Posts Tagged 'constructionism'

Situating Constructionism

As I join in the last part of class, and listen to the class recordings, my thoughts about constructionism is kind of evolving. In reading Papert’s Mindstorms, I had tried very hard to understand the Math examples, seeing powerful ideas as some form of domain specific idea that can be represented in microworlds. In class discussions, we talk about not pre-defining the idea, but letting learners generate the ideas, like the Computer Clubhouse model. I was also struck by the issue of “power” in ideas, how they all exist in social structures consisting of power relationships. What are powerful ideas will be determined by politics, economic powers etc., especially when we talk about the educational system.

I have read the book chapter “Situating Constructionism” before, but reading the article now, with the context of our discussions, illuminates (literally!) my understanding. Papert and Harel (1991) say it would be “oxymoronic to convey the idea of constructionism through a definition since, after all, constructionism boils down to demanding that everything be understood by being constructed”. They further discuss that the idea of constructionism was in evolution, and there is a need to keep intellectual doors open. The important question or vision is: which approaches favors dreams and visions, setting off catalysts for good scientific and mathematical ideas?

They then go into the discussion of the epistemological dimension. How constructionism is concerned with “e;epistemological.e”, raising issues relevant to the nature of science and debates in psychology. Feminism is discussed – where people (in Africa) fight for the right not only to think what they please, but to think it in their own way.

The book “Constructionism” focuses on “noncanonical” epistemological thinking from ethnographic study of laboratories, intellectual movements inspired by feminist concerns, and trends within computer cultures. The paper we read last week on Brandy, even though published in 2012, is yet another example of “noncanonical” epistemological thinking.

The article is available on the web. Read it when you can!

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Situating constructionism. From Constructionism (pp. 1–11). Ablex Publishing Corporation.


Papert Chapters 3 and 4

Chapter 3: “These examples show how the continuity and the power principle make Turtle geometry learnable. But we wanted it to do something else as well, to open intellectual doors, preferable to be a carrier of important, powerful ideas. …” (p. 63).

Heuristics can aid the learning of complex concepts. The process though which students use Turtle geometry to learn complex concepts and debug their program and their thinking helps them develop reflective and metacognitive skills.

Chapter 4: The centipede story, p. 95. The centipede story brings to light the importance of learning to debug not only one’s programs, but one’s thinking as well. The metacognitive processes of reflective thinking should not be a stumbling block, but an empowering tool through which one can access and make sense of complex and powerful ideas.

Is Making Learning? Considerations as education embraces the Maker Movement

Crossed posted from


Grinding New Lenses summer program at Depaul University.

Of late, folks in my corner of the educational world have been jazzed about the intersections of maker culture and education. I’m super excited too – and even pleasantly surprised. A couple of years ago the bigger trend in my world was about games and learning, and while that’s certainly not gone away, the prominence of the more open-ended, tinker-oriented maker work has had a serious surge lately.

Audrey Watters over at HackEducation called the Maker Movement one of the top ed-tech trends of 2012. The burgeoning ed-tech news aggregator EdSurge has managed a good deal of reporting on Maker and DIY learning amidst its usual grind of MOOC’s and Learning Management Systems. Mozilla has fully embraced the “making is learning” stance in positioning its Webmaker initiative, which I’ve written about before (and, full disclosure, contribute to on occasion). And my own lab here at Indiana University just last week publicly launched the Make-to-Learn initiative, a research focused collaboration including some fantastic organizations including MIT’s LifeLong Kindergarten Group, the National Writing ProjectInstructables and the MacArthur Foundation, among others.

Clearly, making and learning is hot. And as with all things trendy, it’s easy for the core message to get lost amidst the hype. That’s why I want to (briefly) address a question any edu-hype-skeptic should be asking right now: Is making, in fact, learning? 

The short answer: yes, but it’s complicated. The longer answer is that the best maker-driven learning is never just about the making. It’s about all the things that happen around the making. That initial spark of curiosity, the investigation and early tinkering, the planning and research that follow, the inspirations and appropriations from other projects, the prototypes, the failures, the feedback, and, perhaps most importantly, the iterations upon iterations towards a better make. All of these acts are done in and contingent on well configured social contexts, in communities of practice and affinity spaces. This all goes back to core ideas of Constructionist learning theory and the foundational work of Seymor Papert. And it’s why I prefer talking about the Maker Movement as having strong lessons for learning, as opposed to just making, which can be construed as more solitary. Making in and of itself can sometimes involve the sorts of steps I described here, but not always. That’s why the answer is complicated. I’m willing to say that someone is always learning something when they’re making, but they learn best when it entails the sort of process, community and well configured structures of participation I describe above.

When I went to the Maker Faire last September, I wrote about how a revamped pinewood derby was set up in such a way that it embodied principles found in well designed learning environments. I talked about things like multi-generational engagement, clear contexts for using what’s being created, multiple avenues to success yet transparent and clearly defined standards. All of these things are about the interactions that are possible within a larger culture of making. Obviously, it’s the act of making that ties all of these interactions together, but the story around how the learning happens is always more complicated than the simplified idea that “making is learning”.

My sense is that so many of the folks taking up the making and learning mantle are nodding to all the things I’m saying here. These insights are obvious to anyone who thinks for more than a minute about what it means to be making in a way that might support robust learning via real world contexts. And the initiatives I’ve mentioned reflect this understanding. Mozilla is dedicated to creating a robust mentor community around Webmaker. The almost 25 thousand folks taking the MIT Media Lab’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC will be getting a healthy dose of Papert as they learn about maker-oriented learning environments. And reading Audrey Watters’ recent post on the case for a campus Makerspace tells me that she gets what this is all about too. I just want to make sure we keep the complexity, nuance, and real power of this pedagogical approach in mind as we start to build a movement around it. It would be such a shame if we watered down the real power of maker-driven learning.

Questions on Mindstorms

Really quickly, just so I have a record of what I’m wondering after finishing Mindstorms:

  1. What exactly are “powerful ideas”?
  2. How can Papert’s ideas be applied to areas other than math and physics? This includes rethinking and revamping them. I have some trouble envisioning that.
  3. Why has so little changed since Papert wrote this in 1980? It seems a lot of what he warned against came true.
  4. What would an entire society based on Papert’s educational ideas look like?
  5. As computing has become more complicated, the programming aspect has become less and less visible. This makes it harder to apply Papert’s ideas about programming, but is teaching programming the goal? How else can we take advantage of computing to advance “powerful ideas”?

“Adults fail to…

“Adults fail to appreciate the extent and nature of what children are learning, because knowledge structures we take for granted have rendered much of that learning invisible.” Papert, Mindstorms, p.40.

Reflection on Constructionism

Evolved from Constructivism, Constructionism steps further to explore a more meaningful, interactive and participatory way of learning in the new century. Acknowledging the importance of meaningfulness in knowledge development, Constructionism seeks to build both intellectual and emotional connection between new knowledge with students’ prior knowledge. Additionally, constructionism puts emphasis on the social aspect of learning, which encourages students to take advantage of the human and artifacts as available and powerful resources to fuel their learning. The interactive spirit of constructionism can also be displayed as it facilitates the idea sharing and project design activities which combine students’ personal interest as well as the community needs (Kafai, 2006) Designing and creating objects play a central role in knowledge construction because of the process of building shareable artifacts can facilitate students’ knowledge construction, reformulation and expression.

According to Resnick, an ideal constructionism learning environment is a place where children feel free to explore their personal interest, to harness technologies and are supported by their learning communities(Kafai & Resnick, 1996). On one hand, the “learning by doing ”experience is believed to enable deeper and meaningful learning opportunities for students; one the other hand, concerns stem from this flexible-structured environment are related to the practical implementation into classrooms. For instance, this approach cannot provide clear guidance for teachers to measure the “appropriate degree” of their guidance, since they can neither obviously reveal the truth to students nor just post vague questions such as “why” and “how”. Because of the difficulty to implement, it remains a daunting task for practitioners.

What impressed me most of the constructionism approach is its compatibility for diverse epistemology styles, which allows for both tinkers and planners to feel free to explore; where the learning process is valued as well as the learning product; when self-reflection and collective idea-sharing collide with and inspire each other. I believe the belief and respect for young children can liberate children from their trapped school, and empower them to turn their wonderful ideas to powerful ideas.