A case: Teacher D (David)


David is a science teacher. Instead of presenting neat ideas and materials to students, David encourages students to bring up their own questions and ideas. He believes that knowledge is not passed down to students, but generated and constructed by students themselves. This does not mean that he does not need to prepare anything and just let students do everything. He works very hard on designing classes. He always tries to understand what students have already known and what misconceptions they still have, and then designs classes that are built on what students have already known, and adopts teaching strategy that focus on changing students’ misconception into more scientific ones. He uses concept mapping strategies very often in the class, and encourages students to make connections between their new and old ideas. He also provides prompts and modeling to students, and makes them reflect, reevaluate, and revise their original ideas. Not like teacher C(Clark) who tries very hard to minimize students’ cognitive load by presenting clear ideas, David tries to make students treat difficulties and problems as something worth working on. He believes that “the messiness” can lead students to construct their own knowledge.


While David becomes more experienced, he gradually realizes that collaboration plays an important role in changing students’ conceptions, and believes that knowledge is socially constructed. He starts to provide opportunities for students to engage in collaborative scientific inquiry. Just like real scientists community, his students work together, generating questions they are interested in, proposing theories and hypothesis to answer their questions, designing experiment to evaluate and revise their theories. In order to make the inquiry more authentic, and treat idea as something students can collectively work on, he also uses computer-supported platforms on which students can pose their questions and ideas, and collectively improve these ideas. Students are also encouraged to make group portfolios to assess their own learning. They reflect collectively about what they have learned and what still need to be known in the community.


Constructivism had a widely influential impact on learning theories and instruction methods and has become an underlying theme of many education reform movements. Constructivism as a paradigm or worldview posits that learning is an active, constructive process. The learner is an information constructor. People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality.

Constructivism, builds on the ideas of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, John Dewey and many other primary theorists, claims that knowledge is constructed in the human being when information comes into contact with existing knowledge that had been developed by our unique set of experiences with the external reality and out beliefs about them (Jonassen, 1991). We can distinguish between cognitive constructivism and social constructivism.

From the Perspectives of Constructivism:

The nature of learning

Learning, therefore, is

  • an active process which is constantly open to change to construct new ideas or concepts.
  • an interactive processes of adjusting our mental models to make sense of the physical, cognitive, emotional and social experiences by interpreting, representing and restructuring the pre-existing knowledge.
  • a social process in which our learning is intimately associated with other human beings, including teachers, peers, and other community members. It has been recognized that the social aspect of learning and uses conversation, interaction with others, and the application of knowledge as an integral aspect of learning.
  • a contextual process in that we do not learn isolated facts and abstract theories separated from the rest of our lives.

The conception of knowledge

Constructivism focuses on how learners construct their own knowledge.

  • Knowledge is constructed, not transmitted or reproduced.
  • Knowledge is subjective as each person creates personal meaning out of experiences and integrates new ideas into existing knowledge structures.
  • Previous knowledge constructions, beliefs and attitudes are considered in and impact the knowledge construction process.

The role of the learner

Constructivism is an instructional philosophy that is developed from the principle of learner-centered learning. In fact, constructivism is first of all a theory of learning based on the idea that knowledge is constructed by and for the learner him/herself. Children are not passive in accepting knowledge, but learning activities require the students’ full participation.

Specifically, an important part of the learning process is that by

  • applying their existing knowledge and real-world experience,
  • learning to hypothesize,
  • testing their theories,
  • trying things that don’t work,
  • asking question,
  • sharing with each other and
  • reflecting on their experiences,

Students construct their own understanding of the world they live in.In this way, the students play central roles in mediating and controlling learning to set their own goals, regulate their own learning process and even assessment.

The role of the instructor

As addressed in the earlier section, the focus in the constructivist classroom tends to shift from the teacher to the students. It is worth noting that constructivism does not discharge the active role of the teacher or the value of their expert knowledge. Actually the role of teachers is modified, so that teachers promote students to construct their own knowledge actively rather than just mechanically listening and reproducing knowledge from the teacher or the textbook.

The teacher serve in the role of guides, monitors, tutors and facilitators who

  • use curricula customized to the students’ prior knowledge instead of following a standardized curriculum
  • provide a rich environment for the spontaneous exploration of the child
  • rely heavily on open-ended questions, hands-on problem solving and inquiry based learning
  • scaffold students to perform just beyond the limits of their ability
  • trigger extensive dialogue and collaborative in order to expose the learner to alternative viewpoints and multiple perspectives among students
  • nurture students’ natural curiosity and promote their motivation, autonomy and self-regulation
  • provide formative and embedded assessment

The expected benefits

In constructivist classroom, by engaging the active, interactive, collaborative and reflective learning processes, most likely,

  • The students learn more, since they enjoy learning more when they play an active role, rather than as passive listeners.
  • The students concentrate on problem solving, critical thinking and deep understanding, rather than memorization.
  • The students are capable to retain knowledge and transfer the new knowledge to real life, since this type of learning engages the students’ initiatives and personal investments.
  • The students improve their social and communication skills by creating a classroom environment that emphasizes collaboration and the abilities of exchanging ideas, negotiating with others and evaluating their contributions in a socially acceptable manner.
  • Activities, opportunities, tools and environments are provided to encourage metacognition, self -regulation, & self-reflection.


Key Works

  • Cunningham, D., & Duffy, T. (1996). Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. Handbook of research for educational communications and technology, 170-198.
  • Fosnot, C. T. (1996). Constructivism. Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027.
  • Von Glasersfeld, E. (1984). An introduction to radical constructivism. The invented reality, 17-40.