Constructionist Learning Theory

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 (  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.

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Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive learning theory asserts the premise that information is processed through three stages.  Sensory input of information is stored in short-term memory, but through rehearsal (or practice), information is then stored in one’s long-term memory (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  This is the ultimate goal of education.  Teachers do not wish for students to simply remember information for a test; they wish their students to fully understand and to be able to recall information even after a significant period of time.  An additional component of cognitive theory is Palvio’s dual coding hypothesis (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011) which states that information is stored as both images and text.  This is important information for teachers, as it helps to explain how students should be given information and why advanced organizers are a good teaching tool.  Finally, the primary mechanism for storing information into long-term memory is through elaboration, connecting new information to old information by activating prior knowledge.  Elaboration builds multiple connections to stored information (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Because of this understanding of cognitive learning, teachers must utilize various teaching tools and strategies to help students retain information and store it in long-term memory.

Firstly, one excellent learning tool is an advanced organizer which helps students “classify and make sense of the content they will encounter, particularly new content that is not well organized in its original format” (Pitler, Hibbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p. 73).  Often times a student can get lost in the overwhelming amount of new pieces of information in a lesson.  Quality lectures, on the contrary, ask students to activate prior knowledge and connect new info to a concept already mastered as they “limit the information presented to a small number of core ideas that are thoroughly but not redundantly explained (Feldon, 2010, p.16).  If the new information cannot be connected to old information, then the student will have a more difficult time recalling the info when it is needed.  An advanced organizer, one that visually shows connections between the new material, can help students’ comprehension of the lecture material.  Advanced organizers should focus on the important parts of the lesson, not on extraneous material.  Organizers that allow students to add extensions to a limited number of main ideas permit students to focus their learning on the important material while they are making connections.  Because the amount of information is limited and because the information is connected to prior knowledge, students will make a greater number of connections and the information will have a greater chance of being stored in long-term memory.

Secondly, using cues and questions is another effective teaching strategy.  In the classroom, students should be clear about what they are to learn; concepts to be mastered should not be hinted at but directly stated.  Therefore, using technology to give students a preview of the unit or lesson is appropriate.  One way to do this is to provide an essential question and then have students brainstorm answers.  Using an online brainstorming tool, the class can make contributions, evaluate their collective answers, and then move forward by choosing different threads to research.  The online tool provides an effective visual for learners, while also allowing students to make connections to a new topic using prior knowledge.

Finally, many students have trouble taking notes.  They tend to write down everything a teacher says, and then they try to memorize their notes for the test.  Students needs to be taught how to take effective notes, that they need to delete trivial and redundant information, use superordinate terms, and provide a topic sentence if one is not provided (Pitler et al., 2007).  Students also need to be taught different forms of note taking, for example a “combination note format” (Pitler et al., 2007, p. 124).  Using summary frames is another way to help students process information.  Giving students a graphic to fill in as they read a chapter or watch a video helps them to make connections between the ideas presented.  This is a much more effective tool than an ordinary outline.  The material is organized, key topics are already highlighted, and there is little room for extraneous information.

A understanding of cognitive learning theory allows teachers to create effective lessons so that new information will move from short-term memory and into long-term memory through rehearsal.  Teachers need to provide multiple opportunities for students to make connections with new material by activating prior knowledge.  Technology can be an incredible asset in this regard.  With the use of spreadsheets, advanced organizers, and online brainstorming tools, teachers can help students to make sense of new information and master important concepts and skills.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer.) (2011). Program five. Cognitive Learning Theory.     Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Feldon, D. F. (2010). Why Magic Bullets Don’t Work. Change, 42(2), 15-21.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom     instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Application #2 Behaviorist Learning Theory

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received as a teacher has been to praise the efforts of a student and not his innate abilities.  There are four factors that people attribute to success: innate abilities, assistance from others, luck and effort (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  Effort is the one factor teachers should acknowledge above the others because it is the one factor completely within the control of the student (Pitler et al., 2007).  Over the years, I have made a point to make statements like, “You worked so hard on this project!  Look how well you did as a result!” or “I am so pleased with your effort in this assignment.  You did a great job because of how hard you worked.”  These statements recognize the hard work, determination, and responsible behavior of my student. Statements like these point out a cause and effect scenario for the student.  Because the student worked hard, his efforts paid off.  “The instructional strategy of reinforcing effort enhances students’ understanding of the relationship between effort and achievement by addressing their attitudes and beliefs about learning” (Pitler et al.,  2007, p. 155).

One means of assisting students’ awareness of their own learning and effort is to create a spreadsheet or effort rubric on the computer.  Each category should direct the student’s attention to specific aspects of the course like note-taking, participation, work completion, and study habits (Pitler et al., 2007).  Sometimes, what teachers think is an obvious factor in a student’s declining grades is not always obvious to a student.  But if a student keeps an honest record of his efforts, he would see which areas need improvement.  This strategy is not that dissimilar to a weekly food record kept by a dieter or a list of expenditures kept by someone trying to save money.  Sometimes seeing data in print is what we need to make changes.  If a student really keeps track of how much or how little he studies, then maybe he will make some changes in his habits.  “When a student makes a connection between academic successes with factors outside of his or her control-things like heredity, gender or race- it’s easy to develop a defeatist attitude” (Pitler et al., 2007, p. 156).  The goal of the rubric is to prove to the student the impact of sustained effort, the factor within his control, and consistent reminders through positive reinforcement are highly powerful.

The effort rubric correlates to the behaviorist learning theory which has, at its core, operant conditioning (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Operant conditioning has two primary mechanisms, that of both positive and negative reinforcement.  Negative reinforcement involves punishing a student for undesirable behaviors, so a student with poor quiz grades would be scolded for his lack of effort and possibly be kept in from recess.  However, one form of positive reinforcement is the effort rubric.  If, during a conference, the teacher uses actual data that pertains to a specific student, data that was also collected  by that student, then the dialogue is far more meaningful and lacks the punitive quality so many students are used to during a conference.

Another learning strategy is that of homework and practice.  “As an extension of the classroom, homework provides opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of the content and to gain proficiency with their skills” (Pitler et al., 2007, p. 187).  All teachers understand that students need repeated opportunities to practice any new concept, but this practice must be completed without assistance.  The ultimate goal of all lesson plans is to increase the student’s level of independence, and homework should be created with this in mind.  “Homework assignments provide children with the time and experience they need to develop beliefs about achievement and study habits that are helpful for learning” (Bempechat, 2004, p. 189).  Effective homework assignments should involve meaningful activities that students know will benefit them in the future.  These assignments should involve “targeting areas of weakness and pushing [students] to reach a new place just within their capability” (Cushman, 2010, p. 74).  Homework assignments must also be engaging.  One way to do this is to involve technology in independent work.  For example, though many students use computers for word processing only, once taught how, students can also use the grammar and spelling tools to increase the complexity of their writing.  They can check the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level rating (Pitler et al., 2007), and adjust their vocabulary choices and sentence structure accordingly.

Finally, students often do better learning new material if practice is connected to online work.  There are numerous websites that present material through high interest visuals.  Students complete activities and then print out some kind of completion certificates.  This is another example of positive reinforcement.  In addition to education websites, students can also use tech to create their own projects.  “Students can learn with multimedia by creating their own projects at home or at school to develop their understanding and practice skills” (Pitler et al., 2007, p. 194).  Resources like Google Docs are wonderful for this.  Students can begin projects at school, but because Google Docs is a web based program, and one that can involve multiple users, students can continue their work outside the classroom while practicing skills.

Behaviorist theory involves using operant conditioning to reinforce positive behaviors and discourage negative ones.  Technology can be useful in helping teachers to reinforce the level of effort a student puts into his work, and in creating additional opportunities for practice through meaningful homework assignments.  Behaviorist learning theory does have a place in a modern day classroom, though to be most effective, it should be carried out through modern day means, like that of a computer and Web 2.0 tools.

Bempechat, J. (2004). The Motivational Benefits of Homework: A Social-CognitivePerspective.     Theory Into Practice, 43(3), 189-196.
Cushman, K. (2010). Show Us What Homework’s For. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 74-78.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer.) (2011). Program four. Behaviorist Learning     Theory. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Pitler H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom     instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Week 7 Reflection

In what ways has this course helped you to develop your own technology skills as a professional teacher?

This course has allowed me to experiment with technology I have been interested in for a while.  I have wanted to work with wikis and podcasts for the last year or so, but have not been able to find the time, and I was also somewhat nervous about playing around with the technology.  However, the assignments in this class forced me to get over my nervousness and trepidation and dive in feet first.  I am now able to use wikis in ways that allow students to collaborate and take more of an active role in their learning.  I can also now use podcasts to help students learn another way to show their learning.  I have used blogs before and I am currently using them in my teaching this year as well.

In what ways have you deepened your knowledge of the teaching and learning process?

Through the exploration of these technologies, I have been reminded of the many different ways in which students learn and they ways in which students’ lives have changed in the nearly 20 years I have been a teacher.  Students are now exposed to so much more media than I was, and students now come to school knowing a lot more about the world and changing technology than students did even five years ago.  An awareness in the change in our culture that technology has wrought is one teachers today should not ignore. Students do not leave their experience and interest in tech at the door of the school any more than they leave their personal problems.  I cannot ignore that schools are somewhat behind in embracing tech, and I must work to expand my own knowledge so as to bring more engaging and more effective learning experiences to my classroom.  One other understanding I now have is how visual and how immediate this generation is.  My students are used to and expect info at a fast rate, and I must be able to find ways to provide that to them.

In what ways have you changed your perspective from being teacher-centered to learner-centered?

Over the last eight weeks, I have changed the focus of my classroom.  It is less teacher-centered and more learner-centered than it was before.  I am more focused on the different ways students learn, how they exchange information, and how they use tech in their daily lives.  The conversations around digital immigrants and digital natives was very enlightening as was the overall discussion of doing things differently versus doing different things.  I was also quite surprised by the sheer number of teenagers who are internet content creators.  My most recent focus in school has been how I can get information to students that is more immediate, more visual, and accessed in different ways like a webpage or a blog.  I am also including them more when I plan projects by asking them about their own abilities and comfort levels with certain tech.  Maybe they can teach me a thing or two.

In what ways can you continue to expand your knowledge of learning, teaching, and leading with technology with the aim of increasing student achievement?

One of the ways I can expand my knowledge of learning, teaching, and leading with technology with the aim of increasing student achievement is to continue to experiment with new tech programs and applications.  There are a number of teachers at work who are also incorporating more tech into their lessons, and I have begun to work with them and exchange information.  I must not be afraid of trying any new tech.  If it doesn’t work, I can look at why and try again.  Another way I can expand my learning is to continue to do some research on my own.  I am still following the blogs we located in the first week, and I read their postings with regularity.  If they mention anything I think would fit with my discipline, I investigate the tech further.  Lastly, I am going to complete this degree.  Certainly direct focus on this topic will help.

Step 2: Set two long-term goals (within two years) for transforming your classroom environment by which you may have to overcome institutional or systemic obstacles in order to achieve them. How do you plan to accomplish these goals?
The first goal I have is to finish this degree within the next two years, but also to not let that be the end of my learning.  Once the program comes to a conclusion, I must continue to look for new and inventive ways to incorporate the technological world into my classroom so that I remain a vital and effective as a teacher.
A second goal I have is to seek out those in my school who are like-minded and begin a dialogue about different ways we can work together to encourage those not using tech to incorporate some into their plans a little bit at a time.  All of Rome was not built in a day, and changes to education will come even more slowly.  But, if those of us with an understanding of the importance of keeping schools and pedagogy current work together, we can be a strong and positive force of change.
Step 3: Refer to your checklist from Week 1. Have any of your answers changed after completing this course?
My answers to the checklist questions have changed as a result of this course.  I can now see how easily one can incorporate tech into one’s lesson plans, and how important it is to keep in mind 21st Century skills when creating plans.  As the year goes on, I will be revising my current plans to incorporate more collaborative learning,  to make sure they are learner-centered and not teacher-centered and to allow students a greater voice in the use of technology.  This course has been an eye-opener and I am looking forward to the changes I will make.  It may be more preparation initially, but I know the students will benefit from it, and I will have more fun.


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Application 5 Podcast

Below is a link to a my podcast.  Thanks for listening!


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The Partnership for 21st Century Skills

I was most intrigued to peruse the website for Partnership for 21st Century Skills. I like most that this organization has brought together all those parties who would most benefit from a workforce adept at tech: big business, educators and policy makers.  Uniting all three allows for important dialogue.  Business can inform educators what skills will allow students to be competitive in the labor force, educators can help students attain these skills, and policy makers can ensure that funds are available to all American public school students.  It is important to note that the skills necessary for success in the 21st century are interconnected and need to be taught in conjunction with content.

The information on the site that surprised me most was how thorough this advocacy group has been and how dedicated it is to preparing American students for work in a global economy.  The site include “maps” that help teachers navigate a connection between skills, content standards and student outcomes.  There are many truly excellent lesson ideas provided.

One idea presented on the site that I do not agree with is the focus on preparing students for work rather than teaching students to love school and learning.  BOTH are worthwhile and necessary goals; I understand that.  But, though I do not believe the Partnership believes in ONLY preparing students for work in a global economy, the website seems very slanted toward that position.  Students need to become life-long learners and they must be taught how to continue to learn once their formal schooling ends.

After spending a good deal of time reading through this website, I have come to the understanding that tech has really become its own discipline.  This has many implications for me as a teacher.  Though we will teach it by infusing it into already established disciplines, it is very obvious that tech must take priority when schools arrange professional development and when I develop new lesson plans.  It is also evident that the country must be willing to invest real money in preparing new and veteran teachers to use the tech available.  School departments must also work with big business to establish grants to defray the cost of purchasing enough hardware and hiring the proper staff to help maintain it all.  Policy makers must be willing to take the tough stand of NOT cutting the education budgets of their states.  Policy makers must be willing to argue in favor of spending money to preserve America’s economic interests.

For my students, the implications are that they must be willing to view high school as preparing them not just for college but for life.  If school departments do not make tech a priority, the implications for students will be damaging.  They will not be able to compete with those in other countries for jobs or with those in their own country for educational opportunities.

The 21st century is here.  What will schools look like when it ends?

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My Favorite Video

I’ve loved all the versions of this.  Here is the latest, as far as I know.


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