Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Constructivism in Practice

Constructivism in Practice

Constructivist and Constructionist are two learning theories that help students learn in an effective manner. The article Constructionism, Learning by design and Project Based Learning gives an excellent explanation of the comparison between Constructionism and Constructivism. It states that, “Constructionism (Papert, 1993) is both a theory of learning and a strategy for education. It builds on the "Constructivist" theories of Jean Piaget, asserting that knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed in the mind of the learner.” (Seungyeon Han and Kakali Bhattacharya). The difference between the two is that Constructivism “expresses the theory that knowledge is built by the learner, not supplied by the teacher” while Constructionism “expresses the further idea that happens especially felicitously when the learner is engaged in the construction of something external or at least sharable" (Papert, 1991, p.3).

            The instructional strategies that are discussed this week talk about Project Based Learning (PBL), Learning by Design (LBD), and Problem Based Learning. All of these learning strategies are tools for Constructivism and Constructionism and they differ only in a few aspects. The basic criteria for these learning strategies are that in this “learning environment, the instructor acts as a facilitator and guides the learners along their paths of learning. Learners are assigned tasks in which they must implement particular instructional goals. They investigate, create, and solve problems” (Seungyeon Han, et al).

            In the book, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, the authors talk about the importance of Generating and Testing Hypotheses. These techniques are associated with Constructivism, and the book states that “ when students Generate and Test Hypotheses, they are engaging in complex mental processes, applying content knowledge like facts and vocabulary, and enhancing their overall understanding of the content” (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. p.202). This chapter provides a wealth of information on how teachers can implement these learning strategies of Constructivism in their lessons. Using technology to help students work on their projects can be very rewarding for both teachers and students. “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 interpreting the data than generating the data” (Pitler, H. et al. p. 203). The authors suggest six tasks (systems analysis, problem solving, historical investigation, invention, experimental inquiry, and decision-making) that can help students Generate and Test Hypotheses. They recommend spreadsheet software, data collection tools, and web resources as excellent facilitators for these six tasks. Of these three suggestions, the one I found most useful for my third graders was the web resources site called ExploreLearning ( This is an interactive website that involves critical thinking, collaboration, and communication among students. These three criteria are important for Project Based Learning and help students to learn their concepts better. I also did a lesson on Graphing skills with my students and they loved it ( I took my students to the computer lab, and each student experienced graph making skills first by themselves, and then with a partner. By the end of the lesson, they were conversant with bar, line, and pie graphs. This shows that Constructionism and Constructivism can certainly be enhanced by the use of technology.

          After this week’s reading I truly believe that students learn better when their learning is Project Based and Problem Based. In my classroom, I implement many interactive lessons on the smart board, along with visual representations of videos before teaching a lesson. However, I think I do very little Project Based Learning (PBL) for my students. I have plans to implement the strategies for a Constructivist classroom in the near future. “A constructivist classroom is one that concentrates on students forming his or her ideas, concepts, and conclusions while encouraging a more student-centered approach to education. Whereas in a traditional, didactic classroom, a teacher may simply instruct and leave little time for classroom discussion; in comparison, a constructivist classroom would expect and reinforce a more egalitarian setting where students construct or co-construct their knowledge and focus on their learning process rather than learning products. When the teacher is in the role of a facilitator and students are actively engaged, then constructivist learning is being promoted within the classroom” (WikiBooks).
Papert, S. (1993). The Children's machine: rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: Basic Books.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Seungyeon Han and Kakali Bhattacharya: Constructionism, Learning by design and Project Based Learning: Retrieved on January 26, 2011 from,_Learning_by_Design,_and_Project_Based_Learning
WikiBooks: The Practice of Learning Theories/Constructivism: Retrieved on January 26, 2011 from

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cognitivism in Practice

Mind Map branch: Mind mapping complements cognitive learning

Learning is a process which pulls together emotional, cognitive, and environmental factors and experiences in order to acquire, enhance, and make changes to an individual's skills, knowledge, values, and views. Learning theories are therefore an attempt to describe how people learn” (Learning Theories). Cognitivism is a learning theory that deals with the information processing of learners. In the video, Cognitive Learning Theories, Dr. Michael Orey talks about the Cognitive Theories (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010). He states that Cognitive Theory is the way humans process knowledge, and that there are different components of Cognitive Learning Theory. These components are Limited Short Term or Working Memory, Elaboration, Allan Paivio’s Dual Coding Hypothesis, and the Network Model of Memory.
In the article, Cognitive Tools it is stated that “Cognitive tools impact student learning by causing them to think about information instead of reproducing and/or recalling information. Information is shifted through and evaluated for its’ validity, reliability, and applicability to research and problem solving activities” (Brent Robertson, Laura Elliot, Donna Washington). Cognitive tools help students learn new information more effectively and they allow “students to interact with information in order to acquire, synthesize, create, and share new knowledge” (Brent R. et al). In the book Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, I read about two instructional strategies that embed technology: “Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers” and “Summarizing and Note Taking.” These two strategies use the cognitive tools required for students to learn.
“The instructional strategies Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers focuses on enhancing students’ ability to retrieve, use, and organize information about a topic” (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K.p.73). This chapter talks about focusing on what is important rather than on the unusual, and it emphasizes the use of technology to help students learn. It also talks about the importance of using word-processing, spreadsheets, concept mapping software, and multimedia tools for cognitive learning strategies. Word processing can be used for expository, narrative, and graphic organizers, while spreadsheets can be used to make rubrics or help in difficult math problems. Brainstorming software or concept mapping tools (e.g. inspiration) are good for organizing thoughts, and the repeated instruction can help students see and hear the information repeatedly. “Auditory learners have the added benefit of being able to listen many times to information in order to understand it better” (Pitler, H, et al p. 79). Multimedia software is another great cognitive learning tool. Google video, Brain Pop, United Streaming and Teacher Tube have some excellent resources that can help students “activate prior knowledge and develop a mental model to help them understand new information” (Pitler, H, et al. p. 82).
“The instructional strategy summarizing and note taking focuses on enhancing students’ ability to synthesize information and distill it into a concise new form”(Pitler, H, et al. p. 119). In this chapter, I learned so many things about word processing that I had not been aware of earlier. The auto-summarizing tool is very helpful, and is an excellent means for students, not only to summarize their work, but also to help them in their writing process. “After a student has completed a rough draft, he or she can use the Auto-Summarizing tool to see if Word identifies the same main points that the student intended”(Pitler, H, et al. p. 124). The Note Taking sections suggest using graphic organizers, while the Summarizing section talks about concept mapping tools like inspiration to organize thoughts. The web resources provided in this chapter are very useful. My class is working on a non-fiction research project and I plan to use the Note Star 
( website for them to organize their research. This chapter also explores the communication software of wikis and blogs as excellent tools for cognitive learning, especially for note taking and summarizing. I have a classroom blog and the students are very excited about it. I get comments from students on the blog on a daily basis. At times, they use the blog to summarize their thoughts, and love to get feedback from their peers or teachers. In my blog I have interactive games (, Podcasts ( and Virtual tours (, to name just a few of the resources my students can visit. “The blog serves as an archive of class discussions for later review” and just like Mrs. Holt (in this chapter) I share the “blog’s web address with parents, who enjoy getting a peek at the conversations taking place in the classroom” ”(Pitler, H, et al. p. 138).
            These instructional strategies of Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers, and Summarizing and Note Taking correlate with the principles of cognitive learning theory. Cognitivism recognizes learning as a mental process. Learning takes place when the mind makes connections that allow a person to recall information successfully. The tools that enforce this connection in our brain are the cognitive tools, and these tools help students Seek and Present information, Organize, Integrate and Generate knowledge. The use of technology tools discussed in this book also enhances the cognitive learning theory whose main aim is for students to understand, retain, and recall information.

Brent Robertson, Laura Elliot, Donna Washington: Cognitive Tools: Retrieved on January 18, 2011 from
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction, and Technology. Baltimore: Dr. Michael Orey
Learning Theories: Retrieved on January 18, 2011 from
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007).Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Behaviorism in Practice

Behaviorism in Practice

John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) are the two principal originators of behaviorist approaches to learning. Watson believed that human behavior resulted from specific stimuli that elicited certain responses. Expanding on Watson's basic stimulus-response model, Skinner developed a more comprehensive view of conditioning, known as Operant Conditioning (Orey, M. (Ed.). 2001). In the video Behaviorist Learning Theory, Dr. Michael Orey also discusses Behaviorism as Operant Conditioning, and this represents “reinforcement of desirable behavior and punishment of undesirable behavior” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010).

In the book Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, I explored two instructional strategies that embed technology: “Reinforcing Effort” and “Homework and Practice” (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. 2007), and how they relate to the behaviorist learning theories. In the chapter “Reinforcing Effort” the authors talk about how students need to learn the importance of effort in their school work. They should understand the correlation between effort and achievement. The authors suggest using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to track students’ effort and their achievements. This is a behaviorist approach because students get a visual representation and they strive to work towards doing well in school. I use Microsoft Excel in my classroom to keep track of students’ behavior. If they acquire three checks in a day, they get snack and recess taken away from them. Interestingly, and as explained by the behavioral theory, as soon as I display the excel sheet on the smart board a noisy class becomes quiet. It works most of the time, but the noise level goes up pretty soon as soon as the excel sheet is minimized. This is a classic example of Operant Conditioning of negative reinforcement. The excel sheet I use for Behavior Reinforcement and write a comment on why the check was given to that student, so that I have a record of their behavior for parent teacher conferences.

“The instructional strategy of reinforcing efforts enhances students’ understanding of relationship between effort and achievement by addressing their attitudes and beliefs about learning” (Pitler, H., et al. 2007. p 155). Instead of reinforcing efforts, I am reinforcing behavior by using this excel spreadsheet.

The second instructional strategy tool that the authors talk about is “Homework and Practice”. Homework is reinforcement of things taught in school and “having students practice a skill or concept enhances their ability to reach the expected level of proficiency” (Pitler, H., et al.,. 2007. p 188). The technologies discussed in this chapter are word processing applications, spreadsheet applications, multimedia, web resources and communication software. I use all these tools with my students, and have created a classroom blog on which my students work on one skill each week. They type their blog homework using word processing, I post YouTube videos for them to comment on, and they are required to visit websites for math and grammar practice. Drill and practice works very well especially for math facts. I use the drill and practice approach by assigning students to websites (on the classroom blog) to practice their facts. Then they have to make a comment on the best website and the area they improved upon (subtraction, addition, multiplication, or division). I have seen a great improvement by students practicing their facts on the computer and playing games to learn them, instead of using a paper and pencil to practice them. I also assign homework every day for them to work on a software program called “Study Island”. This program helps them get ready for the standardized tests. Besides the paper pencil homework, I also assign a other homework on the blog. I started the blog in the first week of November, and since then I have seen a big difference in my students’ academic performance.

 In the book Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, it states that “Online education games have an inherent appeal and generate immediate feedback that allows a student, parent, and teacher to monitor progress toward mastery” (Pitler, H., et al.,2007. p 195). I encourage my students to go on the blog as much as possible and try the websites I have recommended to them. This instruction strategy is positive reinforcement, and I am lucky to have very supportive parents who also like the idea of having a classroom blog for their children.

Instructional strategies of “Reinforcing Effort” and “Homework and Practice” have a direct correlation to Behaviorism. “Positive reinforcement is presentation of a stimulus that increases the probability of a response and Negative reinforcement increases the probability of a response that removes or prevents an adverse condition” (Orey, M. (Ed.). 2001). Negative reinforcement is when I use the excel worksheet to track my students’ behavior and they get a check on the sheet for not behaving in class. With three checks in a day they lose snack and recess time. Positive reinforcement is when students play games to increase their math facts and get results right away to experience their success. This positive stimulus makes the students’ perform better, and these strategies are thus correlated to Behaviorism.

Even though the instructional strategies and behaviorism are effective ways of teaching students how to behave and perform well in school, in my view, the Operant Conditioning of “punishment and reward” are only short-lived, and will not have a long-term effect in teaching students to behave in an appropriate manner. Behavior should be taught by “Modeling, Shaping and Cueing - Modeling is observational learning; Shaping is the process of gradually changing the quality of response; and Cueing is providing a child with a verbal or non-verbal cue as to appropriateness of a behavior” (Orey, M. (Ed.). 2001). I too am guilty of falling in the trap of Operant Conditioning, and would like to use the ‘Modeling, Shaping and Cueing’ methods in my classroom to improve student behavior.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction, and Technology. Baltimore: Author. Dr. Michael Orey

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved on January 12, 2011 from

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