Sunday, December 6, 2009

Instructionism versus Constructionism?

I am not a big fan of the word versus, I think perhaps I could have used the title constructionism born out of Instructionism but that does not sound so exciting. Regardless here is this weeks thinking:
Instructionisn versus Constructionism

There is a notion out there in schools that if we want better learning, we need to just do what we have been doing for the last century better, more efficiently. Just do teaching better. This notion leads us to wonder how do we know we are better? We better find a measuring stick. If we want to be more efficient then we better measure how we are more efficient. We end up in a maze circling around and around like a laboratory rat chasing after better.

Well maybe but perhaps it would be more helpful to think about this in a less linear way. Let’s take the cause and effect out of this scenario and shake this thinking on its backside. At the core of this is what do you personally believe learning to be? Do you believe in universal truths? Basically how do we view the nature of knowledge?

Constructionism does not say do not instruct, any teacher will tell you that would just be silly. Constructionism removes a layer though by keeping instruction to a minimum, so that the acts of teaching not diminish the act of discovery by the student. Seymour Papert comments, “of course this can not be achieved by reducing the quantity of teaching while leaving everything else unchanged”. We need to think differently. He reminds us that the constructionist principal parallels the African proverb if a man is hungry you can give him a fish or teach him to fish. Traditional school gives children the fish while constructionism is built on the assumption that students will do better if they find their own fish, realize what skills they need to learn to do this on their own, find friends to fish with and discover the best waters to fish in. “The kind of knowledge children most need is the knowledge that will help them get more knowledge” (Papert, 1993, p. 139).

The structure of a constructionist-learning environment is a dramatically different school culture, shifted away from transmission and acquisition towards a more active participatory place. Instead of placing importance on individual isolated knowledge it places importance on interaction and the appropriation of knowledge; its design is collaborative to allow for the sharing of ideas. It focuses on the connected nature of knowledge both personal and social. It has a more distributed view drawn from the greater surrounding culture. Rather than being linear and having students master stages of development the structure is bricoleur where the student learns to tinker with the tools at hand. Constructionism is not constructivism. “Piaget never intended his theory of knowledge development to be a theory of learning and teaching”(Kafai, 2006, p. 35). Instead of students learning through accommodation as Piaget spoke of, teachers will help learners make connections by making sense of the world as a whole that they interact with and not just objects in it. In this place learners have power to make knowledge their own. Authority then becomes distributed and not centrally located at the front of the room. The central role of constructionism is a physical one and the focus is on the people not the technology as an object. Technology potentially may become tools to think with and a place to connect knowledge. Giving each of us the potential to interact directly with a whole new world full of meanings. So what are schools doing to help teachers with this shift?

Roots of Constructionism explored with Cmap

This thinking was sparked by:

Kafai, Y. (2006). Constructionism. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of computer. New York, NY, USA: Basic Books, Inc.