What we can learn from the past and apply to the future of education?

Going to ISTE2015, it was obvious that the focus of pedagogy and classroom ‘instruction’ has changed so dramatically over time that many teachers are taking a step back and letting students direct their learning and for instruction to come via alternate means.  Many American educators that I heard from during the ISTE2015 conference are facilitating STEM and STEAM learning activities that are student-driven.  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with STEAM adding the element of art.

Having had 12 hours in the back of a car yesterday as I traveled from Oklahoma City to New Mexico, I started reading ‘Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom’.  It’s a fantastic read, and it has highlighted to me, just how right the philosophers, educators, mathematicians and scientists of old have been about education. Below is a summary of the beliefs of those key people:

  • Piaget has said that “to understand is to invent” (Piaget, 1976); “… use of active methods which give broad scope to the spontaneous research of the child or adolescent and requires that every new truth to be learned, be discovered, or at least reconstructed by the student and not simply imported to him” (Piaget, 1976)
  • Dewey (1859-1952) advocated for learning experiences that was project-based and connected students with the real world
  • Rousseau (1712-1778) believed that students should be given freedom to develop naturally
  • Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was a strong believer in first-hand experiences being the optimum catalyst for learning
  • Froebel (1782-1852) is the father of the first formal education of young children, known as kindergarten.  He believed that children needed to interact with the world to learn
  • Papert said “Anything is easy if you can assimilate it to your collection of models.  If you can’t, anything can be painfully difficult.  What an individual can learn, and how he learns it, depends on what models he has available” (Papert, 1980)
  • Gardner emphasised that “classroom projects that welcome various problem-solving strategies provide fertile ground for the expression of multiple intelligences” (Gardner, 1983)
  • Montessori said, “the hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence”.
  • “When children are deeply involved in play, they are learning.  Their passion, flow, and sense of timelessness mirror the actions of the tinkerer” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991)
  • “Play creates a zone of proximal development of the child.  In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.  As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all the developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development” (Vygotsky, 1978)

These great philosophers, mathematicians, educators and scientists of old are more relevant now than ever.  The maker space movement that is sweeping through USA schools is all about play, about inventing, and about learning from experience.  Perhaps we need to step back from programming and curriculum and take a leaf out of the books of these greats before us.

‘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 🙂