[Squeakland] Panel discussion: Can the American Mind be Opened?

Bill Kerr billkerr at gmail.com
Wed Nov 21 16:17:49 PST 2007

hi David,

thanks for the link, it looks like an interesting historical study about
maths education

some good readings at MIT open courseware:
The nature of constructionist learning

I'm sure there is bad constructivism (open ended poorly designed discovery
learning) and good constructionism. Also there is social constructivism
which has become mainstream in my locality (South Australia), a sort of top
down "socially aware" DIY-ism with incredibly vague benchmarks

The role of the teacher is a huge variable. I doubt that "controlled blind
large group studies" would find satisfactory ways to factor this in

Where does that leave us? Years ago I wrote to MIT and obtained a bunch of
PhD studies by Papert students (eg. Idit Harel, Yasmin Kafai, Kevin McGee
etc). It was all good work. The method was along the lines of a detailed
study of a small group - depth rather than breadth, one of the terminologies
was "thick descriptors" rather than "thin descriptors". There has been a lot
of good research and practice. Personally I don't doubt that constructionism
works - but its a mindset, a world view. It's hard to "prove" that it works
because it's a whole environment that can be built and sustained by the
right educational leader. But when that leader leaves the environment
normally collapses.

There are some real problems -
** the way things are measured in schools - its easy to measure recall but
hard to measure or even to define deeper learning. Schools tend to measure
mainly recall and so this undermines more creative teaching. I saw some
coverage recently about "no child left behind" which featured creative
teachers in tears about how standardised testing had destroyed their

** the difficulty of training teachers in creative methods. Papert has
written about the competencies required

   - Skilled in modern learning theories and psychology
   - Skilled in relating to a variety of children
   - Skilled in detecting new, important elements of their student's
   - Skilled in cross curricular applications
   - Skilled in computing
   - Able to apply a variety of skills creatively


** the ability of poor teachers to hide behind vague social constructivist
standards, which tends to discredit the "good constructivism"

Anyway, just some thoughts for discussion

- Bill
-- =

Bill Kerr

On Nov 22, 2007 4:32 AM, David Corking <lists at dcorking.com> wrote:

> Mark wrote:
> > Re: attempts with constructivism
> >
> > I hope you're right. I have heard criticisms of constructivism, based on
> > anecdotes, but I've always wondered whether what's been evaluated is
> > actually constructivism or just some group's ideological interpretation
> of
> > it (the group that says they're implementing the pedagogy, that is). I
> > haven't studied it in detail, but the ideas behind it, as presented by
> Kay,
> > make sense to me.
> I think it is worth studying in detail, but I am not sure where to
> start.  First I think we need to learn to distinguish among
> 1. constructivism the psychological hypothesis - as proposed by Piaget
> as I understand
> 2. constructivism the pedagogy
> 3. constructionism - another pedagogy - and a word coined by Seymour
> Papert.  Note the 3rd syllable.
> (There is also constructivism the epistemology, which I can't even
> spell, that also originates with Piaget.)
> I recently read this unsympathetic 2003 article on the US history of
> constructivist pedagogy in maths
> http://www.csun.edu/~vcmth00m/AHistory.html<http://www.csun.edu/%7Evcmth0=
> But it is largely anecdotal (which is fine for a historian, but not
> when we are responsible for the education of the next generation.)
> However, beyond such material, I get thoroughly confused by an
> inability to distinguish proven knowledge, accepted wisdom, and pure
> pseudo-science.    It seems that a lot of educational research is done
> by anecdote rather than by controlled blind large group studies.  Any
> pointers to the good stuff?  Or tips to help a natural scientist to
> understand the research methods of the social sciences?
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