Constructionism

(Working on my comprehensive exam, and this section on Constructionism is an unfortunate casualty of editing.  I guess I’ll have to lose a few sections if I’m to stay within the 7000 word limit!  Anyway, I thought I’d post it here so that my work isn’t a complete “waste”.)

Seymour Papert, a student of Jean Piaget’s, expanded Piaget’s theory of constructivism, into pedagogical principles (Kafai, 2006).  Like constructivism, Papert’s constructionism views learning as “building knowledge structures” (Harel & Papert, 1991), and extends the constructivist view that learning is the active process of knowledge construction, to a view of instruction where learning and teaching are themselves constructed through teacher-student interactions while they are engaged in “design and discussion of learning artifacts” (Kafai, 2006; p. 36).  In addition to school settings, Papert acknowledged the importance of informal learning environments by asserting that such interactions could occur in community centres and within families (Kafai, 2006).  Building on Piaget’s mechanisms of assimilation and accommodation, that children use to make sense of the world and incorporate new knowledge with prior knowledge; constructionism extends both these mechanisms and focuses on helping learners make connections with their prior knowledge.  Papert’s notion of “objects-to-think-with” referred to both physical and digital objects becoming objects in the mind that facilitate the construction, examination, and revision of connections between prior and new knowledge (Harel & Papert, 1991; Kafai, 2006).  While Piaget saw formal abstraction as the fourth stage and the ultimate goal of cognitive development, constructionism sees the potential for both concrete and abstract thought to become advanced (Turkle & Papert, 1990).

Like social constructivism, constructionism also values the importance of learning cultures.  While social constructivists focus more on the social dynamics of these, constructionists focus on the social context and how it fosters learners’ connection-making to what is being learned (Kafai, 2006).  Papert reasoned that learning should be facilitated by “improving the connectivity in the learning environment, by actions on cultures rather than on individuals” (Papert, 1993; p. 105).

References
Harel, I., & Papert, S. (1991). Constructionism. Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Constructionism. In K. R. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 35–46). Cambridge University Press New York.

Papert, S. (1993). The children’s machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. Basic Books.

Turkle, S., & Papert, S. (1990). Epistemological pluralism: Styles and voices within the computer culture. Signs, 16(1), 128–157.

2 thoughts on “Constructionism

  1. Don Matthews

    Dear Dr. Fong,
    I am both impressed and intrigued with your musings. I particularly enjoyed your thinking on situated cognition and your reference to Cognitive Apprenticeship models. I am interested in both the cognitive systems and social applications of CA to mentoring and teacher development. Thank you for your sharing.

    Sincerely,
    Don Matthews

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