Constructionism

by Judi Fusco

This post was written during our book club, but the concepts in the post go beyond the book.

We’re going to discuss constructionism, not to be confused with constructivism; they are similar words and Papert’s constructionism grew out of Piaget’s constructivism.  We’ll talk more about Piaget’s constructivism (and Vygotsky’s social constructivism) in another post soon.

From our book club book, Coding as a Playground, I learned that Papert didn’t want to define constructionism rigidly. Marina Bers gives us some of the dimensions he discussed and some help thinking about it.

On page 21, she writes:

Seymour Papert refused to give a definition of constructionism.  In 1991, he wrote, “It would be particularly oxymoronic to convey the idea of constructionism through a definition since, after all, constructionism boils down to demanding that everything be understood by being constructed” (Paper, 1991). Respecting his wish, in my past writings I have always avoided providing a definition; however, I have presented four basic principles of constructionism that have served childhood education well (Bers, 2008):

  • Learning by designing personally meaningful projects to share in the community;
  • Using concrete objects to build and explore the world;
  • Identifying powerful ideas from the domain of study;
  • Engaging in self-reflection as part of the learning process.

Bers goes on to discuss how constructionism is in line with ideas about how important “learning by doing” is for young learners. In another paper, Karen Brennan (2015) also discusses how important it is to let learners to design, personalize, share, and reflect during the constructionist process. You can see those ideas in the principles Bers discussed.

Karen Brennan also writes “Constructionism is grounded in the belief that the most effective learning experiences grow out of the active construction of all types of things, particularly things that are personally or socially meaningful (Bruckman, 2006; Papert. 1980), that are developed through interactions with others as audience, collaborators, and coaches (Papert, 1980; Rogoff, 1994), and that support thinking about one’s own thinking (Kolodner et al., 2003; Papert, 1980).”



Papert’s Paper Airplane: construction(ism) plus sharing the creation to discuss it with others, to think about what’s important and not important, and then working alone or with others to make the creation better.

I’m going to digress a little from thinking about elements of constructionism and give a little background on constructionism and constructivism. Papert was the father of constructionism and he worked with Jean Piaget, the genetic epistemologist who developed theories of constructivism to help us understand how young children acquire knowledge (sidebar: genetic epistemologist = genesis or beginning, epistemology = theory of knowledge). Bers tells us how constructionism is a play on and tribute to constructivism. constructivism and constructionism are two terms that have caused much confusion in many folks. A few years back, my graduate students and I came up with a mnemonic to help them remember who developed the different ideas, and what constructionism and constructivism mean.

The mnemonic: Papert, his last name looks like “paper” with a t and you can construct a paper airplane because you like to make them. (You don’t constructivize them, you do construction to make them.)

You can share that paper airplane with your friends and they can give you feedback on the design of the airplane, you can talk about it, you can improve on it, and then you should refine it. Through this act of construction, some might call it constructionism, you learn because you make something you like, share it, discuss it, reflect on it, and continue to improve it.  (You might have to use another sheet of paper, though.)


Piaget’s constructivism is all about what is happening in the mind: If you put an m (for mind) on top of a v (for constructivism) you can see how much we love constructivism.

Piaget’s constructivism is a theory about what happens in the mind as you actively create structures in the mind. Here’s the mnemonic: if you put an m (for mind) on top of a v (for constructivism) you can see how much we love constructivism. (Work with us here, it’s a mnemonic — also, there’s a v in love, too.)  (See picture.)

Piaget’s constructivism is all about what is happening in the mind, whereas constructionism is really a helpful process for learners to think about something specific together. Of course, when we have learners work together, create, and build, we also hope they add new things to their minds (constructivism); the two should absolutely go together. A lot of people talk about constructionism as learning by doing, and it absolutely is, but while we create, we should also discuss, iterate, and learn (create new knowledge structures, or modify old ones in our heads). I constructed this blog post to help us have something to talk about. Please join me and discuss so we can learn more together.

The perfect place to discuss is In our Book Club on Coding as a Playground, talk to about this post or even better, we’d love for you to share your real life examples of constructionism in classrooms as you work with students to help them learn to code or to think computationally. I’d love to know how you think about these terms and how you get your learners to design, personalize, share, and reflect on important parts of the work they are doing for their learning in your classroom! Tweet #CIRCLEdu or come share in the Book Club!

Resources

If you’d like to know more about Constructivism and Constructionism see:

http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/blog/science-teacher’s-take-constructivism-constructionism

http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/blog/constructivist-science

http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/blog/constructionism-learning-theory-and-model-maker-education

Reference: Brennan, K. (2015). Beyond Technocentrism. Constructivist Foundations, 10(3).

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