Pedagogical Content Knowledge: Week 1

This is the fourth of these weekly summaries/reflections – perhaps learning log is a better description – but only 1 is complete so far. Hopefully this will be #2. The course is titled Pedagogical Content Knowledge and appears to aim to use Schulman’s ideas of PCK to frame the necessary learning about both pedagogy and the content for the pre-service teachers in this course.


At least two of the courses I’m studying have eStudyGuides. A concept/approach I had a hand in during my previous working life. It’s interesting to be on the student side of the approach. The original intent was to provide a useful way of integrating the old print study guide approach (very 2nd generation DE) into online learning. My initial thoughts are that the integration of eStudyGuides with Moodle has not gone very far. The eStudyGuides are separate from the Moodle topic/weekly schedule, this reduces their effectiveness. Especially when there are other problems.

It is also interesting to see other students being highly pragmatic and focusing heavily on the assessment first and then working back and identifying what they really need to do. I’m currently taking the more naive approach and trying to work through the material. I wonder how long I will keep that up and what these observations mean for the efficacy of the learning design inherent in these courses.

Oh dear, the joys of e-learning, the network between my machine and the machine with the eStudyGuide is not playing nicely. Being very slow. Ahh, there it is (save as). Not quite, still downloading. Let’s look at the ToC. So there is a bit of a intro/background before the first module. Let’s start with that.

Your learning journey in PCK

It will involve “two complementary modes of learning”: resource-based learning and online collaborative learning. While I don’t have a problem with the theory of resource-based learning I am experiencing some issues around its implementation, the topic for another post.

Learning, teaching and pedagogy

Starting with some definitions before moving on, the provided definitions include

  • Learning – “The process of making meaning out of experience”.
    I imagine that could be debated depending on the epistemological perspective/learning theory you abide by. This would appear to be a very constructivst perspective.
  • Teaching – “process of guiding and facilitating learning”.
  • Pedagogy – “strategies, techniques and approaches or styles of instruction that teachers can use within learning contexts”.

Ahh, a learning task list – is this an example of an advanced organiser? – a clear statement of what we have to do, something that is missing from the other courses (at least based on my limited perusal of the other courses). It shall be interesting to see how well all this fits together. So lets use the learning task list here

  • Go to the Moodle site for this course and locate “Topic 1—Learning,
    teaching and pedagogy”

    A simple start, done.
  • Complete Activity 1–1(found in this Study Guide)
  • Go to the Moodle site and read the section “What is teaching?”
  • Complete Activities 1–2 and 1–3
  • Complete Reading 1–1: Effective teaching strategies (Part 1) (CRO)
  • Go to the Moodle site and read the section “What is pedagogy?”
  • Complete Activity 1–4
  • Complete Reading 1–2: What is pedagogy anyway?
  • Go to the Moodle site and read the section “Effective pedagogy”
  • Complete Activity 1–5
  • Go to the Moodle site and read the section “Pedagogical content
  • Complete Reading 1–3: Effective teaching strategies (Part 2) (CRO)
  • Complete Activity 1–6

Activity 1-1 – What is learning and teaching?

Before getting deeply into the content, we start with our own current understandings. You would expect that we might be asked to revisit this at the end of the course to see how our understandings have changed over time.

What is learning?

If I adopt a connectivist perspective learning might be defined as the formation of new connections/networks at a variety of levels. More specifically, according to the wikipedia article

Connectivism sees learning as the process of creating connections and developing a network.

Based on my limited and primitive understanding of brain science, this is a general description of how the brain actually works. i.e. it’s less abstract than the definition used above. You can’t make meaning out of experiences without creating new connections, neural and otherwise.

Ahh, Downes adds the additional insight that (emphasis added)

At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.

More of Downes’ writing connects with one of the activities performed in class yesterday and its implications. i.e.

In connectivism, a phrase like ‘constructing meaning’ makes no sense. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not ‘constructed’ through some sort of intentional action.

The activity relied heavily on the proposition that our memories work by association.

What is teaching?

Have just come across (perhaps again) this argument/definition from George Siemens

when we make our learning transparent, we become teachers

From that perspective, again a very connectivist approach teaching becomes the act of making out learning transparent. Which of course links to the Downes slogan of “to teach is to model and demonstrate”.

Siemens again argues that teaching (the role of the teacher) is focused on influencing or shaping a network (perhaps networks?). He goes on to describe 7 roles teachers play

  1. Amplifying
  2. Curating
  3. Wayfinding and socially-driven sensemaking
  4. Aggregating
  5. Filtering
  6. Modelling
  7. Persistent presence

Within this course/program, perhaps even the current education paradigm, the focus is on constructivism. In such a paradigm, where learning is seen as constructing meaning, the role of teaching seems to become creating experiences that enable and encourage students to construct meaning.

As argued briefly above and previously I would probably argue that the concepts of “meaning” and “networks” have a lot of overlap/similarity. i.e. in constructivism teaching is influencing/shaping student meaning making, in connectivism teaching is influencing/shaping student network making (and traversal).

I wonder if Siemens’ 7 roles from above can be merged/overlapped with some more “traditional” constructivist approaches.

Lastly, you have the “standardised-testing” perspective of teaching which is increasingly prevalent in local schools. i.e. teaching is achieving the desired results on standardised tests by whatever means possible.

Teaching and not learning

I found this a somewhat difficult question to get my head around, which is perhaps somewhat ironic given what I think the question is getting. Here it is in full

Recall an experience where another person performed all kinds of teaching or training tasks designed to help you learn yet you were still unable to learn what it was that was hoped you would learn. Apply the distinction between “teaching” as a task term and “teaching” as an achievement term to your experience and list the activities or tasks the person performed designed to help you learn. Then try to identify the factors and variables that you believed prevented you from learning.

In this case, I’m sure I’m meant to be taught something, but am unsure what. Mostly because of the phrases “task term” and “achievement term”. I’m not really certain exactly what is expected of me because I am not confident that I am using the correct definition of these terms. I can probably extrapolate something, but I’m unsure that it will match the intent of the “teacher”.

So, obviously I’m going to use Google to discover some interpretations. Seems to goes back to Ryle (1949) and there is some description of that here and it’s expanded in Marshall (2009).

(Not to mention the fact that Google reveals that this is not a new question answered by education students

In fact, Marshall’s original 1975 paper argues that teaching is a task verb and does not have an achievement sense. Which I read as meaning that it is a on-going process. The purpose of his 2009 update is to suggest that the increasing neo-liberal discussion around education has introduced teaching as an achievement term.

And just when you think educational literature can reveal no new words – otiose – serving no practical purpose or result.

On skimming Marshall (2009) it would appear to go into areas quite a long way from what is required here. So, I’ll turn over a pragmatic leaf.

In terms of someone teaching me something, my memory/interpretation suggests the only times when they failed to teach me was when I wasn’t interested. This has usually occurred in organisational settings around policies, procedures and plans. That lack of interest may have arisen from lack of relevance of what was being taught; lack of quality of what was being taught or how; or, lack of “proximity” of my current situation. e.g. Marshall (2009) wasn’t going to teach me about his arguments because it delved into complexities that I currently have neither the time nor energy to engage with.

Another example, is that in my answer I haven’t really engaged with the “achievement/task” distinction in the question. While I think I see the point, I don’t think I’m prepared enough to answer that aspect. A large part of that is that I’ve probably spent far too much time on this question and have lost significant interest.

What does this suggest for your own teaching practice

In summary,

  • Connect with students existing knowledge and motivations, perhaps as the initial start of the network creation.
  • Teaching is then a practice – perhaps a task term, an on-going process – of influencing and shaping network formation.

I can see how this might work within an ICT course focused on programming, but within the confines of a mathematics course – especially a junior course in the context of NAPLAN tests – I can see it being more difficult. But still possible, perhaps.


Okay, go looking on the website for more “sub-questions”. Ahh, here is an explanation of the task and achievement sense of the word teaching. Just a little late perhaps? This other resource states

If you examine how ‘teaching’ is used most commonly it has two dominant uses. One, is where the focus is on what the teacher is doing (‘teaching’ in the task sense) and the other where the focus is on whether the teacher achieves or fails in achieving helping others learn (‘teaching’ in the achievement sense). This distinction helps explain how someone can claim to be teaching while nobody learns and paradoxically, how teaching seems to imply learning.

All I’m finding at the moment is some more content, expanding on the definitions of teaching, pedagogy etc. Makes me wonder why it’s not in the eStudyGuide.

Oh dear, there they are. The first one is simply an expanded version of the question I answered above in a Word document! Do I have to repeat much of the above? Don’t think I will.

What’s worse is that the directions back to the Moodle site are in different areas leading to some duplication/losing my way.

Activity 1-2: The teaching profession

So, the aim here is to determine whether or not teaching is a profession. Before completing this activity, I’ll suggest that there are at least two possible answers to this question: personal and societal (i.e. what is agreed by the majority). I’m not convinced that my personal answer to this question is all that important, it is the societal answer that is more important. Teaching is only a profession because most of society recognises it as so, not because teachers define a bunch of terms and meet them.

We’re meant to fill in a table expressing why/if we agree/disagree with a sequence of statements about teaching as a profession. In most cases, I’d argue that both apply to varying degrees. For example, one example of the YES/NO pairing is the following two

  • The teacher’s work is essentially intellectual in character, much like the work of doctors, lawyers, or engineers.
  • Teachers do not always use the available intellectual knowledge in the classroom, and some tend to resort to a rule–of–thumb approach more typical of a semi– or non-profession.

I could agree with both of those statements. I don’t think it is just teachers that resort to rule-of-thumb approaches. Most management decisions seem to be made that way. Human nature itself is biased towards repeating familiar patterns of activity, experts of all types fall trap to this from time to time.

There is another pair around a professional code of ethics.

  • Yes, teaching is a profession….A professional code of ethics has been developed, widely disseminated, and periodically revised.
  • No, it isn’t…..Codes of ethics are inadequately enforced in education.

I think you can replace teaching with just about any profession and agree to both those statements. In terms of enforcement, I’m sure when breaches are discovered and made visible, most professions enforce their code of ethics. I’d also suggest that for most professions the code of ethics doesn’t play a core part in everyday practice. I’d like see the research around how many members of a profession could recite the professions code of ethics or even know where to find it.

The remaining questions around around whether a profession is worthy, what’s the difference between being a professional etc, and will you be starting your teaching career as a professional?

Not going to bother with those.

Principles of teaching

So, there’s a table with a list of “principles of teaching” with three empty columns in which we are meant to indicate out believes related to these principles to the teaching of adults, adolescents and children. And if we like some space at the bottom to add some more principles since, as pointed out in the question, these principles may not represent the contemporary classroom.

I am wondering if my level of cynicism increases the longer I work on this material. Perhaps I should be breaking course study more?

I won’t do all three, but give some stream of consciousness responses

Teachers should not coerce, bully or intimidate learners.

Absolutely, the line between encouragement and its significantly more negative alter egos is something to be careful of.

Teachers should respect learners by not belittling or abusing them in any form.

Yes, but I still think there is a line here somewhere. Part of learning is “unlearning”/recognising that you don’t know everything. Which suggests a teacher may, for some students, have to engage in a bit of gentle “mindset adjustment” to enable change. This doesn’t mean belittle, but I can see circumstances where it could certainly be interpreted that way.

Teachers should try to improve the learner’s self–worth.

I’m cynical enough to balk slightly at this. Yes there is value in this. But just as earlier readings have emphasised that you can’t really force someone to learn, I’m not sure you can really force someone to have an increased sense of self-worth.

Teaching should be about collaboration with learners concerning the aims, purposes and methods of the learning situation wherever possible.

Nice aim, but in this era of outcomes-based assessment, standardised testing etc it’s not hard to pick up some mixed messages around this principle. The “where possible” modifier could be used quite significantly.

Teaching should be about praxis.

I find it interesting that praxis hasn’t been introduced in this program yet, and from my understanding its meaning isn’t widely known and multiple in nature. e.g. is it meant here in terms of Kolb or Friere (or some other perspective)? I like both of Kolb or Friere’s definition (a la Wikipedia).

Learners should be encouraged to reflect on their personal experiences as a means to their educational development.

Remember, we’re not coercing, bullying or intimidating people. In addition, if we’re collaborating with learners about the methods of the learning situation, shouldn’t they be given the choice. That said, my affinity for praxis and connectivism suggest that I agree with this, however, I also recognise the difficulty of encouraging students (of varying ages) to effectively reflect on their experiences.

Teaching should foster critical minds so that learners realise that much of knowledge, values, beliefs and behaviours are socially constructed.

Yes, but I shudder slightly at some of what gets accepted under this principle. Social constructivism can be taken too far. There is a real world.

Teaching should be both informed and open–ended. Teachers should know enough to facilitate learning and teachers should also be honest about what they do not know and use this as an opportunity to learn with the learners.

Well, I wouldn’t be much of a “connectivist” if I didn’t agree.

Principles of effective pedagogy

We’re asked to generate our own, I’ll stick with what I know.

I find Chickering and Gamson’s 7 principles for good practice in good education a reasonable guide. It’s one I’ve used before.

The other I don’t mind at the moment is Downes – Teaching is to model and demonstrate, learning is to practice and reflect.


The aim here is to complete a “PCK diagram” using one of the curriculum specifications that teachers in the glorious state of Queensland are meant to draw upon. Of course, based on what I remember seeing, there really hasn’t been a good explanation of the diagram. What am I missing?

Ahh, that’s because there’s another reading, located in another place from the eStudyGuide I’ve been working through. Should it really be this hard to work through a sequential collection of activities and readings?

General PCK/KLAs Domain specific PCK Topic specific PCK
These match the 8 main essential learnings (e.g. Years 1-9 Match “Knowledge and understanding” within specific ELs The dot points within a specific area of knowledge
Mathematics (1-9)
  • Number
  • Algebra
  • Measurement
  • Chance and data
  • Space
  • Representation of rational numbers
  • Applications of rational numbers to describe and solve problems
  • Representation of numbers of the real number line.
  • Use of decimal approximations of irrational numbers in geometric contexts
  • Formation of upper and lower boundaries for estimations.
  • Solving problems involving ratinal, irrational numbers, simple powers, square roots and conventions of four operations.
  • Financial decisions based on analysis of benefits and consequences of cash, credit and debit transactions.
  • Understanding the GST.

Reading 1-1: Effective teaching strategies

And there’s more. Reflections on pp 1-7 of

Killen, R. (2003). Effective teaching strategies: Lessons from research and practice (3rd ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Thomson Social Sciences Press.

Oh dear, it looks like the OCR during scanning of the hard-copy had some problems, of is now some funny symbol and other examples exist.

Major reviews of “good teaching” all conclude no single teaching strategy is effective all the time for all learners. Because learning is complex due to: learners’ attitudes, abilities and learning styles, teachers’ beliefs, knowledge and abilities, and learning context. The best that can be concluded

effective instruction requires active involvement of learners and an emphasis on academic achievement

Sounds very Chickering & Gamson 7 principles to me.

Learning is more effective if students are motivated, if learning is interesting, enjoyable and challenging. Some general guidelines

  • provoke curiorsity.
  • appropriate to learners’ academic & social development
  • related to learners’ everyday experience
  • learners need to experience success.
  • teachers should take into account knowledge, skills and attitudes learners bring to the classroom (isn’t this repeating #2 and #3?)
  • teachers …account diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds
  • Teachers should emphasise the importance of concepts and principles, rather than rote learning.

There is an increasing sense of repetition here.

Onto learning styles. Apparently Sternberg (1997) claims that differences in ability only account for about 20% of variation in learner performance. Suggesting that it is variation in learning style that plays a part.

The need for reflective practice for improving teaching/being a good teacher.

Onto planning, after deciding on a strategy (by using a long list of questions) time to develop a lesson plan.

Talking about decorating the classroom, making it a visual space.

Okay, going on a page explaining what is understanding by quoting a few folk and their definitions.

Yep, we’re into the outcomes-based education mode. “The first step (emphasis in original) is to describe what it is that you want the students to understand”.

Ahh, not very “Biggsian”. The second step is to select content. Biggs would suggest that the second step is to identify the activities that the students will have to perform in order to demonstrate their understanding.

This reading draws on “Project Zero” from Harvard’s idea of “generative topics” – “issues, themes and ideas that provide depth, significance, connections and a variety of perspectives to support students’ development of powerful understanding”.

Identifies four types of knowledge required for teaching effectively

  1. knowledge of your subject;
  2. knowledge of how students learn;
  3. general pedagogical knowledge;
  4. PCK a la Schulman.

Reading 1-2: What is pedagogy anyway?


Smith, T. and Lowrie, T. What is ‘pedagogy’ anyway? [online]. Practically Primary; v.7 n.3 p.6-9; October 2002

“pedagogy is to talk of the appropriate ways we interact with each other as teachers and learners”. Involves the relational, emotional, moral and personal dimensions. i.e. effective teaching and learning must consider affective, cognitive and social factors.

“assessment becomes a participatory event ‘shared with’ learners throughout the learning process, rather than something that is ‘done to’ learners during separate events” What? Like NAPLAN tests?

I wish the authors would get to the point.

The basic point is that thinking about pedagogy as “creating opportunities for constructive and enlightening conversations”. i.e. in maths getting students to write and talk more about their understanding. Perhaps some thought should be given to ensuring that the conversations are succinct.


Marshall, J.D. 2009. Revisiting the Task/Achievement Analysis of Teaching in Neo-Liberal Times. Educational Philosophy and Theory 41, no. 1: 79-90.

A PMI of constructivism

The following documents some reflection on output of a learning task associated with a course on ICTs for Learning Design I’m currently taking.

The task is to create a PMI of a reading around constructivism.

A PMI “is a scaffolding thinking routine that supports analysis of a reading” and also an acronym

  1. P – stands for Plus and is where we’re meant to list the benefits of the ideas within the reading.
  2. M – stands for Minues and not surprisingly is for the dangers/problems.
  3. I – is for Interestings.

Or at least I was going to start this before I discovered that the network connection and/or servers at the host university are unavailable.

Ahh, it’s back now. The reading is a workshop on Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and learning. The following starts with the PMI analysis and is followed by a summary/reflection of the reading.


Draw on some great ideas for the PMI from this presentation on slideshare. It draws heavily on Gordon (2009), however the presentation does appear to mis-reference some of the quotes, i.e. it’s not Gordon saying it, but Gordon citing others.


  • A step towards reality/usefulness.
    i.e. I think constructivism offers an abstraction that is closer to reality than some prior approaches, in terms of how learning works. As a result it is more useful for teachers.


Many of the minuses I identify are more related to the poor implementation or understanding of the constructivist paradigm, more so than inherent to the paradigm itself.

  • Is based on the assumption of knowledge as being grounded in language and logic.
    If you adopt a connectivism/connectionist perspective, this is not what knowledge is.
  • There are too many versions, which do you implement in class?
    Gordon (2009, p 40) cites Phillips (1995)

    because there are so many versions of constructivism, with important overlaps but also with major differences, it is difficult to see the forest for the trees

    Gordon suggests “there is an enormous body of work in education on constructivism that tends to be fragmented and uncritical”.

  • Most constructivist theories are not educational theories.
    Gordon (2009, p 41) quotes Davis and Sumara (2002)

    Theories developed in
    psychology, sociology, cultural studies or elsewhere cannot be unproblematically
    transplanted into the field of education. As with subject-centered constructivisms,
    social constructivist discourses speak to, but are not necessarily fitted or aligned
    with, the concerns and projects of education

  • It can be inefficient and/or inappropriate for some sets of learners.
    Mark Guzdial, a professor in Computer Science from the US, touches on this in this blog post. One of his points is raised in the following

    I attended talks at education conferences lately where the speaker announces that “Lectures don’t work” and proceeds to engage the audience in some form of active learning, like small group discussion. I hate that. I am a good learner. I take careful notes, I review them and look up interesting ideas and referenced papers later, and if the lecture really captured my attention, I will blog on the lecture later to summarize it. I take a multi-hour trip to attend a conference and hear this speaker, and now I have to talk to whatever dude happens to be sitting next to me? If you recognize that the complete sentence is “Lectures don’t work…for inexperienced or lazy learners,” then you realize that using “active learning” with professionals at a formal conference is insulting to your audience. You are assuming that they can’t learn on their own, without your scaffolding.

    Kroesbergen et al (2004) found that constructivist approaches to mathematics instruction may not be effective for low-achieving students.

  • Use of concepts that can be misunderstood.
    For example, when some folk see actively construct meaning it suggests that the student is moving around, building something, engaged in some visible activity. This often leads to the situation where a student is listening to an explanation is not seen as actively constructing meaning. This is a minus because just sometimes, listening is a good way to learn.
  • The understanding that “collaboration” means group work where members are inter-dependent on each other.
    Stephen Downes makes the distinction between
    groups and networks
    . My impression of most constructivism is that it assumes collaboration must be in groups and not networks. Not to mention the fact that a lot of group work can be a waste of time.

  • There is no objective knowledge.
    This is a more abstract minus, but can still be a minus nonetheless…….epistemology…concrete example. An example of this is perhaps some of the activities around the Literacy and Numeracy course (some of the other courses are demonstrate some similar tendencies) in the residential school. We were asked various questions about our understanding of literacy and numeracy, some examples from our experience. But without first identifying a common definition of literacy and numeracy, even a fairly rough and ready definition. I felt that this apparent attempt to allow us to construct a definition to be less efficient. I think a quick definition, widely acknowledged as a work in progress, would have helped improve the learning.
  • The challenge to students conceptions of learning and teaching.
    Constructivism is based on the transformation of the teacher’s role from pourer of knowledge into students into encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. This transformation requires a significant challenge for some students who have become comfortable and familiar with the traditional approaches to learning. “Your the teacher, tell us what to do”, might a familiar refrain. Initially, constructivism can be a significant challenge to students. A challenge to overcome, but a minus still the same. Depending on the prior learning experiences of the students, the bigger the minus.
  • The dissonance between the characteristics of constructivism and some of the fundamental assumptions of the education system.
    According to the reading, constructivism assumes that “Pursuit of student questions and interests” is valued more than “strict adherence to fixed curriculum”. And yet through essential learnings (at the moment) and the national curriculum (in the near future) the school curriculum is fixed and adherence is expected. Somewhat similarly, a constructivist perspective suggests that tests aren’t great tools for assessment, and yet with NAPLAN tests are becoming more important to teachers, not less.

    This is not to suggest that there isn’t room for constructivism within the education system, but it is to suggest that there is a dissonance between the fundamental assumptions of the education system as the constructivist paradigm. This dissonance is going to cause problems for teachers and students trying to use a constructivist paradigm within the existing education system.


The interesting points I took from this reading include

  • How to view technology.

    I think we need to ask a different question. I think the question is, how can students use technology to answer the questions that they are posing for themselves

  • The irony of a document explaining constructivism using a very non-constructivist design.
    The very nature of the medium – a web site that folk come to at odd times – means that a constructivist approach probably wouldn’t have worked all that well. But I wonder if other factors were involved. I’m also wondering how you might re-design this resource using a constructivist or connectivist approach.

Summary of the reading

What is constructivism?

Basically a theory about how people learn. A theory that people actively construct their own knowledge by reconciling it with what they currently know. For this to occur, questions must be asked, explored and what we know assessed.

Can point to teaching practices

  • more active techniques (e.g. experiments, real-world problem solving).
  • understanding students’ pre-existing conceptions and guiding activity to address and build on them.
  • continuously encourage students to assess the activity in terms of it helping them to gain understanding, helping students to become expert learners

There is still a need for an active role for a teacher and expert knowledge. But it becomes a role focused on – to use the old slogan – being a guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage.

The aim is not for the student to reinvent the wheel, but to trigger their curiosity about how things work.

At this stage, the reading says the best way to understand constructivism is to see it in action. I find it somewhat ironic that this reading is not designed (at least so far) based on a constructivist approach.

How does it differ

Teacher role transforms from “sage on stage” (pourer of knowledge into students) into “guide on the side” (encouraging students to be actively involved in their learning).

And so comes a table summarising differences

Traditional classroom Constructivist classroom
Curriculum begins with the parts of the whole. Emphasizes basic skills. Curriculum emphasizes big concepts, beginning with the whole and expanding to include the parts.
Strict adherence to fixed curriculum is highly valued. Pursuit of student questions and interests is valued.
Materials are primarily textbooks and workbooks. Materials include primary sources of material and manipulative materials.
Learning is based on repetition. Learning is interactive, building on what the student already knows.
Teachers disseminate information to students; students are recipients of knowledge. Teachers have a dialogue with students, helping students construct their own knowledge.
Teacher’s role is directive, rooted in authority. Teacher’s role is interactive, rooted in negotiation.
Assessment is through testing, correct answers. Assessment includes student works, observations, and points of view, as well as tests. Process is as important as product.
Knowledge is seen as inert. Knowledge is seen as dynamic, ever changing with our experiences.
Students work primarily alone. Students work primarily in groups.

Interesting to see that some of the assumptions of the traditional classroom are becoming entrenched in the education sector. e.g. testing, adherence to a fixed curriculum.

What does it have to do with my classroom?

Suggests that in a constructivist classroom, learning is

  • Constructed.
    I don’t find the description and example given for “constructed” to be all that compelling. The description is that learners are not blank slates, they come with knowledge that is the raw material for the new knowledge they will create. I assume the suggestion is that they construct the new knowledge from their old knowledge.

    This seems to miss the role of experiences and new insights.

  • Active.
    Learning requires the students’ full participation. Students help set their own goals and means of assessment. Students are asked to question.
  • Collaborative.
    i.e. with others, the reading is not real strong on the benefits of this, but it appears mostly to do with diversity of perspectives. But I’m assuming that the need to explain and justify one’s perspective with others would also be a strong benefit arising from collaboration. It’s easy to fool yourself you understand something, only to struggle to explain it to someone else.
  • Inquiry-based.
    i.e. problem solving, asking questions.
  • Evolving.
    The student will come across insight that doesn’t match existing knowledge, her knowledge will change as time goes by.

Expert interview

The resource moves onto an interview with an expert. Nice that it has both video and the transcripts. But the implementation as lots of pop-ups is annoying.

Starts with the idea that constructivism is a philosophy/epistemology, not a set of techniques. Not getting much out of the other answers, some are not that great.

However, there’s a pointer to some Dutch work around constructivism in mathematics, that might be interesting. Of course doing a quick Google search takes me to Kroesbergen et al (2004) which reports on an in-depth comparison of smallgroup constructivist and explicit mathematics instruction, the findings

Results showed that the math performance of students in the explicit instruction condition improved significantly more than that of students in the constructivist condition, and the performance of students in both experimental conditions improved significantly more than that of students in the control condition. Only a few effects on motivation were found. We therefore concluded that recent reforms in mathematics instruction requiring students to construct their own knowledge may not be effective for low-achieving students.

Ahh, this quote about the difference between constructivism and the traditional classroom raises some dissonance with what we’re being taught

In a traditional setting, the teacher takes charge of a lot of the intellectual work in that classroom. The teacher plans the scope and sequence, pre-synthesizes and prepackages a lot of the learning. In the constuctivist classroom, the student is in charge of that packaging.

I find this response interesting, in answering the question “what other things ought to happen to bring the promise of technology to constructivism” the answer given is

I think we need to ask a different question. I think the question is, how can students use technology to answer the questions that they are posing for themselves

What strikes me as interesting is how the assumptions/principles of the theoretical paradigm becomes the driver. If connectivism were the paradigm of choice then the question becomes how does technology help the learner build and traverse networks.

And on standardised tests etc.

The focus on test scores has done more to narrow curriculum, and limit students’ opportunities for growth and development than have those test scores been an indicator of success.

History of constructivism and its evolution

A link is established to Socratic dialogue, Piaget and Dewey.

Has a brief background to Piaget which describes his conclusions about how knowledge grows as

Piaget concluded that humans learn through the construction of progressively complex logical structures, from infancy through to adulthood.

This is where connectivism diverges from constructivism, as Downes argues

Where connectivism differs from those theories, I would argue, is that connectivism denies that knowledge is propositional. That is to say, these other theories are ‘cognitivist’, in the sense that they depict knowledge and learning as being grounded in language and logic.

Vygotsky, Bruner and Ausbel get a mention. Ahh, interesting Papert’s name crops up, as does Bransford and Schank (who is particularly strong on the notion that current educational systems are not constructivist in nature). The little popup on Schank also reveals that he is opposed to the notion of a national curriculum.

Critical perspectives

Three are given

  1. It only works for learners with outstanding teachers, committed parents, etc – not for the disadvantaged.
  2. Social constructivism leads to “group think”. The tyranny of the majority, which links to my concerns around the over-use of groups, rather than networks, when thinking about collaboration.
  3. Little hard evidence that it works and indeed there are some where constructivist classrooms lag behind others in basic skills.

Of course, the response the last point is that the existing system values things which constructivism doesn’t. i.e. rote learning etc.

Benefits of constructivism

The list

  • Children learn more when active, rather than passive.
  • Education is best when focused on thinking and understanding, not rote memorisation. Constructivism is about thinking and understanding.
  • Constructivist learning is transferable.
  • students own the learning, it engages with them, they are more likely to retain and transfer what they learn.
  • Engages students through real-world problems.
  • Promotes social and communication skills.

Rather grand claims, that appear to be somewhat unsupported.


Gordon, M. 2009. Toward a pragmatic discourse of constructivism: Reflections on lessons from practice. Educational Studies 45, no. 1: 39-58.

Kroesbergen, E.H., J.E.H. Van Luit, and C.J.M. Maas. 2004. Effectiveness of Explicit and Constructivist Mathematics Instruction for Low-Achieving Students in the Netherlands. The Elementary School Journal 104, no. 3: 233-251.