Constructionist learning theory asserts that students learn best when they are able to create a meaningful artifact as part of their learning. “Papert has extended Piaget’s notion of constructivism where ‘knowledge was built by the learner’ to a ‘constructionism’ which incorporated the belief that if students could construct in a tangible or visible sense, then their learning could be shared more readily and would hold greater meaning for them” (McDonald & Ingvarson, 1997, p. 514). Students who engage in effective research and discovery learn more than if they simply read about someone else’s research or someone else’s discovery. “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 concept” (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, Malenoski, 2007, p. 202). Technology can help students achieve a true and deep understanding of new information when it is used to create a meaningful product.
One of the key components of using technology to help students generate and test hypotheses is the amount of time the technology saves students. Instead of spending time gathering data, students can spend their class or homework time analyzing data (Pitler et al., 2007). This is a significant factor. Many times a teacher may put off a fun and engaging project because it may be too time consuming. But now, with proper technology use, teachers can help students to focus on what the data means, not what the data is. Students should also be engaged in several different types of hypothesis generation; for example, students should be given the opportunity to analyze systems, problem solve, investigate historical events, invent something needed, experiment, and practice decision making (Pitler et al., 2007). Different kinds of technology also allow teachers to create assignments and long-term projects that will vary students exposure to each task.
Firstly, using spreadsheets is one way for students to make informed predictions, collect and analyze data, and revise original hypotheses (Pitler et al., 2007). Such tools as spreadsheets do not have to be limited to science. Certainly teachers in other content areas could use this tool. For example, in Social Studies, students could chart the number of immigrants that came to America each decade of the 19th century and where they settled. They could use this data to analyze the impact of immigration on infrastructure or use it explain the goals of groups particular to an era, like the Progressives. Students could then use the data to create different kinds of graphs, like pie charts and bar graphs. These kinds of visuals often have more impact on a student’s understanding than simply reading a list of figures. And because they were generated by the students, they will be more effective.
Secondly, in addition to spreadsheets, web resources also allow students “to use their background knowledge, make decisions, and see the outcome of their hypotheses” (Pitler et al., 2007, p. 212) in virtual situations. The New York Times offers an interactive site to let online readers balance the budget (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/13/weekinreview/deficits-graphic.html). This would very nicely compliment an economics lesson. It is student centered, engaging, purposeful, and real world. In addition to creating an artifact, that of a balanced budget, it allows students to analyze data, problem solve, and make decisions. Students would certainly have to justify their budget once they were done, which allows for reflection. They could also work individually or in groups.
Constructionist learning theory states that students learn more and comprehend more when they are “engaged in learning and the process of creating an artifact” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). They learn best when they have made something they can share with others (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). This simply makes sense. Student drivers learn plenty from reading a driver’s manual, but they learn plenty more the first time they drive the car on the highway. “The constructionist philosophy, centers around the belief that students will learn more effectively if they set their own problems, build their own knowledge and express ideas through mediums which foster direct experience” (McDonald & Ingvarson, 1997, p. 517). Technology allows teachers and students innumerable opportunities to hypothesize, investigate, collect data, analyze the data, and then reflect on its meaning. Additionally, technology allows students to create meaningful artifacts that reflect their learning.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer.) (2011). Program five. Constructionist/ Constructivist Learning Theory. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
McDonald, H., & Ingvarson, L. (1997). Technology: A catalyst for educational change. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 29(5), 513-27.
Pitler H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.