Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Constructionism, hypotheses, and technology

Generating and testing hypotheses is a strategy that is used beyond the science classroom. We frequently observe phenomena and form explanations (really predictions) about why we think this is occurring. In science the natural next step is to test these predictions. This process is consistent with constructionism, “a theory of learning that states people learn best when they build an external artifact or something they can share with others” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011) because we end with a conclusion about our findings we can easily share. We are striving for equilibration by creating balance between our current understanding and external reality. We are altering our understanding based on what we experience while testing predictions.

I explored a website called Astro-Venture that allowed students to create and build their own planet. In order to accomplish this they had to learn about concepts and apply them to the situation. In the end they have a final product, and they are engaged in the process along the way. This and other project-based, problem-based, and inquiry-based learning activities allow you to make predictions and test them while creating the final product. Activities can be designed to guide students toward the desired result or we as teachers can facilitate this process. For example, in the Astro-Venture activity, students may predict that a larger star will produce more energy for their planet. They will then discover that a red giant star is near the end of its life cycle and therefore may not be the best choice for their planet. In this way, students are able to test their ideas and still reach the desired outcome.

By having students create or build something, there is a specific goal. Students become so focused on the goal that the learning required happens almost by accident. Suddenly the content becomes less daunting and students are more engaged. The final product serves as evidence that students have achieved not only the project goal but also the learning goals along the way.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from


  1. I totally agree with you, when students are focused on the learning goal, and in building or creating something, that they really don't even realize that they are learning.
    Have you used PBLs in your classroom before, and if so what were your students response?

    1. In science it is fairly easy to implement project based learning, but I would still like to do more. When I've done it in the past I can see student engagement increase dramatically.

  2. Holly,

    Project Based Learning makes the learner the focus instead of the instructor and I think this engages students more effectively. I like how you said that students learn by "accident" and are not aware they are even learning. This is a great point and I think it is the key to keeping students engaged. If they are so involved that are even having some fun, students will learn at higher levels. Thank you for your post!

    -Angie Murphy

  3. I also like your idea that the students "learn by accident". Images of sitting in a classroom listening to a Charlie Brown like teacher lecturing fill students with dread. When students are engaged in real-world inquiry based learning it is enjoyable for teachers and students. Students are highly motivated by solving problems rather than just applying formulas or calculating 30 math problems from a textbook. PBLs challenge and give them the opportunity to express what they know. Teaching may not make us the big bucks, but when I hear a student groan at having to end class and say what they were doing was fun, it definitely makes it worth it.