching. The document stated that via this approach the previous knowledge and experience of the pupils are used to build upon or restructure so as to achieve stated objectives.
It is the view of the Ministry of Education that this approach will be geared to strengthen many of the skills used by students in their everyday lives, such as, creative problem solving, critical thinking, working co-operatively in teams and using technology effectively.
How Constructivism Impacts Learning
Curriculum: Constructivism calls for the elimination of a standardized curriculum. Instead, it promotes using curricula customized to the students prior knowledge. Also, it emphasizes hands-on problem solving.
Instruction: Under the theory of constructivism, educators focus on making connections between facts and fostering new understanding in students. Instructors tailor their teaching strategies to student responses and encourage students to analyse, interpret, and predict information. Teachers also rely heavily on open-ended questions and promote extensive dialogue among students.
Assessment: Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing. Instead, assessment becomes part of the learning process so those students play a larger role in judging their own progress.Advantages of Constructivism
One of the biggest advantages of constructivism is that the learner will learn to apply their knowledge under appropriate condition.
Use of scaffolding, provided by teacher or group, for individual problem solving (Wilson & Cole, 1991)
Learners will be able to develop metacognitive skills (Savery & Duffy, 1995)
Learners will get support via cognitive apprenticeship in the complex environment rather than simplifying the environment for the learner (Savery & Duffy, 1995).
Disadvantages of Constructivism
One of the biggest disadvantages of constructivism is that the learner may be hampered by contextualizing learning in that, at least initially, they may not be able to form abstractions and transfer knowledge and skills in new situations (Merrill, 1991) In other words, there is often, during the initial stage, confusion. and even frustration.
Learners will enjoy this new approach of discovering learning, but do not always actively construct meaning and building an appropriate knowledge structure (Merrill, 1991) [they simply copy what the better students do]..
Conclusion
Much of the interest in constructivism today relates to its application in the teaching and learning practices. As stated earlier, constructivism is first and foremost a philosophy of knowing. As a Primary school teacher, this researcher has evaluated the merits of this approach to teaching and learning and as a method of self-regulation to improve her practice has a Constructivist Checklist (see Appendix 1).
This researcher holds the view that; we must look at the impact constructivism has as a philosophy of knowing on teaching and learning and for it to be implemented effectively we must recluse ourselves from being the sage on the stage™, but rather the guide on the side™.BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. Abdal-Haqq, Ismat, 1998-Constructivism in Teacher Education
2.Brooks, J. & Brooks, M. (1993). The case for a constructivist classroom
3. Hoover Wesley,1996- The Practice Implications of Constructivism
4. Douglas-Mangroo Sharon,2002- Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Primary School Science Syllabus.
5. http://www.Acjournal.org- Retrieved on the 5th January, 2011
6. http://www.funderstanding.com/constructivism.ctmAppendix 1
CONSTRUCTIVIST CHECKLIST
YES NO
1. Did pupils use manipulatives
2. Were they actively involved in the lesson
3. Did they have opportunities for discussion
4. Were they given time for reflection
5. Were pupils allowed to explain their knowledge
6. Did pupils work in groups
7. Were there opportunities for pupils to give more than one response
8. Were pupils allowed to negotiate meaning
9. Did groups come to a general consensus
10.Was there reporting in a Whole class session

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