Reform in science teaching: The Constructionist Learning Model

iStock_000016869784XSmallRobert Yaeger, Iowa State University, explains the Constructionist Learning Model in a recent issue of The Science Teacher. This model, one of the products of research into cognition in the last decade, focuses on the learner rather than the teacher, and is responsible for much that is new in science teaching. The constructionist view of learning is based on the premise that learners create their own knowledge in a search for meaning and understanding. It argues that knowledge without understanding is limited to the context in which it is learned and is easily forgotten. Indeed, research in science learning has revealed that most people – even students who excelled in science – have misconceptions about nature.

Until recently, learning models have been dominated by behaviorist theory which supposes that students learn what they are taught; teachers provide information to be learned and positive reinforcement for correct answers which result in student learning. Constructionist theory, however, stresses the search for meaning in learning and focuses on the process of learning, on learning to learn.


This mastery of one’s own learning strategies is called “metacognition”. They propose that if the goals of science teaching are understanding, synthesis, application, and the development of the ability to use information in new situations, then constructionism is the more viable approach. The rote learning and repeated practice of the behaviorist model, they maintain, will not generate true understanding or useful knowledge. Understanding, constructionists believe, is not something that can be acquired passively and cannot simply be transferred from one person to another.

Nevertheless, a constructionist approach to teaching science classes, Yaeger believes, may represent more of a shift in emphasis than a dramatic change in practice. He reports that many good science teachers instinctively use many of the procedures that illustrate the Constructionist Learning Model. These include: (1) respecting, encouraging, and accepting ideas initiated by students, (2) using students’ questions, ideas, and interests to guide Lessons, (3) promoting collaboration among students and encouraging students to challenge one anothers’ ideas and conceptualization, (4) encouraging the use of alternative sources of information, (5) asking open-ended questions and providing adequate time for reflection and analysis, (6) encouraging students to suggest cause and effect for events and situations and to predict outcomes, and (7) encouraging students to analyze and test their own ideas, answer their own questions, collect real evidence to support ideas, and reformulate ideas in light of new experiences and evidence.

Researchers at the National Center for Improving Science Education have proposed a teaching model that uses constructionist theory, and Yaeger suggests this model could lead to better science teaching.

“The Constructionist Learning Model” The Science Teacher Volume 58, Number 6, pp. 52-57 “Teaching Thinking in Europe” British Journal of Educational Psychology pp. 174-186.

Published in ERN January/February 1992 Volume 5 Number 1

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