‘C’ is for Constructivist learning – the A to Z of learning Ls

When I was in my first year of university and studying educational psychology I came across constructivist learning for the first time.  I remember the confusion that surrounded this term and how everyone in the tutorial tried to make sense of it.  I think I’m still constantly trying to make sense of it as I consider it in different teaching and learning contexts but it wasn’t long into the year that I started to grasp it and love it.

The constructivists greats, the foundational researchers, are Vygotsky, Piaget, Dewey, Kolb and Montessori to name a few.  All educators are familiar with these names and may feel plagued by them at times but the work of these theorists has been pivotal in shaping constructivist learning theory.  Here are some of the definitions they and others have for constructivism:

“Constructivism is a learning theory found in psychology which explains how people might acquire knowledge and learn. It therefore has direct application to education. The theory suggests that humans construct knowledge and meaning from their experiences.” (From The University of Sydney)

 

“Constructivism is a theory to explain how knowledge is constructed in the human being when information comes into contact with existing knowledge that had been developed by experiences.” (From Wikipedia)

 

“Constructivism is basically a theory — based on observation and scientific study — about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. When we encounter something new, we have to reconcile it with our previous ideas and experience, maybe changing what we believe, or maybe discarding the new information as irrelevant.” (From Concept to Classroom)

 

In a nutshell, constructivist learning is about the learner and how they construct their own knowledge and understanding through making connections with what they experience.  This video below is a great explanation and example of constructivism in action.

[youtube http://youtu.be/uP5ohML9P_w]

In lessons we have a school for years 8-10 where they get to learn more study skills and do independent study I would really like to see the constructivist learning theory played out a bit more.  I’m in the process of integrating the eportfolio open source software Mahara into these lessons to help facilitate more reflection on the learning experiences that students have.  I want to see them become more aware of their own learning processes and be able to improve their outcomes because of it.  I can testify to the power of being aware of our learning processes through experiences we have.  I myself have relished the opportunities I’ve had to learn about how I learn and have used that as much as possible to keep growing.  I want that for my students so much too 🙂

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PBL with Moodle and Mahara

[youtube http://youtu.be/LMCZvGesRz8]

Over the last two days I have been involved in professional development at school on project-based learning (PBL).  I have done PBL training before when I did the Intel Teach Essentials Online Master Trainer Course a few years ago.  That experience for me was one of the most valuable in my entire career thus far.  In that course, I learned to program units of work for PBL in a way that transformed my teaching completely.  Whilst the PBL I designed did not get successfully implemented, I still maintain that it was an extremely valuable course.

Throughout the last few days as I went through the PBL inservice at school, unlike other colleagues, I was not working on a particular unit of work but was observing and planning, designing and developing a Moodle course on PBL that uses technology.  It was great to hear the ideas my colleagues came up with and the fantastic progress they made as well as the two days continued to shape their ideas into products.

Each step of the process and each element of the PBL plan and resources sparked in me many ideas about how Moodle and Mahara could be utilise for the purpose of supporting the management and development of the project.  Below are some of the aspects of the PBL and how they might translate into Moodle, Mahara and other online technology:

PDF iconENTRY DOCUMENT – The entry document need not be an actual document such as a letter but could be a stimulus such as a video embedded within a Moodle page that has text but focuses on the video element.  You could also use a podcast as a stimulus and with audio files so easily embedded within Moodle now.

google-buzzTEAM CONTRACT – The team contract could be designed as a document template or form in Google Drive and accessed by students there to discuss and fill in with details needed.  Students could share it with their teacher but they could also download a copy of the document and submit it as an assignment or into a database set up with groups in MaharaMoodle.  It would also be a great idea to maybe instead set up a template in Mahara with a team contract and get students to complete the portfolio page with their details and write a statement of agreement in the comments section before submitting to a group or sharing with their teacher.  This contract is then readily accessible at all stages throughout the PBL and added to a collection of pages developed throughout the project.

table_headerRUBRICS – The rubric for the PBL task could be produced in the wonderful new assignment rubric creator in Moodle.  I love the rubric grading tool inbuilt into the Moodle assignment!! It is one of the best plugins in Moodle ever! It is easy to use and flexible.  Other tools that could be utilised from online include; RubiStar, iRubric and teAchnology.

briefcasePROJECT BRIEFCASE – The database in Moodle!! I love the database activity in Moodle and I’m constantly trying to use it in different ways and come up with new templates/presets to explore how it might be used.  The database is the prefect way to provide students with a project briefcase of resources throughout their PBL journey.  You could also create a briefcase in Mahara if you wanted to in a portfolio page shared with the class.  I would probably go with the database in Moodle as most of the learning is probably best kept in Moodle and the process, product planning and mapping etc could be in Mahara.

project-planPROJECT PLANNING AND MAPPING – Mahara 🙂 Mahara 🙂 Mahara 🙂  I’m a big fan of what tools are provided in Mahara and the simplicity of them as well.  They are user-friendly and easy to set up and use.  With the use of the Mahara journal, plans and notes sections, students could keep very detailed records of their project and planning.  They can also produce periodic portfolio pages to summarise their progress and show work samples of where they are up to.  I think that the integration on Mahara and Moodle in PBL is a great asset to all involved.

I have all but finished the course in Moodle that I have been working on during the last two days but it certainly won’t end here.  I will continue to work on further resources for supporting the intentional integration of technology into PBL.

Model Reflection for Students

In my new role as Leader of Learning Technologies at a Catholic College in Western Sydney, I am in the process of planning for and implementing Mahara with Moodle 2.4 to facilitate increased reflective practice across the college.  Reflection is already an embedded practice within the college, however, our goals across the whole college are to increase this and in the process, continue to assist students in developing lifelong learning skills and sophisticated writing techniques.

In preparation for the implementation of Mahara, an eportfolio system, with all students in years 8, 9 and 10 to begin with, I have been reading up on and researching into models for reflection and different activities that could be used within the portfolio to scaffold and facilitate greater reflection.  I have come across some very interesting models, which have already formed the basis for some Mahara templates I have developed to be institute wide pages available to all students.  Templates that facilitate the active developmenet of SMART goals and reflection of learning activities using the Peter Pappa’s A Taxonomy of Reflection, based on Bloom’s taxonomy.

I have written up a draft program for implementing activities for reflection and study skills within classes at school that will be using Mahara, and I have found a lot of value in Pappa’s taxonomy for reflection and also in these other models: Gibbs Model of Reflection, North Carolina Teacher Reflection Model, Kolb’s Learning Cycle, Atkins and Murphy’s model of reflection, and John’s model for reflection.  I particularly liked the Gibb’s Model of Reflection as it addressed the aspects of an experience that are truly individual, the feelings.  I think sometimes reflection is too superficial and on the surface and getting students to think more critically about their learning styles and experiences is important.  Kolb’s model is also very similar to Gibb’s model.

My favourite model for reflection though is the Peter Pappas model.  I want to help my students develop skills for life that will allow them to become independent lifelong learners, and it may just be that I learn well through activities that are structured around a solid scaffold, but I believe that facilitating reflection in my students in a way that is structured around a taxonomy or scaffold may make it easier for them to independently continue to utilise in their own future study and reflection.

Will reflect on this more as it is implemented in classes at school.