Do you believe Constructionism brings any new ideas to the table as a theory of education? Why or Why not?

To be honest, when I read the word constructionism, I was thinking about the word constructivism.  In fact they are related. This Changing Minds website page gives a very concise definition of both.  In fact, Piaget introduced constructivism and his student, Seymour Papert, introduced constructionism.

I like the subtle difference between the two terms.  Constructivism is more cognitive, and constructionism is more physical.  Knowing this new information, I can now answer the essential question that constructionism is not necessarily a new theory in education.  It just builds onto the constructivism theory.

Chapter 1 of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom is titled An Insanely Brief and Incomplete History of Making.  It is a great intro to the beginnings of these theories.  I do believe that one powerful method of learning is to make constructions.  Physical models of concepts are great resources to understanding a wide variety of content.  Once you break down ideas into components, you can get a firm grasp of understanding the concepts being learned.

I remember my first experience writing code for a Radio Shack TRS-80 back in high school.  My project was to create a rudimentary shooting game that used keyboard keys as controllers of a cannon and the space bar key as the fire button.  The idea was to fire a cannon at a moving target at the top of the monitor.  It was an exciting project to work on because of the complexity of the code writing, but at the same time the simplistic nature of the game.  I was able to write the code to move the cannon up and down with key strokes, and fire with the space bar, which instantaneously shot a “laser” at the target.  When the laser hit the target, I wrote code to have the target explode in a radial fashion.  It was exciting and addicting!  I created a game that ran my code, and it worked.  This was one project from a handful that I worked on that year.

TRS-80_Model_3_01

Alan Kay is quoted as saying “Technology is anything that wasn’t there when you were born.” If this is the case, how can we prepare students for the workplace in the 2020s?  Well, I believe there is a horizon that is seen, but not yet attained.  We can prepare students to understand the evolution of technology and the need to learn as we go.  And that means tinkering.  I can admit that when I was a child, the smartphone was not even a planned electronic device for consumer use, but today, I can navigate with the best of them in the use of a smartphone.  The key is understanding the functions and just practice!

 

IPhone_5s_top

Alan Kay gives, I believe a powerful TED Talk here, and at around 9:23 into the video, he describes a kindergarten lesson that a teacher had students work on that has a shocking result after students seemed to be playing with tiles.  Then describes other hands on projects that students can work on and learn powerful concepts and ideas.  Sadly, the end of his talk pretty much describes the state of education that, I think, permeates is that we have the ideas, materials, and technology, but lack the mentoring to utilize them.

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4 thoughts on “Do you believe Constructionism brings any new ideas to the table as a theory of education? Why or Why not?

  1. I’m so happy to hear you had a positive experience writing code in high school. I went to a middle school that was called a magnet program, special math and science classes including a generous budget. I too took a computer class. I don’t remember what type the computers were, but I do remember we were supposed to program in DOS (I think…it was around 1982 :)). During the course of the semester we were supposed to write a program for a computer game which we created. My teacher was very gung ho, but none of us ever ended up creating anything. It was so new in schools, my teacher didn’t have the skills to teach it, and we didn’t have a clue where to begin. Even though we have come a long way since then, it still reminds me a bit of where we are now, just a different place in technology development. I think tinkering is essential to twenty-first century learning and continuing world development overall. However, I think some teachers, even today, don’t always know how to play the role of a twenty-first century educator, including me. I think education is in this weird limbo of old school and new school. Some of us are trying to bring ourselves up to speed, and I think eventually we will get there. In the mean time, we are both showing our age… :).

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  2. You put the definitions very concisely. It is so easy to read and understand. I also like how you talked about the history. I didn’t want to write too much so I left out the history and talked mostly about the theory itself. I also like your example of creating the game. I think the enjoyment of making something that works never gets old. If you give students a project to create you see them light up and they are proud to show off their work. This idea of constructionism building on constructivism is huge. Students need the constructionism aspect because it helps them to see the real world application. If they struggle and are successful they are proud to share with others and this is where the learning occurs.

    Great post!

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  3. Gerald,

    I thought about constructivism when I read the word constructionism as well! Further reading revealed the very strong connection between the two words to me as well. Wow, Gerald, it is so great that you wrote code and created a game! How did you get started doing this?

    I watched the Alan Kay video clip you posted on Ted Talks: https://www.ted.com/talks/alan_kay_shares_a_powerful_idea_about_ideas?language=en#t-555545 that was filmed March 2007.

    As I watched, I took notes. Thank you for sharing, as this was well worth the 20- minute view! In fact, I need to watch it again.

    Notes taken:

    The world is not as it seems and we see things as we are—it is a waking dream. Powerful ideas sensory, reasoning, perspective (brainlets, additional parts in our brains; powerful ideas); this is not taught in K-12 curriculum. Emergent properties involve thinking about the nonobvious ways of the same things we looked at without considering what it means. We can view a movie clip about what happens inside a cell without understanding that this not just fortuitous rather it is two complex shapes finding each other and being catalyzed (each molecule spins at about 1 million revolution per second). Simplicity is good when teaching, but without removing what is important about the data.

    Students need to understand some principle before learning about sophisticated proofs. Look at what it means first, before looking at the many, many proofs. Make a shape out of a shape (enlarging the shape). The first one took 3 more and the total was 4 and the 3rd one took 5 and the total was 9. It doesn’t matter what the shape is, but the growth law is the same.

    I really like how he connected the coding with the car turning at #5 vs. not turning at #0. Then he showed the concept of speed on the computer. Constant acceleration viewed with dots on a bar graph, dropping the ball and filming it to show gravity by then stacking the relative shapes on talk of each other.

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    • Our school just purchased some computers and one of my math teachers was interesting in teaching a little programming, so I signed up for the class and started programming! It was one of the most fun, challenging, and frustrating class ever. I learned at a young age that computers don’t like “bugs” and I made sure to become a perfectionist. 🙂

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