Constructivism: an educational theory of learning that supports the idea that the individual learner is able to generate his or her own understanding of the world through exploration with limited intervention. This self-guided investigation allows the individual to test and manipulate the subject matter that he or she is studying. Building themes and schemas is what allows the individual to understand the information and apply what he or she has learned beyond the context of the information. Constructivism has its roots in the romantic idea that children are naturally good at heart. If they are permitted to explore freely, they will incorporate a better understanding of information rather than if they were to receive the information directly through a rigidly guided learning experience.

There are four basic principles for constructivism:

1. Learning needs a goal. There has to be a subject to which the individual is looking to investigate further.

2. Constructivism is driven on conceptual learning. Individuals should be encoding the parts and the sums of those parts, in order to have a clear comprehension of the information in all literal and abstract conditions.

3. Educators must be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student. This will help guide the student on the optimal path of learning that will increase the student’s productivity and learning potential. This identification will encourage students to challenge their weaknesses as well as build their strengths. Over time, the student will understand their personal learning curve and be able to keep focused on more formidable tasks.

4. The education provided under this theory allows individuals to formulate their own understanding of the information they are studying. Assessment of learning should be directed on grading the individual in accordance of his or her understanding of the information and not on a memorized book response.

Origins and History
Constructivism is primarily based on Piagetian theory, with some additional grounding in Vygotskian theory. There are some who believe that constructivism has much older roots, dating back to the early 18th century and the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico. Tobias and Duffy (2009) state that Von Glasersfeld believes the first appearance of constructivist theory can be accredited to Vico. In addition to Vico, Piaget, and Vygotsky, Tobias and Duffy (2009) also attribute the development of constructivism to Dewey and Bruner.

What Teachers Do

The main duty of a teacher leading a constructivism based lesson plan is to facilitate the construction of meaning done by their students. The role of the teacher is not to transfer the knowledge they have to their students, but rather act as a medium that allows the students to use their pre-existing knowledge and experiences to construct an understanding of a new concept or idea. There are undoubtedly varying forms of "constructivist classrooms," some teachers feel that their role is only to provide guidance when students reach a dead end in their construction process, while some feel that it is necessary to provide some direct instruction in order to get their students to begin the process of understanding the material. It's important to note that there really are no "constructivist teachers or methods." Chaille' affirms that "constructivism is not a method, a curriculum model, or a series of appropriate practices, but rather (it) is the theory that underlies the choices and decisions you make about how to set up the classroom, choose the curriculum, and respond to the children's work and ideas" (2008). Another central idea of most constructivism views is that teachers must provide "scaffolding" to support the construction of knowledge on the part of their students. Scaffolding is the process of providing just enough support to the students in order to motivate them to accomplish their goal and to allow them to move toward understanding material previously beyond their current level. As the student furthers their own understanding of the topic, the scaffolding is slowly removed until the the student's "knowledge structure" is able to support itself, or in other words, the student has reached a level of comprehension that no longer requires additional support from the teacher.

What Students do (Active Learning)

The role of the student in constructivism is to actively construct his or her own knowledge by applying prior knowledge and experiences to the classroom and learning activities. The student must accept responsibility for his or her own learning which can be accomplished through a combination of the following:
  • Engaging in self-reflection of their own learning experiences to help them determine which strategies and methods are most useful.
  • Fully participating in classroom activities or discussion.
  • Effectively collaborating with other students in order to learn from one another through the exchange of ideas.
  • Setting their own goals for the course and assist in designing the means of assessment.
  • Actively question and explore what they learn/read/discuss, etc. by applying their natural curiosity to the classroom.

Lesson Ideas

Plan out short research projects that allow the students to investigate information pertaining to the subjects of the class for that particular module.
List the directives to guide the students in a general direction of where the information should lead them.

Place the students in reading groups to discuss the information presented in the textbooks or notes.
Design specific tasks that the group needs complete in their general discussion of the information. This will allow the students to be more productive and learn more about the subject presented.

Have students learn about earthquakes by reading eyewitness accounts. Also, have them work with actual seismograms to learn how they work and how they measure earthquakes.

Have students use historical documents and primary sources to organize the sequence of local historical events and describe how each period of settlement left its mark on the land.

Ask students to list what they already know about various energy resources and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then have students conduct experiments with different types of energy resources to gain a better understanding of how each works.

Take students on a trip to a museum of any sort. Have them paired up in groups working on scavenger hunt. Have explore the exhibits, with a guideline of what they are suppose to be looking for in each exhibit.

Criticism of Constructivism
Constructivism has drawn some criticism from educators. There are some who believe that formal, direct instruction is required for students to effectively learn material. They believe that it is too difficult to accomplish the goals of the curriculum by leaving so much of the learning process in the hands of the students. Critics also point out the possible extreme difficulties of running a constructivism based class or lesson plan. Students may loose track of the specific learning goals by being left to work on their own without formal instruction. Also, in large classes the teacher’s attention would be stretched too thin to ensure that all goals were being met, and also that students were staying on task.


Fosnot, Catherine Twomey. Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. 2nd ed. New York:
Teachers College Press, 2005.

Tobias, Sigmund and Duffy, Thomas. Constructivist Instruction, Success or Failure? New York:
Routledge, 2009.

Chaillé, Christine. Constructivism Across the Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms. New York:
Pearson Education, 2008.