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What is constructivism?

The constructivist theory of learning says that we actively construct new knowledge for ourselves as we learn. Learning = constructing meaning. We construct new knowledge as we interact with sensory data on the backdrop of our past experiences.

Seymour Papert developed the Logo programming language to support constructivist learning. He coined the term "constructionism." In Papert’s words:

"Constructionism means 'Giving children good things to do so that they can learn by doing much better than they could before.'" (Papert, 1980s)

As more formally described in the book, Constructionism in Practice:

"Constructionism suggests that learners are particularly likely to make new ideas when they are actively engaged in making some type of external artifact—be it a robot, a poem, a sand castle, or a computer program—which they can reflect upon and share with others. Thus, constructionism involves two intertwined types of construction: the construction of knowledge in the context of building personally meaningful artifacts." (Kafai and Resnick, 1996, Introduction)

Computers can become a dynamic part of a constructivist learning environment when children use computers for developing new ideas and meanings:

"Research has shown that many of our best learning experiences come when we are engaged in designing and creating things, especially things that are either meaningful to us or others around us… Like finger paint, blocks, and beads, computers can also be used as a "material" for making things – and not just by children, but by everyone. Indeed, the computer is the most extraordinary construction material ever invented… Computers can be seen as a universal construction material, greatly expanding what people can create and what they can learn in the process." (Resnick, 2002)

In fact, being able to create something of value with the computer is the cornerstone of digital fluency:

"What does it mean to be digitally fluent? Consider the analogy with learning a foreign language. If someone learned a few phrases so that they could read menus in restaurants and ask for directions on the street, would you consider them fluent in the language? Certainly not. That type of phrase-book knowledge is equivalent to the way most people use computers today. Is such knowledge useful? Yes. But it is not fluency.

To be truly fluent in a foreign language, you must be able to articulate a complex idea or tell an engaging story; in other words, you must be able to "make things" with language. Analogously, being digitally fluent involves not only knowing how to use technological tools, but also knowing how to construct things of significance with these tools…

Fluency with language not only has great utilitarian value in everyday life but also has a catalytic effect on learning. When you learn to read and write, you are in a better position to learn many other things. So, too, with digital fluency." (Resnick, 2002)

MicroWorlds is a wonderful technology resource for constructionism. MicroWorlds empowers users to "construct things of significance" with relative ease and serves as a catalyst for far-ranging learning possibilities.

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