Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Constructionism Learning Theory

Dr. Orey defines constructivism as “a theory of knowledge stating that each individual actively constructs his/her own meaning” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  He then defines constructionism as “a theory of learning that states people learn best when they build an external artifact or something they can share with others” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  He continues to talk about how the building blocks for constructionism are: assimilation, accommodation, equilibration, and schema. Assimilation and accommodation is what is going on in the individual learners mind, as they are building things.  Dr. Orey points out that constructionism is what we need to be focused on in education.  Students should be actively engaged in creating a product (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  “Instruction is effective when the learners can relate personally and take something away from it” (Orey, 2001, p. 3).  It boils down to that students should be engaged in hands on activities to enhance their learning.

In the text, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, the authors talk about how the instructional strategy of “Generating and Testing Hypotheses” engage students in complex mental processes and enhances the overall understanding of the content (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, Malenoski, 2007).  They continue to talk about six tasks that teachers can use to help students with this instructional strategy.  The six tasks are:
1.       Systems Analysis – Students study the parts of a system and make predictions about what would change if one or more parts were altered.
2.      Problem Solving – Students look at various solutions to solve a problem.
3.      Historical Investigation – Students construct hypotheses about historical events.
4.      Invention – Students examine a need and then work to create a solution.
5.      Experimental Inquiry – Students observe a phenomenon, make a hypothesis, and set up an experiment to test their prediction.
6.      Decision Making – Students define criteria and apply weight to the various criteria to make a sensible decision.
 (Pitler et al., 2007, p. 203).
 All of these tasks definitely fit into the constructionism theory of learning.  They each have the students actively engaged and creating an artifact to demonstrate what they have learned.  They also all fit into another constructionism component, Learning by Design.  The common goals of Learning By Design are: 1) extracting essential concepts and skills from examples of experiences 2) engaging learners in learning 3) encouraging question posing, and 4) confronting conceptions and misconceptions (Orey, 2001, p. 6).

            I have used various different hands on activities in my classroom that have my students creating a final product.  Examples of artifacts that I have had my students engaged in are Power Point slide shows, travel brochures, posters (even technology based posters using, videos, voice threads, time lines, comic strips, etc.  From experience, I have seen my students motivated and engaged in their own learning when working on their creations.  Dr. Orey says, that “Learners don’t get ideas; they create ideas” (Orey, 2001, p. 4).    


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive theorists try to explain learning as how one thinks.  They view learning as “a mental operation that takes place when information enters through the senses, undergoes mental manipulation, is stored, and is finally used” (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008, p. 16).  Unlike behaviorist, cognitivists believe that learning is complex (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008).  Dr. Orey lists four components of Cognitive Learning Theory: Limited Short-term memory, Elaboration, Dual Coding Hypothesis, and Network Model of Memory.
There is a limit to what a person can process at one time – we can only process up to seven things at once (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  When a teacher has their students use technology, it allows for some of the lower level thinking skills to be eliminated by the computer so the student can focus on using high order thinking skills.  For example, using Microsoft Excel can eliminate calculation functions for the student so they can focus on interpreting the results and using that information however applicable.         
The instructional strategies of cues, questions, and advance organizers fit easily within the cognitive learning theory.  These strategies “enhance the students’ ability to retrieve, use, and organize information about a topic (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007 p. 73).  Cues and questions trigger the students’ memories and help with retrieving prior knowledge.  The advanced organizers help the students analyze, classify, and focus their learning.  With higher-level questions, these instructional strategies produce deeper learning (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  Long- term memory uses networks of information and uses connections to retrieve information.  Concept maps and graphic organizers are a cognitive tool that replicates the network model of memory (Laureate Education, Inc.).   Software tools such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, online concept maps and graphic organizers allow students to engage in higher order thinking and more advanced activities (Orey, 2001).
I use cues and questions often when beginning a new unit to activate prior knowledge.  I also use graphic organizers, like Kidspiration, to develop various concepts in science and language arts.  Graphic organizers encourage high order thinking skills.  I have never thought about using Microsoft Word as an organizer but look forward to trying it out.  I also plan to try several of the online concept maps.   
The instructional strategies of summarizing and note taking “enhances students’ ability to synthesize information and distill it into a concise new form” (Pitler, et al., 2007, p. 119).  During summarizing and note taking, students must think cognitively and analyze the information to decide what information to delete, substitute, or keep ((Pitler, et al., 2007).   Effective software tools for summarizing and note taking are Microsoft Word, Inspiration/Kidspiration, and other web resources like ThinkTank, Google Docs, wikis, and blogs.
I already use a classroom blog to keep my students’ friends and family updated on what is happening in third grade.  Students take turns to analyze what we did all week and then summarize the important activities.   This year I am going to take a step further and use blogs for journaling and story writing.  I also plan to give ThinkTank a try to see if that will help my students learn how to take notes and summarize information.  My students are also going to use a wiki to have small groups collaboratively research, analyze, and summarize information about an animal of choice.    
Multimedia is another tool that fits with the cognitive thinking of learning.  Dr. Orey talks about how images are a very powerful tool.  Information stored as images is the cognitive component of dual coding of information (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Multimedia provides those images and can be used to activate prior knowledge, enhance new information, and to enhance summaries, notes, and projects.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program five: Cognitive learning theory [Video webcast] Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from
Lever-Duffy, J., & McDonald, J. (2008). Theoretical foundations (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Behaviorist Learning Theory

Learning theories are an attempt to explain how a student learns.  One of the theories that we are exploring this week is the behaviorist perspective.  Behaviorist, “view all behavior as a response to external stimuli” (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008, p. 15).  According to this learning theory, learners respond to positive, negative, and neutral reinforcements. Learning is viewed as a passive not an active process (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008). 

The instructional strategy of homework and practice falls under “Repetition, generalization and discrimination,” one of the four key principles of learning according to James Hartley (Smith, 1999).  He also notes, “Skills are not acquired without frequent practice” (Smith, 1999).  Homework and practice are an instructional strategy that do just that, it provides students an opportunity to review, apply, and practice the skills they have learned. 
The author’s of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works talk about how exposing students to concepts multiple times helps them to become proficient with the skill and that they need to be exposed to the skill about 24 times to achieve 80-percent competency (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  Numerous software programs and websites provide students an opportunity to practice the concepts they learn.  This programmed instruction provides students with reinforcement and can be used as practice during school or as homework.   Some great websites I use are , , and .
The authors continue to state that when “homework is assigned, it should be commented on” (Pitler et al., 2007, p. 187).   Providing comments on homework and practice is a way to give positive and negative reinforcement.  Providing positive and negative reinforcement is a way to increase the likelihood that students will repeat the behavior that the teacher is looking for.  As the students repeat the behavior, their proficiency in the skill will increase. 
Reinforcing effort is another instructional strategy that increases achievement (Pitler et al., 2007).  Making a connection between effort and achievement is important for students.  I really like the activity that fifth grade teachers, Ms. Powell and Mr. Rodriguez, used to help their students to see this connection.  The filled out an effort rubric to assess themselves and then charted their progress on a spreadsheet.  This is a perfect example of, “Reinforcement is the cardinal motivator” and “Learning by doing,” that are key principles of behaviorist James Hartley (Smith, 1999). 
Even though there are differing opinions on whether or not the behaviorist learning theory is applicable in a classroom, I feel that it can be useful.  There are many concepts, like math facts, that once a student learns the concept they need to practice the skill repeatedly to become proficient.  Reinforcement is also a great motivator when used the correct way.  However, I do believe that behaviorism should not be the only learning theory that is evident in a classroom.   
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program four: Behaviorist learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from
Lever-Duffy, J., & McDonald, J. (2008). Theoretical foundations (Laureate Education, Inc. custom ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from