[IAEP] Concise explanation of Constructionism from the LearningTeam

Costello, Rob R Costello.Rob.R at edumail.vic.gov.au
Sat Aug 16 20:55:15 EDT 2008

Albert to be fair constructionism as a term does not have much currency
here- and few associations, good or bad ... I was just disagreeing that
it stands for a failed experimental or idealistic approach

I'm not sure that I like it as a word, since, as you know, teachers can
be suspicious of nebulous terms; just as 'pedagogy' has more currency
among those who talk about teaching, than those who teach

Agree constructionism seems poorly defined, at least in these debates;
trying to stand for too many approaches, I think
But related philosophies - applied learning, project based learning, are
certainly in the wind

And the debates around these have led me (and our local planning groups)
to a middle position- a mix of individual enquiry and explicit

I wonder if our approaches are informed by different experiences 

>Then, during some other research,
> I stumbled upon the horror of constructionism as practiced
> and I found the evidence that constructionists would suppress.
> It's time to get the word out: constructionism hurts children.

That's a pretty strong statement

I've seen the opposite- very disadvantaged kids getting much higher than
'expected' (by demographic) scores on state exams, in schools that have
made this sort of approach work, with rigorous checks and balances to
ensure the material is challenging, aligned with state curriculum etc -
had a good look at some of these schools and some of them are doing much
better than schools attempting traditional methods with similar

But its hard to do, and easy to fail, so maybe that's what you've seen

I met the author of that paper (working in one of these schools), and my
main reservation about its transfer to Aus, was that his Israeli kids
seemed much more wired for intellectual argument than many of our
students...ie some of the approaches would seem to work better for more
able kids

Don't know what your comments about abusive nuns have to do with

My own personal motif for these approaches is actually discovering that
integral calculus made a lot more sense to me when I could program a
numerical model, in my own schooling... [the 1985 year 12 maths course
had a optional exploratory programming unit, mixed in with a lot of
traditional approaches preparing one for the usual 3 hour exam] no nuns
or rulers in sight 

I know that regular education has been more creative than simple recall-
but I would say that traditional approaches -particularly to assessment
- have still emphasised that - memorising last years paper, and the
various problem types, is still a strong method for passing,
irrespective of real depth of understanding - and its hard to escape
that, on  a large scale  

You might find straw men, but I do think that while mass education is
only 150 years old, many of the assumptions underpinning it are already
proving flawed (an industrial mass production metaphor underpins much of
it, bells segment the time in disconnected blocks etc - and I've heard
you lament the fact that kids tend to get pushed through a standard
curriculum, irrespective of performance- and I would also say of
interest-  etc)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Albert Cahalan [mailto:acahalan at gmail.com]
> Sent: Sunday, 17 August 2008 10:13 AM
> To: Costello, Rob R
> Cc: Education
> Subject: Re: [IAEP] Concise explanation of Constructionism from the
> LearningTeam
> On Sat, Aug 16, 2008 at 3:31 AM, Costello, Rob R
> <Costello.Rob.R at edumail.vic.gov.au> wrote:
> > I work in a real world school, and its not what it means there
> Consider yourself lucky. Perhaps your school is just special.
> Perhaps your whole country is special. In any case, you're in
> an uphill battle if lots of people have a different definition.
> Your message gets mangled when you choose words that
> your listener will interpret differently than you.
> Here it means disasters like "Everyday Mathematics",
> "Mathland", and "Connected Mathematics".
> > The challenge is how to balance the need for lots of instruction
> > preserving the spirit of inquiry
> Typically, constructionism is against instruction. Balance is
> not allowed; it can not be allowed when instruction is made
> out to be the great evil.
> > Not entirely sure if you're just wanting to get a rise out of
> > points of view, where accuracy or ability to see the whole isn't
> > a priority
> I was quite open minded about constructionism, but I believe
> that the purpose of an open mind is to close on the truth.
> Initially I was curious. I became annoyed and suspicious as
> it became obvious that evidence was lacking and that nobody
> could explain things in a way that was clear, concise, useful,
> unambiguous, and so on. Then, during some other research,
> I stumbled upon the horror of constructionism as practiced
> and I found the evidence that constructionists would suppress.
> It's time to get the word out: constructionism hurts children.
> Maybe in some theoretical ideal world, there could exist
> some form of constructionism that is not rotten to the core.
> We don't live in that world, so let's not concern ourself with it.
> > If not, and you just happen to feel strongly on the issue, you might
> > interested in this
> >
> > _Learning_in_a.doc
> I find straw men. The writer imagines that traditional instruction
> is purely memorization. The writer expects me to accept on faith
> that one's immature and uneducated peers are learning aids.
> The writer admits to horrible inefficiencies that require the use
> of extra hours and possibly extra teachers.
> It sounds like some people are still trying to recover from some
> nun who whacked them with a ruler every time they failed to
> perfectly regurgitate some useless trivia. Sorry if that's the
> case... but regular education is mostly not like that.

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