Constructivism is all the rage. For those of you who aren't education gurus, constructivism is a philosophy of education. At its heart, it advocates that students must build their own "truths" about life, for there is no one absolute truth. Thus, direct instruction, where the teacher gives knowledge to the students, does not happen. Instead, teachers create learning environments and then sit back and guide while the students build knowledge. Hmmmmm.....
Now, I believe there is great merit in this philosophy. Education can no longer just give student knowledge. In Jane Healy's book Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds and what can we do about it, one researcher asserts that technology is changing the very definition of knowledge. It states: "They [newer technologies] change the meaning of knowledge from something we possess to something we have to access."
So, I tried to embrace this thought. My students were about to study Beowulf, but I felt it was important to study some English history so they could put the epic into its proper context. Now, the old me would have prepared my notes and "discussed" English history with the class. OK---I'll admit it; my discussions look much like a lecture, so this time, I divided the history up into pieces, put my students into groups, and assigned them to learn about the history and then prepare a PowerPoint to present to the class. The goal was to have them construct the knowledge.
It was an epic failure. (Yeah, that's why Homer Simpson is pictured on this blog.)
These students did not build knowledge about English history, Instead, they just polished their cut and paste skills.
So, where did it all go wrong? I'm not sure. The textbook had all the information they needed. They didn't even need to search the internet, yet that is immediately where they looked.
In Healy's book, this researcher went on to say that he worried these new technologies will create a quick-paced, undisciplined way of handling information. I think he is right. Reading and comprehending and building meaning out of the textbook was too much work. Instead, they looked for the path of least resistance. I think I had a touch of constructivism fever; it created some delirium of thought that students would dig in and build knowledge. Twenty years of teaching: I should have known better.
It's time for confession. We're moving on to the Middle Ages, and I am going to deliver some old-fashioned, teacher-constructed lessons. Yep.
Now, it has technology mixed in. It is a PowerPoint; I used special effects, including sound (we must add some entertainment value, I'm afraid). I searched Discovery Streaming and found some great movie clips and inserted them into the PowerPoint. I plan to stop and process the information the videos present, then build notes with this info. AND I uploaded the PowerPoint to Slideshare then inserted the widget slideshow into my Wiki Class page so students can access the notes again. (Down side to this--the videos don't load. I need to brainstorm a solution to this. I'm thinking I could probably insert the videos as a separate widget, but I only have so many hours in a day). So, I'm not back to the Dark Ages of teaching (if they truly were Dark Ages--after all, I did learn back then). However, there is no denying that this is more direct instruction, and the Constructivists would cry foul.
Well, cry away. I'm going to try teaching it this way and see what happens. My thought is this: I need to establish more clear expectations as to what constructed knowledge looks like. I'll explain, after the lesson, all the work I did to build the lesson. Then when the unit is over, I'll ask them to create a PowerPoint as a test. This way they must show me what they have learned. I'm hopeful that with a strong example, they will have more of an idea of how much work thinking takes.
Stay tuned. I will, of course, keep you updated.
Photo courtesy of flickr.com