Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Make and Learn

Constructionism is just what it sounds like…making something and learning through the making. While I was still teaching there were sometimes projects that were incorporated into the curriculum, and then the projects were shared. We made topographical maps from salt clay to learn about land forms, we wrote books based on field trip experiences and we cooked. All of these ended with artifacts that we shared with parents, other classes and each other. However, most of the time the projects had very clear guidelines and requirements which constricted the flow of learning and guided it in a very specific direction with very specific goals in mind. This week’s readings showed me that to exploit the power of making, teachers must be able to stand back more, and allow students more freedom to explore, reflect, revise and share. The guidance has to be subtle; more like making sure the baby does not fall into the lake than making sure the baby stays on the concrete path. There is so much more to be learned by touching the trees, walking on the grass, picking up the stones and crunching the leaves than by walking carefully in the middle of the sidewalk. As a teacher, I tended to be sure we got where we were going, even if I had to grab the learners’ hands and drag them quickly with me to the goal.

Switching to a more learner-centered classroom practice would be hard, but I think, worth the effort. Allowing students more control over how and what and when they learn would give them the opportunity to develop skills they cannot when the are being led. Walking with a three year old anywhere can be frustrating if the point is to get there fast. Walking with a three year old and noticing what they discover, and listening to the questions they ask can be not only enlightening, but delightful. Giving students the tools to create their own learning can be delightful and enlightening as well, as long as the teacher can provide a clear goal and guidance along the way.(Han & Bhattacharya, 2001) Using technology as a part of the learner-centered classroom, giving students tools to create their learning makes sense for the world our students are living in. Technology opens doors for students, giving them tools that expand not only their access to information, but also breaking down the walls of the classroom and inviting the whole world in as part of the learning space. 

Giving students a problem to solve or a project to create, can certainly fall under the umbrella of constructionism. In order to solve the problem, one that is important to the students and is an authentic task, they have to do all sorts of learning. They need to reflect on the problem from their experience and previous learning and with guidance move from problem to solution. (Laureate Education, Inc, 2011) Along the way they have the opportunity to work together, ask questions, find answers, reflect on their paths, and revise their thoughts. They will undoubtedly have conflicting ideas about where to go and how to get there, but can arrive at an answer through discussion and collaboration and with teacher guidance.

In this week's readings, students were given spreadsheets with data and asked to produce hypotheses about what the data might mean, then asked to use the data to prove or disprove their hypotheses. (Pitler, Hubbell & Kuhn, 2012)  In order to come up with logical and supportable hypotheses, they have to think deeply and critically about the data. This undoubtedly created excellent opportunities for learning and based on Papert's statement that "Learners don't get ideas; they create ideas." this activity can also fall under the contructionist umbrella. (Han & Bhattacharya, 2001). These students are not creating an artifact, but though the problem they are asked to solve may be a limited one, they are coming up with a solution. The authors of  our text also suggest using software that supports brainstorming and using graphic organizers to allow students to put their thoughts into a scaffold to help them come up with hypotheses. This is needed because looking at data and coming up with hypotheses is a high level cognitive task. (Pitler, Hubbell & Kuhn). These technology tools which support student learning and expand their ability to hold and process information are constructionist tools in this case. Students are creating webs of information to help them organize their thoughts so that they can find answers to their questions.

To construct learning, students need tools, and technology provides tools of all sorts that are useful for many skill levels. The tools are many and varied and can be tailored to particular needs. When students have access to many technology tools, they can more easily build from their experience and create ideas that will lead them on to new learning. 


Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tools to Expand the Mind

This weeks readings were much more comprehensible for me, and felt much more comfortable in my mind. Last week focusing on behaviorism I had a terrible time trying to pull from my experience and see how it either fell into the behaviorism camp, or was opposed to it. I spent so much time trying wrap my head around the whole thing that I didn't spend much time looking at what I do through that particular lens. This week I am much more comfortable. I'm not sure if the reason is that I feel more at ease using the strategies from the cognitive learning theory, or I am just more familiar with them. Regardless, this week has been much more comfortable for me.

For my own learning I have been using strategies that fall in line with the cognitive learning theory for years. I am a verbal learner and write summaries of new information. I rarely organize the summaries on paper but leave them as lists and organize as I write. I use all kinds of highlighting, color-coding, and note taking strategies that I have developed or modified to help me hang on to information. I have, however never really been able to pass these strategies on to students and have realized that being explicit, and teaching students how to use tools to extend the power of their minds so they can learn and recall information is an important part of teaching. Teaching learners how to learn is a crucial step in helping students develop into life-long learners and using the strategies discussed this week is a great way to start.

A suggested strategy was to use mind-tools such as spreadsheets for processing data or concept-mapping tools to process information. (Laureate Education, Inc, 2011) A quote from the teacher who was talking about using a spreadsheet with students was that doing the calculations by hand was possible, but it didn't add to the students mathematical understanding. (Laureate Education, Inc) That line had a powerful impact on my understanding of using cognitive-tools. I finally had a grasp of the power of the tool. Though the students were using it to do something they could have done themselves, it wasn't just that it was faster to use the spreadsheet, but that using it freed up "mind space" for more creative thinking. This is certainly using an application as a cognitive tool to distribute cognition; adding the power of the human mind to the power of the computer and letting the human mind do what the computer can not, be creative.

Information processing falls within the cognitive learning theory. It states that learning starts with sensory information. If you attend to the information it moves into short term memory and there are limits to the amount of information you can process in short term memory. Using mind-tools can extend those limits greatly. As a teacher I can provide tools like graphic organizers to help students capture information, and in more than one sensory register (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). Using questions I can help students process information deeply thus allowing it to move from short-term to long term memory. Moving to long-term memory requires active participation of the learner and Pitler, Hubbell and Kuhn's suggestions would help accomplish that. They suggest using cues, questions and organizers as well as summarizing and note taking (2012). All of these strategies help the learner process information, allow the learner to elaborate by making connections to previous learning and using combination notes specifically allow learners to include pictographs or other graphics in their notes.(2012)  This facilitates making connections to more than just the verbal center of the brain, thus making it easier to retrieve.

I need to be more conscious of my teaching strategies so that I can explicitly and clearly teach skills to support student learning. I have used some of these tools in the past, but have never been focused on the power of the tool,  I have focused instead on the result of using the tool. Working with students who have gaps in their English language skills, it is doubly important to give them tools that extend their power to learn. These can amplify their efforts and give them greater results with the same amount of energy expended. Giving them episodic memories through virtual field trips (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011)  providing the structure of graphic organizers or scaffolds for note taking and summarizing necessary to process new concepts, (Pittler, Hubbell & Kuhn, 2012) allowing them to add multiple sensory inputs will all present an enriched classroom experience so that they can take full advantage of the time they have to learn.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program five: Cognitive learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works--2nd ed. Alexandria: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Behaviorism and Teaching Strategies

The theory of behaviorism states that we can look at people’s actions and work on modifying behaviors by ignoring them so they are extinguished, punishing them so they happen less frequently or rewarding them so they happen more frequently. While reading through and cataloging the strategies suggested in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works I found that some strategies fit into this theory and some did not. Some of the technology suggested to support the strategies correlates well, and some did not.

A strategy that was suggested to support student achievement was to show students the relationship between effort expended and achievement using data collection, spreadsheets, charts and graphs. In my mind this fits into the theory. The authors suggest that once students have been given explicit guidance about what it means to expend effort they will be able to keep track of their effort and achievement. (Pitler, Hubbel & Kuhn, 2012 ) They can observe their behavior and using the reward of achievement can increase the action (effort) that brings about the reward (achievement). The technology suggested, spreadsheet software that has the capability to produce charts and graphs, correlates very well with this strategy and supports it.

Providing recognition for specific behaviors also fits the behaviorist theory. In fact, it is almost purely a behaviorist strategy. The teacher defines a desired behavior and rewards it through recognition or reward. Using technology to supply the reward in the form of badges, or feedback points as in ClassDojo is an excellent correlation. Providing reward in the form of recognition for exemplary products is not purely a behaviorist action. The actions or behaviors used to create the product are what should be rewarded. However, rewarding excellence can increase the possibility that excellence will occur again. For students who don’t achieve, rewarding behaviors that can lead to excellence will be more effective. The technology suggested to support this strategy: web showcases, blog polls, online picture galleries, tools that allow communication via audio or video to provide recognition correlate fairly well.

The next chapter talks about homework and practice. The only part of the homework portion that fit into the behaviorist theory in my mind was providing feedback for homework completed and using drill and practice software or websites to extend learning beyond the classroom. Feedback could be construed as a reward or punishment (depending on the feedback) and would then have the possibility of changing behavior. However, I think the only behavior it might be able to change is whether homework is completed or turned in or not. Using drill and practice software or websites can fit into this theory because generally desired behaviors (those that lead to correct answers) are rewarded and undesirable behaviors (those that lead to incorrect answers) are not, so they should decrease.

Using Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) software is one of the technologies to support practice. There are most certainly aspects of the behaviorist theory that are included in CAI software, in the immediate feedback and rewarding correct behaviors to increase their frequency. Most of the other strategies suggested for practice fall into other theories of learning. Based on these readings, it is obvious that there it a time and a place for using strategies that fit into behaviorism. However it is also clear that there are many successful strategies that do not.


Pitler, H., Hubbel, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria: ASCD

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I've started my second course in my graduate certificate program. It is called Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction and Technology. We've only just started to look at learning theories but I think it's going to be a good class. I've always been fascinated by how the brain works. I've read a number of books, The Brain that Changes Itself is one of my favorites. It talks about neuroplasticity and tells stories that show how truly amazing the brain is. One of the stories is around phantom pain from amputated limbs. The story really had an impact because the son of a friend stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost both legs above the knee. As part of his recuperation and dealing with the immense phantom pain he had, the hospital used the precise treatment explained in the book. It was not only fascinating because there was a story that played out in my life, but also because it worked for Daniel.

After doing the first week's readings I have a bit more understanding about memories and how they are encoded in the brain. The idea that connections are made is not new, but understanding that the connections are between specific neurons and somehow that allows me to remember phone numbers, or the name of street is totally amazing. How can it be that when one neuron sends a signal to the next, and neurotransmitters are released that I can recall what a pomegranate is, or how to figure out the area of a circle? It's like this cartoon...

I find it amazing and fascinating.

Theories of learning are based on observed results, but also on PET scans and MRIs. They try to explain what happens when someone learns. We have more of an idea, but there are still a lot of things we don't know. But though it can help to know (or think we know) how someone learns, teachers have been teaching, and students learning for millennia without current learning theory. Pat Wolfe states that the problem with teaching from intuition is that it is difficult to pass on the knowledge gained through experience. I think it can be difficult, but not impossible. It just means that the experienced teacher has to think about what they do. I've done some recent reading about what makes good teachers, and came across this article. The quote I love the most, that resonates with me is this one:
Good teaching isn't about technique...but about people who have some sort of connective capacity, who connect themselves to their students, their students to each other, and everyone to the subject being studied.
Teachers who have relationships with students have more success as teachers, and their students have more success as well. I think it is crucial to use tools and techniques that engage students, but all of the tools and all of the techniques and most up to date technology can't make as big of an impact if the students don't have a relationship with the teacher. In the end, teaching is about relationships, and so is learning.