Module 2 Reflection, you should begin creating linkages between your own epistemological beliefs and your classroom instruction. Do you see inconsistencies in what you do and what you believe? See if you can extend your thinking to include ways in which you incorporate technology into your curriculum. For example, drill and practice software used for test preparation and/or remediation fit most behaviorist learning theories which fall under objectivist epistemologies. Would this necessarily fit with your own beliefs about the nature of learning?
“Online learning is uniquely suited for the teachers to accept the role of a guide or facilitator. An actively involved instructor will observe all of the interactions going on within the class and interject when teachable moments occur or when they perceive an opportunity to introduce a new topic of discussion.” (Campbell, 2008 p.6)
I consider myself a constructivist. I am a math teacher and I have created a business that exclusively supports high school students with online courses. In addition, I am completing my master’s degree completely online. I was initially drawn to the theory of constructivism because it lends itself perfectly to the study of mathematics. The basis of math is scaffolding … every year students learn basic skills that build in complexity from year to year. Constructivism is a scaffolding approach to learning. It emphasizes the importance of active involvement of learners in constructing knowledge for themselves. The learner or student has a significant stake in their own learning. It begins with complex problems and teaches basic skills while solving these problems. In both mathematics, and constructivism, true value exists in their ability to help us solve real-world problems. As a teacher, you want the students to make connections to the skills they are learning and how these skills can be applied.
I was drawn to constructivism because I believe that it values both mistakes and social interactions. I feel constructivism philosophy is in line with my epistemological beliefs. Moreover, what is interesting is to reflect on how to apply these philosophies to what I actually do day to day.
Each day my students arrive and I have a lesson prepared for them. The lesson usually consists of sharing my “starter” notes with the students in order to introduce the day’s topic. The students begin the day viewing the online material to complete the notes … seeking to complete the skill set needed for the day. They are allowed and encouraged to work together to complete the notes. However, they are not allowed to simply copy them. Then the students begin working on the goal assignment for the day. Here is where they need to apply the skills they have just acquired. The task always starts with practicing skills first, then moving onto more complex applications. The best part about supporting online learning is that each student’s assignment is different! This is intended to make it so that student’s cannot just copy another student’s answers. They have to actually do the work themselves. I am here to guide them, encourage them, and clarify where necessary. The student’s homework each day is correct, reflect, and record the day’s lessons. Sometimes I believe that they learn more by making mistakes and going back and “fixing” these mistakes. There are a lot of online high school math courses available and I have supported many of them. I have found the best programs are individualized while allow for students to make mistakes while still allowing them to correct their mistakes.
So how does my practice line up with my beliefs? Do I have inconsistencies?
“Designing courses in a constructivist manner requires forethought and willingness to adapt, which is as possible in an online environment as in a traditional classroom. “
(Campbell, 2008 p.6)
After researching and writing my Learning Theories Paper: Constructivism, I realize that I do have inconsistencies between theory and what is truly constructivism. Often, I have too much control over the situation where learning occurs. After reading Dave Campbell’s analysis of online education and constructivism I see many of the short-comings of my approach. I still need to work on determining and utilizing student’s prior knowledge. (Campbell, 2008 p.6) Yet, since my students meet in small groups and their instruction does not exist solely online, we overcome some of the inadequacies. Biggs asserted that constructivism should provide instructional situations and activities that (1) view students’ conceptions from their( the students’) perspectives (2) see “errors” as reflecting the (their) current level of development (3) recognize that substantive learning occurs in periods of conflict, surprise, over periods of time, and through social interaction (Biggs, 1996 p.350). I truly believe that my approach to “teaching” online courses follows these recommendations.
While doing the readings, I was also drawn to sections that discussed scaffolding. This is where I feel I have a distinct advantage by teaching math. According to Draper, “Mathematics teachers, who are experts at reading and creating math texts, are in the best position to help their students engage” (Draper, 2002 p. 524). Construction and scaffolding is exactly the philosophy with which I approach my instruction of mathematics. As an instructor, I lay the foundation with basic skills and later use them to help us carry out applications.
I recently application of constructivist methodology I utilized was an Intro to Probability and Statistics activity assigned to my high school seniors. The students were first shown how to compute standard deviation by hand, then with a spreadsheet, then on the graphing calculator. They were assigned a small list of numbers making the task easy to accomplish in a short amount of time. Next, they were asked to go online and research the presidential election results in Nevada (or Utah, or Wyoming) from 1984 to 2000. They were given a small chart to complete. The task was group based optional. The students were allowed to “share” data as long as they completed at least one search of their own. Most students completed the research for all the states and compared them. They were also then tasked with calculating the standard deviation for at least one state, by hand. The students then had to compare and contrast their findings and calculations. Finally, they had to interpret the meaning of the standard deviation and extrapolate it into a predictor for the final product. The activity was completed by participating in active online message boards. I witnessed all of the students asking questions of each other and asserting their own beliefs and experiences. They could all agree on the numerical conclusions because this has a finite and absolute answer dictated by mathematical rules and principles whereas analysis depends on personal experience and stylistic preference.
In conclusion, I would say I agree with Yilmaz’s conclusion, “Constructivist theories are of great value to teachers in their efforts to help students grasp the substantive and syntactic components of the subjects they are teaching” (Yilmaz, 2008 p. 10). Teachers must be willing to improve the way they teach and be aware of the way they teach, teacher centered vs. student-centered. Improving and growing as educators requires abstract and concrete knowledge of a variety the different pedagogical theories. (Yilmaz) I believe the more I learn of the different epistemological educational philosophies, combined with self-reflection, the better educator I will be in the long run.
Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher education, 32(3), 347-364. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.boisestate.edu/stable/pdfplus/3448076.pdf?acceptTC=true
Campbell, D. (2008). Constructivism in Online Learning. Retrieved from http://members.shaw.ca/dave_campbell/artifacts/constructivism.pdf
Draper, R. J. (2002). School mathematics reform, constructivism, and literacy: A case for literacy instruction in the reform-oriented math classroom. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(6), 520-529.
Fox, R. (2001). Constructivism examined. Oxford review of education, 27(1), 23-35. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.boisestate.edu/stable/pdfplus/1050991.pdf?acceptTC=true
Jonassen, D.H., & Land , S.M. (2000). Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Stanovich, K. (1994). Constructivism in reading education. Journal of Special Education, 28(3), 259.
Matthews, W. J. (2003). Constructivism in the Classroom: Epistemology, History, and Empirical Evidence. Teacher Education Quarterly, 30(3), 51-64. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/EJ852364.pdf
Nance, R. (2009). THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. Retrieved from http://www.fwquestclub.com/welcome_files/papers/childhood_education.pdf
Yilmaz, K. (2008). Constructivism: Its Theoretical Underpinnings, Variations, and Implications for Classroom Instruction. Educational Horizons, 86(3), 161-172. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov.libproxy.boisestate.edu/PDFS/EJ798521.pdf