Explain Constructivism in 140 characters

This video of Michelle Bachmann complaining about Mathematics education is just wrong. 

 

My take-away from this video is that Michelle Bachmann has a fundamental misunderstanding of what constructivist teaching is. She doesn’t get it. To be honest though, when you look at educational materials which are shared with parents, they very rarely, if ever, define the purpose behind the pedagogy in language that is accessible to people outside of the field of teaching.

My thought is that we need to define some of the terms we use in language which makes sense for the average person. For example, the definition of Constructivism on Wikipedia is:

Constructivism is a theory of knowledge (epistemology) that argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas.

This definition is problematic, not because it is inaccurate, but because it is incomprehensible to a non-academic. It comes across as knowledge is arbitrary.

A few weeks ago, I asked people to attempt and define constructivism themselves (in 140 characters or less) via Twitter. Here are some of the definitions.

A belief that knowledge exists in and is constructed by the mind of the learner, not transmitted from outside. @MathEdNet and @Wedaman

Making meaning and building understanding starting from what you already know. @josieholdford

Learning is the result of our individual experiences & the social support given around those experiences. @delta_dc

Making meaning and building understanding starting from what you already know. @pwacmdh

Learning is the result of our individual experiences & the social support given around those experiences. @mssandersths and @bonzimmer

While these meanings may not be enough to explain constructivism to parents in enough detail, they are more comprehensible to the average person, and a much easier place to begin a conversation about what the impact the Constructivist learning theory has on how we should approach education.

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3 Comments

  • Dave Radcliffe wrote:

    What do you think about the sentence that Michele Bachmann criticized at 0:28? “They learn that mathematics is man-made, that it is arbitrary, and good solutions are arrived at by consensus among those who are considered experts.” In my opinion, this is a very radical philosophical position (and not just a theory of learning) that would not be supported by most mathematicians.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Any quote taken out of context from a larger document can be made to look radical. It does sound pretty radical, but I had a college professor (who taught math) who basically told me the same thing many years ago.

  • […] principles of constructivism, that students must create their own meaning of new ideas, communicate something true about human […]

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