Essential Question: Do you believe Constructionism brings any new ideas to the table as a theory of education? Why or Why not?
“Many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong.’ But when you program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting bugs … The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition we might all be less intimidated by our fears of ‘being wrong.’”
Constructionism advocates student-centered, discovery learning where students use information they already know to acquire more knowledge (Alesandrini and Larson, 2002). Constructionism use skills of old, such as tinkering and building, matched with technology of new, to create a learning experience which is meaningful and relevant to today’s learners. As explained by its inventor, Seymour Papert, “Constructionist learning involves students drawing their own conclusions through creative experimentation and the making of social objects. The constructionist teacher takes on a mediational role rather than adopting an instructional role. Teaching “at” students is replaced by assisting them to understand—and help one another to understand—problems in a hands-on way” (Papert and Harel, 1991).
I’ll admit that I am a bit of a tinkerer myself. More often than not, my tinkering and making come from moments of necessity. Growing up poor and subsequently living in rural Alaska have helped provided lots of those opportunities. I usually don’t jump into these situation with full abandon, but after some hesitation I have been known to tear down and rebuilt vacuums, replace toilets, rewire light fixtures, replace fuel pumps, change out a radiator, replace a breaker box, refinish a hardwood floor, modify cabinetry, and build bookcases.
I wish I could say I learned these skills while in school. Most I either learned from my dad, a master tinkerer if there ever was one, or on my own. But what I wouldn’t have given to have been allowed the freedom to explore through tinkering and making, alongside reading and writing and math. I remember vividly the day two boys in my fourth grade class tested out the principles of electricity while our teacher read his newspaper at his desk. With two wires, an electrical outlet, and a ball of clay, those boys learned that electricity can be painful and also make clay explode. They, too, could have benefited from a great Makerspace in the classroom!
While I don’t necessarily believe constructionism brings anything new to the theory of education, I do believe that it can bring back vital parts of the system which are missing. Those parts are the ones which make learning make sense for so many students. They are the parts which bring the facts, concepts, and ideas of standards and give them a place to rest, a real connection to student lives. When soldering, prototyping, programming, and inventing return to the lives of children, remarkable projects result (Martinez and Stager, 2013).
Alesandrini, K. & Larson, L. (2002). Teachers bridge to constructivism. The Clearing House, 119-121.
Martinez, Sylvia Libow & Gary Stager. (2013) Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance,CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press
Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation: 193-206. Retrieved fromhttp://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html