What is Constructivism?

I’ve blogged about the flipped classroom and my pedagogical journey to this instructional model. The underlying theoretical principle of this instructional model is the constructivist theory of learning.

What exactly is constructivism?

The core idea of constructivism applied to learning is that the environment is learner-centered and situational. The learner will develop new ideas and alter existing ideas when interacting with content and collaborating with other learners and the instructor.

Here is a good overview of constructivism. And here is an interesting article regarding learner-centered classrooms in higher education.

I am sure many instructors employ the constructivist approach in their classroom. My chemistry students often grumble that they “just want to be a ________ (fill in the profession) when I graduate. Why do I have to learn this chemistry? I’m not going to use it.”

I respond by telling them that I am teaching them how to learn…. how to approach a new situation and use the analytical skills honed in chemistry. Using the flipped classroom model has allowed me to guide students through a process called “retrosynthetic analysis”. The product and starting materials with certain parameters are given to students. Students are asked to design a synthesis of the product using all the concepts they have learned. Essentially, students have to work backwards. This is very difficult for them as they have always solved problems going forward. However, I relate this to health care (but it could relate to MOST professions) by explaining that a patient comes in with a problem. They will see the PRODUCT and have to work backwards to determine how the patient arrived at the current state.

Instead of me telling students how to analyze, I guide them through the process. Students also help each other while interacting in groups. Students are constructing their own ideas and methods to approach problems.

Learning is an active, social process and interaction with the content helps students to construct new ideas.   There is not one way or a right way to use the constructivist theory in the classroom.  You may be using it, but not realizing that it has a name.  How do you use constructivism in your classroom?


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