[IAEP] [Grassroots-l] Concise explanation of Constructionism from the Learning Team

Bastien bastienguerry at googlemail.com
Fri Aug 15 19:37:02 EDT 2008

Hi Seth and all,

"Seth Woodworth" <seth at laptop.org> writes:

> Constructionism
> We are developing "Constructionism" as a theory of learning and education.
> Constructionism is based on two different senses of "construction." It is
> grounded in the idea that people learn by actively constructing new knowledge,
> rather than having information "poured" into their heads. Moreover,
> constructionism asserts that people learn with particular effectiveness when
> they are engaged in constructing personally meaningful artifacts (such as
> computer programs, animations, or robots).
> http://learning.media.mit.edu/projects.html
> I thought that this explination was concise and really interesting.  I would
> love to explain this to people who want to desige activities, just to give them
> a little snapshot of the concept.  Does anyone have a problem with this
> deffinition? Does anyone have an improvement?

I don't have any problem with this definition, it captures the spirit of
(what I understand from) constructionism.

My only concern -- and this is a general concern with the usual rhetoric
behind constructionism, not with this definition in particular -- is the
way we too often refer to this image: "information poured into heads".

While I think it might be useful to use such simplistic images, I also
think it might give a false feeling of novelty: as if constructionism
was the long awaited solution to save people from this stupid practice
in education, the one of "pouring information into heads"...

At least Plato argues that knowledge is not about pouring information
into heads.  Even Aristotle, who is more of an empiricist, wouldn't deny
that _acquiring_ knowledge is about building new "forms" on the top of
the ones we have, questioning the world with our own questions.  

Whether the knowledge is about grasping forms (or "patterns") that
_really_ exist outside of the human mind, or building forms that only
exist as mere abstractions, learning is seen as an interactive process
and as an interactive process of construction.  You could hardly find
any philosopher who would defend something like "pouring information
into heads", and I challenge anyone to point at teachers who do only

Instead of fighting windmills, I think it's better to concentrate on
what makes constructionism specific:

1. The scientific background.  Constructionism has its roots in Piaget's
   constructivism.  And constructivism is at the heart of many cognitive
   researches that potentially provide a more steady background for many
   constructionist educational practices.  *This* is new.  This is still
   at an early phase of exploration, and you can digg a lot into this

2. The machine.  Not only Piaget's constructivism wouldn't be what it is
   without the impact of the early computers in the mid 50 but Seymour's
   ideas are all about the computer as a _universal_ tool.  If learning
   is about building knowledge by interacting with the world, then the
   computer is the tool that knowledge might be build with, the tool
   that helps interact with the world in as many ways as we imagine.

In "personally meaningful artifacts", the easy way is to insist on
"meaningful" ("You teachers stop doing stupid things!) while the real
stress should be put of what we know from the person (that we didn't 30
years ago) and what kind of artifacts constructionism can rely on.

Off to bed,


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