Constructivism is the term used when we build upon our prior knowledge using real world experiences. In schools, we use a constructivist approach to preparing students to solve problems and construct or refine new understandings (Budi Usodo, 2016).
Types of Constructivism
- Psychological Constructivism
Personal psychological cognitive constructivism is often referred to as Piaget cognitive constuctivism. According to Piaget, cognitive structure of a person is due to the process of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is the process of getting new experiences and information and immediately connected with the mental structure that is already owned by someone. Accommodation is the process of re-structuring of the mental structure as a result of new experiences and information. (Budi Usodo, 2016)
So according to Piaget, learning is not only receiving information and experience, but also re-structuring the new information and experiences.
Learning principles using Piaget’s constructivist theory are:
- Meaning as internally constructed
In the process of constructing knowledge, information is individually interpreted by learners in their own learning experiences.
- Learning and teaching as negotiated construction of meaning
Construction of meaning is a negotiation process between individual learners with their experiences through an interaction in the learning process. Thus learners construct their knowledge based on their own individual past experiences.
- Teaching is not just transferring knowledge from teachers to their learners, but is also an activity that allows learners to construct their own meaning and knowledge.
- Teaching means a partnership with learners in constructing meaning, looking for clarity, being critical and creating justifications.
- Knowledge is structured and stored uniquely by each individual student.
- When students link their past knowledge with new information (gained through their experiences), they develop their understanding of larger related concepts.
For example, in the mental structure of 4th graders, they have had knowledge of odd and even numbers. The students were given some numbers from 1 to 30. Then the students wrote factors of each number and perceived what patterns emerged. Students understood that most of the numbers (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 and 19) only had two factors, and these were all odd numbers (except the number 2). Students were able to integrate this new understanding into their own cognitive structure and assimilation happened. New information about prime numbers caused some cognitive restructuring (accommodation) to take place because the number 2 did not fit the expected odd number pattern.
- Social Constructivism
Vygotsky believed that learning occurs when students handle tasks that they haven’t learned before, but these tasks are still within range of their abilities (zone of proximal development). This zone of proximal development is the area between the actual developmental level that a child is actually at developmentally and and the level of potential that the child can achieve.
Learning principles as the implications of Vygotsky socio-cultural constructivist theory are:
- Social interaction is important, better knowledge is constructed by involving other people.
- Human development occurs through cultural tools (language, symbols) that is transmitted from person to person.
- The zone of proximal development is the difference between what can be done alone (actual ability) and what can be done with the help from adults (potential capabilities).
For example, 4th grade students constructed their knowledge about what economic activity was. Teachers facilitated an activity to identify economic and non-economic activities. Students worked in groups, cut images from old magazines and newspapers, identified each image as economic activity or non-economic activity and continued by classifying the images. When the students identified and classified the pictures, each image selection involved social interactions between students and also with the teachers. Each group discussed and constructed their understanding about what economic and non-economic activity was. The students shared their ideas. Teachers guided the students to construct their definitions of economic activity and non-economic activity. The similar activities were also applied when the students, facilitated by the teachers, constructed their knowledge about the differences between goods and services; and also the difference between needs and wants.
Teaching methods in constructivist approach
The learning method that can be applied using constructivism learning is inquiry method. Learning using inquiry method is an essential way for students to construct their own meaning and gained new knowledge.
Firdausi Nuzula, Associate PYP Coordinator and Grade 4 Homeroom Teacher
Sekolah Buin Batu, Sumbawa Barat, NTB