Constructivism


Underline discussion points, put discussion in "boxes" (underline before and after). Initial and date your contribution.
(Bill May21)

Just wondering .. are discussions (like what I just posted to this page) e-mailed out to the other Wiki Authors? See link above (Roland May22) No, changes are not emailed but you can add a RSS feed to your aggregator like Bloglines (Tf23may)

Twice I've written paragraphs that have disappeared after saving - in both cases the para underneath the one that disappeared consisted mainly of dot points - might be best to compose in notepad and then cut and past (Bill May22)




Harel and Papert (1990) argue that some materials are better with regard to the following criteria:
  • appropriability (some things lend themselves better than others to being made one's own)
  • evocativeness (some materials are more apt than others to precipitate personal thought)
  • integration (some materials are better carriers of multiple meaning and multiple concepts)
(Bill May22)

We use Game Making with children to achieve learning in this manner.




http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_science#Social_constructivism
"Social constructivism is in one sense an extension of instrumentalism that incorporates the social aspects of science. In its strongest form, it sees science as merely a discourse between scientists, with objective fact playing a small role if any. A weaker form of the constructivist position might hold that social factors play a large role in the acceptance of new scientific theories."

Social constructivism, which strongly influences curriculum statements (eg. SACSA in South Australia) is an attempt to control and channel science, maths, computing etc. into "politically correct" directions - these phrases keep reoccuring: ethically defensible, ecologically defensible, politically empowering, biodiversity, recycling, socially and environmentally sustainable, non-genetically modified foods. Taken as a whole this represents a political position being imposed onto science and also impacts on the way maths and technology is seen.
(Bill May21)

So we dont want to get sucked into sloganism and Jingoism. We should be clear in what we believe and why, beyond the fact that an eminent person said it. Then and only then, if we can show links to an "ism" thats good but we dont swallow the whole "ism" On that basis, my original page needs reworking, what we believe and why and then the "ism". Thanks good point (TFMay22)

Agree with this way of going about developing a theory. I think the word constructivism did represent something empowering and progressive, as developed by Papert. This is a genuine attempt to understand and enhance learning. But that with the development of social constructivism, the word has become problematic. This seems to be about top down social control. The wikipedia quote shows that IMO.

Theories are important though IMO for these reasons:

  • good theories inform practice, can develop practice to a higher stage (Idit Harel's thesis shows this and James Gee's book about video game playing does this too)
  • to be theorised is to be more substantial, to have more clout, than to be ad hoc, pragmatic
  • it increases confidence in the approach being used
  • where do we stand historically and in relation to other theories of learning?
  • new theories arise when the time is ripe (the theory of connectivism has arisen at a time when everyone has become more "connected" through the internet / www)

Maybe we are just a bunch of guys and girls who use game maker to do good stuff
(Bill May22).



There are several different learning theories and they all have their place in context:
constructivism - that we construct our own meanings
behaviourism - that a response that is rewarded is repeated
connectivism - our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today (George Siemens)
cognitivism - that learning unfolds innately (?)

and more (multiple intelligences, Vygotosky's scaffolding / proximal development, learning by design, etc)

I don't think anyone actually denies any of the above thumbnail definitions - what happens in practice is that different teachers tend to lean more towards one approach rather than another approach

All of these approaches have validity in context. Constructivism and constructionism have a special appeal because of research done with the logo programming language which bears some similarities with our work with Game Maker. eg. Idit Harel's Instructional Software Design Project (ISDP) which integrates constructionism, design theory (Perkins) and scaffolding (Vygotsky) into one project.

I think our real position is that we are not satisfied with a top down Instructionist only approach (teacher out the front lecturing) and in practice we:
  • use of a variety new software to engage students more - game making, playing, blogs, wikis, online learning
  • active doing rather than passive listening, a move away from teacher centred and towards child centred approaches
  • creating learning environments in which these approaches work (ISDP, computer clubs, game competitions, online learning, gifted and talented groups etc.)

(Bill May21)



There is some truth in this initial statement but it is still problematic. I don't like it as a bald assertion.
1.there are many types of constructivism now - eg. social constructivism has a different flavour to the Piaget / Papert variety. constructivism has now entered the mainstream and been adapted to fit the needs of the mainstream - social constructivism is a top down approach which violates the underlying bottom up nature of Piaget / Papert's ideas
2. philosophically where do we stand wrt the existence of an underlying objective reality? some constructivists deny either objective reality or our ability to approach it - I disagree with this position
3. no one is a pure constructivist IMO - we all walk the walk along a continuum of learning that ranges from behaviourist to constructivist (without bringing in other ideas such as cognitivism and connectivism) - also one cannot understand constructivism unless it is contrasted with other learning theories - another reason why there ought to be discussion in situ and not put elsewhere Bill 19thMay

This is getting out of my depth. What we are doing, (and we are all doing it differently) is a big step away from "chalk and talk" What I would like to demonstrate here is that what we propose has a respectable pedigree. For me its got a lot to do with Papert and I'm happy with the journey he followed to constructioNism. We can add connectivism. I think we need to integrate the new millenium concepts of connectivity into how we deal with web2, open source and filtering.

So far, its mainly you and me in this discussion and I'm very happy to defer to your understanding of this stuff. If nobody else jumps into this discussion soon, I'm happy for you to do a total "sanitised" rewrite of this stuff and I'll comment where it doesnt ring true. What I want to get from this page is that though we (I) may have jumped into games on gut instinct, its got a base in educational theory TF 19May


Constructivism is not a new idea. It was susinctly put by Plutarch, 2000 years ago. "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled." Learning is not a one way transfer of information to the learner, the "chalk and talk" that has characterised schools. A passion for learning is essential.

Constructivism took shape under Dewey and Piaget.

For Dewey (1933/1998) education depended on action. Knowledge and ideas emerged only from a situation in which learners had to draw them out of experiences that had meaning and importance to them . These situations had to occur in a social context, such as a classroom, where students joined in manipulating materials and, thus, created a community of learners who built their knowledge together.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) said: ‘To understand is to discover, or reconstruct by rediscovery, and such conditions must be complied with if in the future individuals are to be formed who are capable of production and creativity and not simply repetition’ .

Constructionism

The term Constructionism (1) was coined by Seymour Papert of MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Constructionism--the N word as opposed to the V word--shares constructivism's connotation of learning as "building knowledge structures" irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it's a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe

I think the distinction is one of inside / outside the learner - sand castle would be constructionist building but a theory of the universe is more problematic - Papert's original examples were playing turtle with logo or doing robotics with LEGO TClogo (Bill 19May)


Papert's beliefs are rooted very firmly in Piaget's findings about children's learning. Papert worked with Piaget for 5 years, applying his own expertise in maths to help build Piaget's theories.(2) Two points from Piaget stand out:
  • Children build or construct their own intellectual structures.
From this point arises the obligation of the modern teacher to restructure traditional subjects such as maths to fit the child.
(this statement is qualified below in discussion). Hence, Papert has restructured maths by inventing the computing language logo to fit the natural development of the child.
  • Children build on what they know. Piaget's term for children's continual balancing of existing cognitive structures with new experiences is equilibration.
From this point arises the obligation of the modern teacher to investigate the cognitive structures of their students and to interact with those cognitive structures in a subtle, not a heavy handed manner.
Piaget found that incredible amounts of learning occur without formal teaching. In his work, Papert tries to discover and promote the factors that are causing this "hidden" learning and also asks: Why is it that learning often does not occur with formal teaching (and often does occur without formal teaching)?


I wrote the above (Papert's beliefs...formal teaching) a long time ago (1991). What remains controversial is the bit about the need to "...restructure traditional subjects such as maths to fit the child". Many teachers would still argue that there are traditional bits of maths built up over centuries that are fine as they are and don't really need restructuring. It's really up to the learner to get on with the hard work of learning maths if they really want to be a mathematician.

Traditionalists can agree that children build on what they know and that they construct their own intellectual structures but what they disagree about is how important that is - they argue that there is just important fundamental knowledge about maths etc. that you have to learn whether its fun or not, whether its play or not, whether its dull or not. It's just essential knowledge, so stop the trendy feel good talk.

Some things change - turtle geometry is great. But some things don't change. A lot of the time it is hard to say and is hard work to say how can maths or whatever be restructured to better fit the learner.

We are still very under theorised IMO. All we can claim to have achieved with GameMaker is the somewhat nebulous claim of "motivating", "highly motivating", "somewhat motivating" depending on the learner. What sort of knowledge structures are being built in students minds when we teach with Game Maker? How is this process "better" than traditional learning?

One issue is that logo was developed as a new learning tool and was theorised strongly from the start (growing out of the Piaget and then MIT AI Lab where Papert worked with Minsky). Game Maker has different origins (even though Mark Overmars is an educator).
Bill May17 2006

Yes there is "fundamental knowledge of maths" but you dont "have to learn it whether its fun or not" you have to understand it whether its fun or not. Thats higher up Blooms Taxonomy. That requires that it be integrated into a learners existing mental model and that requires that the learner become an active agent in the learning. (agreed - Bill) To that extent, we need to restructure traditional subjects to give the learner the flexibility to alter the sequence a bit, the delivery mode should be more "pull" not "push" TF May19

Papert was aiming for more than a change in delivery mode from push to pull, even though I agree that is important.

http://users.tpg.com.au/billkerr/a/papert.htm
Papert quotes Warren McCulloch tellingly to make this point:
"What is a man so made that he can understand number and what is number so made that a man can understand it." (Mindstorms, p. 164)
In looking at learning it is not enough to look at "learning how to learn" (ie. concentrate on the learner) but we need to study the basic structure of the subject itself. Papert investigates the basic structure of mathematics in some detail including a critique of the formal logical thinking emphasised in Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica and the "new math" of the 1960s/70s. In Piaget/Papert's view the basic structure of maths is derived from the thinking of the Bourbaki school: order, proximity (topology), combination (algebra).In Papert's view it is not natural that advanced maths ideas are inaccessible to most. What Papert has tried to do is restructure maths so as to accommodate the natural tendencies of the child. Instead of mathophobia Papert hopes to create a mathsland where it will be natural to learn maths, like learning to speak French in France.

Logo was designed with this philosophical/mathematical background in mind. Logo was developed as a language so that mathematically naive users could learn how to program and control the computer as well as more sophisticated users. (Bill May20)


The fear of the traditionalists is that "fundamental knowledge" will be left out or watered down. eg. basic anatomy not taught to medical students because of new courses in understanding patient psychology and such. I recently saw a TV news report about this. This may be a product of the politicisation of the curriculum. There is a push to make year 11 and 12 more accessible (easier) and increase the school leaving age but that is not accompanied by increasing resources for government schools. This amounts to politicians passing their youth unemployment problem onto teachers. (Bill 20May)




Just thought I would further muddy the waters with Bill Crosbie's 7 tensions between school and games

  • Voluntary vs. Mandatory:
  • Skill opportunites vs. Skill standards:
  • Emergent goals vs. Imposed goals:
  • Playing wrong vs. Getting it right:
  • Low-cost experiments vs. High-stakes failures.
  • Process vs Content:

TF may27

pithy, at first sight, good discussion starter, what does playing wrong really mean though? are games really low cost? I like the emergent goals vs. skills standards one best but it needs to be fleshed out
can we have an URL, tony?
(Bill may28)



Games, Read/write Web, Internet Filtering and Constructionism


From the above ideas:
  • children learn by processing information through their own cognitive structures
  • engagement is the key
  • tasks have to be relevant and meaningful
  • publishing of student work is important
  • rote learning of content is less important than developing higher order cognitive development
  • learners should engage with the wider community

we draw our beliefs that:

  • games and in particular game creation are a powerful aid to learning
  • students should have access to the publishing functionality of the internet


it is not just publishing that is important, it is the interactive ongoing conversation in a wider environment than just the school / educational community (the pond v. the ocean)
added "learners should engage with the wider community" that could be better worded and needs to draw on connectivism which is not in the main doc, can you help BILL? TF19 mAy
Richard Eck also mentions Gagne
(Bill May19).

the term web 2.0 has been critiqued - i prefer the expression, "two way web" or "read/write web" ( a Tim B-Lee term which has existed since the beginning of the www) - so we are currently using the term Read/Write web rather than Web2.0 - but the critique of web 2.0 may still be a useful exercise
I'll provide more information / references on this
(Bill May19)









Footnotes
(1)Situating Constructionism,Seymour Papert and Idit Harel http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html (retrieved 17/5/06)
(2) Papert's ideas: Mainly from Mindstorms, Bill Kerr, October 1991. http://users.tpg.com.au/billkerr/a/papert.htm (retrieved 17/5/06)
(3) http://vels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/index.html