Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Constructivist Education

I have recently begun using MOODLE (open source course management software). In the user notes, they have a little bit of the philosophy behind the product, mentioning that it is based around constructivist models of learning, in which we learn most effectively when we work to create something, especially in collaboration with others. The collaborative learning model employed in studio (and similar) physics is consistent with this approach. However, it seems to me upon reflection that more explicit consideration of what is being created could make this model even more useful. We need to go beyond the model of students collaborating to work through a solution of a problem posed by the teacher, to a situation where the students actually set out to explicitly contribute to a field of study. I am excited by how blogs and wikis may help make this more realistic to accomplish.

Of course much has been written in the literature on constructivist education, and I will only comment specifically on a few articles I found particularly insightful. Back in 1994 Wolff-Michael Roth published an interesting article on taking a constructivist approach within a private school high school physics laboratory setting. The students were remarkably successful in developing research questions, designing experiments and carrying out research experiments.

In an extensive article by Ricardo Trumper on the laboratory experience published in Science and Education in 2003, significant attention is given to constructivist education principles. The complete article is available for free download as a pdf, and I highly recommend it.