STEM has become a popular buzzword in the educational field. Anything that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math has increasingly seen attention, and many schools are making a push towards STEM curriculum. However, there exists a lesser-talked about (but equally important) term of “constructivism,” which shares common parallels with all things STEM. Read on to see where constructivism comes from, its commonalities with STEM and more, and be sure to take a look at the many STEM programs techJOYnT has to offer!
The History of Constructivist Theory
Around the middle half of the 21st century, a man by the name of John Dewey first began to posit ideas that would form a basis for constructivism. Dewey believed that school should not consist solely of rote memorization and taking notes, thinking that it was not an effective form of learning. He thought that students should be given real world situations in which to apply and practice knowledge, and started conceptualizing this thought that students should think for themselves.
Jean Piaget was also at the forefront of this movement, and believed that learning should not be a one-way street. Essentially, he proposed that learning doesn’t merely happen from someone talking at a student, but rather, the learning process is an active and dynamic one. Much of this school of thought also developed from Lev Vygotsky, who thought that children’s experiences happen in a socially constructed way, and then again, on an individual level. Through this two-step process is how children learn.
All of these ideas combined to form a modern version of educational constructivism, which states that learning best happens when students get to construct and form their own knowledge. Instead of being told how to think or what to memorize, students are encouraged to create their own understanding of a subject.
Constructivism in Practice
It may seem like a difficult thing to implement, but a constructivist approach can practically be considered “easy” once the correct frame of mind is set. In practice, this can look like any number of things, for any and all subjects:
Questions, questions, and more questions
Instead of telling students or children something, ask consistent, directed, and thought-provoking questions for them to answer. As one example, take the Revolutionary War. Many of us were probably told that the Revolutionary War started because the colonists were upset with being ruled by the British. A constructivist approach would give some basic facts, such as the existence of the colonists and the British, then would ask essential questions, such as “Why did a war end up starting?” or “How were people feeling leading up to the declaration of war? How do you know?”
Challenging students to apply their knowledge and answer questions is an amazing tool at helping construct their own ideas and knowledge. Since they and their peers came up with the answers, the material is so much more likely to stick.
Traditional math classes can be some of the most anti-constructivist areas of education. Think of a math class, and you likely picture textbooks, a teacher writing on a board, and writing down formulas and equations in a notebook. A constructivist approach to math would take a fact like “5×5=25” and give students the opportunity to prove it. Whether through an array of objects, drawing pictures, or talking through a real-world scenario, students should be encouraged to show how they know that 5×5=25.
For many of us, we will think of how we learned math facts through drills and rote memorization and how it worked for them. However, many of us can probably do a decent amount of math with very little conceptual knowledge and understanding. Constructivism can sometimes take more time, but the results and the depth of knowledge acquired last so much longer.
STEM is one of the most logical places for a constructivist mindset, because it focuses on problem-solving and constructing one’s own knowledge. Programs such as robotics design, engineering activities, game design, and more require students to work through challenges and to come up with their own solutions. In any classroom, and really in any facet of life, there is space for STEM concepts to be applicable. It does not solely need to be science-based, but rather STEM encompasses these ideas of producing one’s own thoughts, instead of being told how to think.
And really, doesn’t that sound most ideal? We need dreamers, builders, and thinkers in this world. Many, if not most, of our greatest ideas and technologies did not come from people who were thinking the same as everyone else. If we want our future to grow and maintain a desire for innovation, we cannot simply tell someone how to think based on how previous people have thought.
Whether a parent, a teacher, an after-school enrichment program leader, or anything in between, the approaches to constructivism and STEM can directly impact anyone’s life for the positive. Constructivism is an incredibly engaging learning style, and so much of the popularity with STEM has come from the positive results. Students love getting to learn in a hands-on, creative manner, and whether they know the larger terminology or not, students love constructivism. Encourage creativity and innovation with your students or your family, and look into the STEM programs techJOYnT has to offer! From app development to electronics, game design, and more, kids of any age will love our curriculum and programs. Check out our STEM programs and pathways today!