Chapter 9 The Learning Sciences and Constructivism
The Learning Sciences
Basic Assumptions of the Learning Sciences
• Experts have deep conceptual knowledge
o they are able to apply and modify their knowledge to fit each situation.
• Learning comes from the learner
o students must actively participate in their own personal construction of
• Schools must create effective learning environments
o environments where students can be active in constructing their own deep
understandings so they can reason about realworld problems and transfer their
learning from school to their lives beyond the school walls.
• Prior knowledge is key
o if teaching does not begin with what the students “know,” then the students will
learn what it takes to pass the test, but their knowledge and beliefs about the
world will not change.
• Reflection is necessary to develop deep conceptual knowledge
o they need to thoughtfully analyze their own work and progress.
Neuroscience: Teaching with the Brain in Mind
• both experiences and direct teaching cause changes in the organization and structure of
Instruction and Brain Development
• Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) A form of MRI (an imaging technique
that uses a magnetic field along with radio waves and a computer to create detailed
pictures of the inside of the body) used to measure the tiny changes during brain activity.
• students who simply memorized answers showed greater activity in the area of the brain
that specializes in retrieving verbal information – students who used a strategy showed
greater activity in the visualspatial processing portion of the brain
• poor readers used less of lest hemisphere compared to good readers
Implications for Teachers
• Many cognitive functions are differentiated—that is, they are associated with different
parts of the brain ▯learners may have preferred modes of processing as well as different
o Different modalities do not necessarily provide advantages for learning
• enriched active environments and flexible instructional strategies may differentially
support cognitive development in young children and learning in adults
• learning disorders may have a neurological basis;
• anxiety interferes with learning, whereas challenge, interest, and curiosity can support
o Keeping the level of challenge and support “just right” is a challenge for teachers
Point Counterpoint BrainBased Education
• Are there clear educational implications from the neuroscience research on the brain?
Point – No, the implications are not clear. • many socalled applications of brain research begin with solid science, but then move to
unwarranted speculation, and end in a sort of appealing folk tale about the brain and
• folk theory about brain laterality, not a neuroscientific one
• all of the socalled best practices for brainbased education are simple restatements of
good teaching based on understandings of how people learn, not how their brain works.
Counterpoint – Yes, teaching should be brainbased
• When applied correctly, brain science may serve as a vehicle for advancing the
application of our understanding of learning and development.
• Brain research is leading to much better understandings about learning disabilities.
• discoveries in neural plasticity to change the brain’s ability to read the printed word
• Brainbased learning offers some direction for educators who want more purposeful,
o Schools shouldn’t be run on curriculums solely based on the brain, but we should
not ignore it either
Cognitive and Social Constructivism
Constructivist Views of Learning
• Constructivism sizes the active role of the learner in building understanding and making
sense of information
• most constructivist theorists agree on two central ideas:
o Central Idea #1: Learners are active in constructing their own knowledge.
psychological constructivists focus on how individuals use information,
resources, and even help from others to build and improve their mental
models and problemsolving strategies
o Central Idea #2: Social interactions are important in this knowledge construction
social constructivists see learning as increasing our abilities to participate
with others in activities that are meaningful in the culture
• individuals construct their own cognitive structures as they interpret their experiences in
• concerned with how individuals build up certain elements of their cognitive or emotional
• study individual knowledge, beliefs, selfconcept, or identity
• concerned with how individuals construct internal representations (propositions, images,
concepts, schemas) that can be remembered and retrieved
• Piaget’s psychological (cognitive) constructivist perspective ▯concerned with “correct”
representations and meaning as it is constructed by the individual.
o social environment as an important factor in development, but did not believe
that social interaction was the main mechanism for changing thinking
o First wave constructivism A focus on the individual and psychological sources
o Focus on central idea #1
• Radical constructivism – Knowledge is assumed to be the individual’s construction; it
cannot be judged right or wrong.
o no reality or truth in the world, only the individual’s perceptions and beliefs. o BUT If learning cannot advance understanding because all understandings are
equally good, then we might just as well let students continue to believe whatever
• learning means individually possessing knowledge
Vygotsky’s Social Constructivism
• Emphasized central idea #2 ▯social interaction, cultural tools, and activity shape
individual development and learning
• Appropriation being able to reason, act, and participate using cultural tools
• learning means belonging to a group and participating in the social construction of
• Putting learning in social and cultural context = second wave constructivism
• Vygotsky was both a social and psychological constructivist
o people are both products and producers of their societies and cultures
Constructionism How public knowledge in disciplines such as science, math, economics, or
history is constructed.
• Social constructionists concern is with how public knowledge in disciplines such as
science, math, economics, or history is constructed
o interested in how commonsense ideas, everyday beliefs, and commonly held
understandings about people and the world are communicated to new members
of a sociocultural group
How Is Knowledge Constructed?
• The realities and truths of the external world direct knowledge construction.
o Individuals reconstruct outside reality by building accurate mental
representations such as propositional networks, concepts, causeandeffect
patterns, and conditionaction production rules that reflect “the way things really
o Information processing holds this view of knowledge
• Internal processes such as Piaget’s organization, assimilation, and accommodation direct
o New knowledge is abstracted from old knowledge
• Both external and internal factors direct knowledge construction.
o social interactions and experience
Knowledge: Situated or General?
• Situated = learning is inherently social and embedded in a particular cultural setting
• Community of practice – Social situation or context in which ideas are judged useful or
o current practice will shape what is considered valuable.
• Situated learning The idea that skills and knowledge are tied to the situation in which
they were learned and are difficult to apply in new settings
o novices, with the support of an expert guide and model, take on more and more
responsibility until they are able to function independently.
o Enculturation – adopting the norms, behaviours, skills, beliefs, language and
attitudes of a community
o Knowledge is seen as a creation of the community over time o situated learning emphasizes the idea that much of what is learned is specific to
the situation in which it is learned
Common Elements of Constructivist StudentCentred Teaching
• All constructivist theories assume that knowledge develops as learners try to make sense
of their experiences
• Constructivists share similar goals for learning:
o Emphasize knowledge in use
o developing abilities to find and solve illstructured problems
o critical thinking
o openness to multiple perspectives
• constructivist approaches recommend the following five conditions for learning:
1. Embed learning in complex, realistic, and relevant learning environments.
2. Provide for social negotiation and shared responsibility as a part of learning.
3. Support multiple perspectives and use multiple representations of content.
4. Nurture selfawareness and an understanding that knowledge is constructed.
5. Encourage ownership of learning.
Complex Learning Environments and Authentic Tasks
• Constructionists believe students should encounter complex learning environments
Problems and learning situations that mimic the illstructured nature of real life.
• emphasizes learning in situations where it will be applied
• higher mental processes develop through social negotiation and interaction ▯
collaboration in learning is important
• Social negotiation aspect of the learning process that relies on collaboration with others
and respect for different perspectives.
• Intersubjective attitude A commitment to build shared meaning with others by finding
common ground and exchanging interpretations.
Multiple Perspectives and Representations of Content
• Resources for the class should have provided multiple representations of content using
different analogies, examples, and metaphor
• Spiral curriculum Bruner’s design for teaching that introduces the fundamental structure
of all subjects early in the school years, then revisits the subjects in more and more
complex forms over time.
Understanding the Knowledge Construction Process
• making students aware of their own role in constructing knowledge
• If students are aware of the influences that shape their thinking, they will be more able to
choose, develop, and defend positions in a selfcritical way while respecting the positions
Applying Constructivist Perspectives
• the following activities encourage meaningful learning: o Teachers elicit students’ ideas and experiences in relation to key topics, then
fashion learning situations that help students elaborate on or restructure their
o Students are given frequent opportunities to engage in complex, meaningful,
o Teachers provide students with a variety of information resources as well as the
tools (technological and conceptual) necessary to mediate learning.
o Students work collaboratively and are given support to engage in taskoriented
dialogue with one another.
o Teachers make their own thinking processes explicit to learners and encourage
students to do the same through dialogue, writing, drawings, or other
o Students are routinely asked to apply knowledge in diverse and authentic
contexts, explain ideas, interpret texts, predict phenomena, and construct
arguments based on evidence, rather than focus exclusively on the acquisition of
predetermined “right answers.”
o Teachers encourage students’ reflective and autonomous thinking in conjunction
with the conditions listed above.
o Teachers employ a variety of assessment strategies to understand how students’
ideas are evolving and to give feedback on the processes as well as the products
of their thinking.
Inquiry and ProblemBased Learning
• Inquiry learning Approach in which the teacher presents a puzzling situation, and the
o formulate hypotheses to explain the event or solve the problem,
o collect data to test the hypotheses,
o draw conclusions, and
o reflect on the original problem and the thinking processes needed to solve it.
• Inquiry teaching allows students to learn content and process at the same time
ProblemBased Learning – Methods that provide students with realistic problems that don’t
necessarily have “right” answers.
• to help students develop flexible knowledge that can be applied in many situations, in
contrast to inert knowledge (information that is memorized but seldom applied)
• to enhance intrinsic motivation and skills in problem solving, collaboration, evidence
based decision making, and selfdirected lifelong learning.
• Problem based learning:
o Confronted with a problem
o Identify and analyze the problem
o Generate hypotheses about solutions
o Identify missing information
o Apply knowledge