Essential Question: Do you believe Constructionism brings any new ideas to the table as a theory of education? Why or Why not?
I found that I have a lot of questions about Constructionism while I was trying to think about how this theory changes or adds to what we understand and believe about education. Constructionism doesn’t necessarily bring new ideas as much as it builds on existing theories of education and sheds light on the “how” of teaching and learning; How should learning environments be created and supported, how students learn and how they should be guided to make and learn, and how teachers should support each learner to produce meaningful and tangible artifacts of learning. At the end of the day, new and advanced technology tools can’t make the learning experience more meaningful, it is how they are used and how teachers support students to learn on their own with these tools that make constructionism a powerful theory for educational reform.
The resurgence of Constructionism has probably been due to the increased availability, variety, and affordability of tools – mechanical and digital, that could be used for creating, making, and learning. As an Oregon State University professor, Donaldson (2014) writes about how his own teaching has evolved not simply based on his own beliefs and understandings about how his students learn but also from what he observed and learned from his students. He found that having an authentic audience was meaningful and motivating for students, and because, as he puts it, of “the societal shift from information consumerism to a production and remix culture” which lends itself very well with constructionism (Donaldson, 2014, para 4).
With the changing standards of K-12 education over the last several years to focus on preparing students for college and the world of work, constructionism can help educators to shift organizational structure, policies, and teaching practices to reflect these new standards. Schools are becoming more receptive to supporting programs for gamification, robotics, and maker spaces, yet they are still supplemental to a traditional classroom and standardized curriculum. Martinez and Stager (2013) have set the stage for us to understand how the hobbyists, makers, and hackers have helped to drive technology and innovation because access to information and digital tools has allowed more individuals to participate and share what they learn and make. There is an aspect of relativism that is apparent in constructionism, in education this is usually seen as differentiation or learner-centered, which makes a “standard” difficult to measure or capture in standardized assessments that drive policy-making in education. However, “Schools should seize any opportunity for students to learn and express their knowledge in new and exciting ways. Classrooms need to reflect the world their kids live in and leverage new tools to amplify human capacity” (Martinez and Stager, 703-708). Too often educators adopt new technologies but repeat existing practices or strategies (overhead projectors replace blackboards and handouts) and have little time or resources to explore new and innovative ways to use the new technology. Obviously this is a generalization and there are many teachers who are innovating and spending a significant amount of their own time and resources to learn and implement new tools AND strategies in their classrooms.
Constructionism has the potential to change the way we think about standards, outcomes, and assessment and how we organize or structure a school system. What if a school semester was similar to an internship with a specific project or focus on learning that would produce a tangible outcome that was viewable and beneficial to an authentic audience? What if schools (and students) had a role in contributing knowledge and tangible artifacts of learning to their respective communities or to make contributions to a community of schools sharing knowledge and experiences? What if the high stakes in education meant that there would actually be people and groups that benefit from what students learn and create, and schools played a vital role in supporting students to have a meaningful and measurable impact in their communities? There is a lot I don’t know about how schools and teachers would view constructionism in their current infrastructure and organization but I believe that having a tangible product (or outcome) that is intended for a public or specific audience is in important aspect of constructionism that needs to be considered.
The potential for constructionism to impact teacher education and ongoing professional development programs was not something I had considered but had come across in reading about this theory. Constructionist course design in an online teacher professional development program has also been shown to be an effective way for teachers to experience the pedagogy as they learn to implement its principles (and constructivist ones as well) in their own classrooms. “According to constructionist theory, tools, digital media, artifact construction, and reflective discourse on the artifact are the basis of new knowledge construction. Similarly, the social media web provides a framework where learners are equipped with a constantly expanding array of online digital tools, allowing them to construct and share their digital artifacts instantly with others around the world” (Ostashewski, Moisey, and Reid, 2011, para 14). In much the same way we are doing through this course, teacher professional development programs can utilize constructionist principles which will help teachers produce meaningful artifacts of learning that can be used immediately in their own classrooms. The could meet the demand and needs by teachers for timely, relevant, and meaningful professional development during the school year. This is an interesting study on an online teacher professional development program that was focused on using robotics and learning-by-doing in the classroom (how appropriate!), if you are interested in reading more about it: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/976/1958.
Donaldson, J. (2014, January 23). The Maker Movement and the Rebirth of Constructionism. HybridPedagogy.com. Retrieved from: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/constructionism-reborn/
Martinez, S. L. and Stager, G. S. (2013-05-10). Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom (Kindle). Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. Kindle Edition.
Ostashewski, N., Moisey, S., & Reid, D. (2011). Applying Constructionist Principles to Online Teacher Professional Development. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12 (6). Retrieved from: