Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaching: The Flight of a Butterfly or a Bullet?

Wow, I just read a great article by Larry Cuban. I'll share some of it here:

The Flight of a Butterfly” or “The Flight of a Bullet”: The Impossible Dream of Transforming Teaching into a Science

According to many policymakers and researchers, teaching should be more like the “flight of a bullet” rather than the “flight of a butterfly.”*  Using the latest social science findings, they are determined to re-engineer teaching to make it more efficient, less wasteful, and far more effective than ever before.  Behind the current passion among policymakers and politicians for using test scores to evaluate teacher performance (and pay higher salaries) is the current “science” of value-added measures (VAM) that leans heavily upon the work of William Sanders. But these smart officials have ignored the long march that researchers have slogged through in the past century.
Before William Sanders, there was Franklin Bobbitt in the 1920s, Ralph Tyler and Benjamin Bloom in the 1950s, Nathaniel Gage in the 1970s and 1980s, and many other researchers.  These scholars believed that teaching can be rational and predictable through scientifically engineering classrooms; they rejected the notion that teaching can be unpredictable and uncertain–”the flight of a butterfly.”
In How To Make a Curriculum (1924),Franklin Bobbitt listed 160 “educational objectives”  that teachers should pursue in teaching children such as “the ability to use language …required for proper and effective participation in community life.” Colleagues in math listed 300 for teachers in grades 1-6 and nearly 900 for social studies. This scientific movement to graft “educational objectives” onto daily classroom lessons collapsed of its own weight by the 1940s, and largely ignored by teachers. Elliot Eisner told that story well.  For the rest....

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Compound Word Day

I read about this school event and have witnessed it now a few times, what a hoot!
Compound words can be surprisingly fun for students to study. Don’t miss this opportunity to really engage your students.  One school has annual Compound Word Day!  Each student needs to come to school wearing at least fifty compound words!  Sound impossible? I thought so too, but the proof is in the pudding.  See the picture at the bottom of this page.

The average number of compound words in the first grade class was seventy-five! Think hairpin, fireman, shoehorn, keyboard, horseshoe, popcorn, and raindrop. A great hands-on learning activity to help kids see how compound words are put together is with images. For example, for the word keyboard you can find a key and a board and, by placing them together, the word keyboard is created!!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Constructivism Definition

(thanks to Funderstanding)
Constructivism is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.
There are several guiding principles of constructivism:
  1. Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.
  2. Meaning requires understanding wholes as well as parts. And parts must be understood in the context of wholes. Therefore, the learning process focuses on primary concepts, not isolated facts.
  3. In order to teach well, we must understand the mental models that students use to perceive the world and the assumptions they make to support those models.
  4. The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorize the “right” answers and regurgitate someone else’s meaning. Since education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.
How Constructivism Impacts Learning
Curriculum–Constructivism calls for the elimination of a standardized curriculum. Instead, it promotes using curricula customized to the students’ prior knowledge. Also, it emphasizes hands-on problem solving.
Instruction–Under the theory of constructivism, educators focus on making connections between facts and fostering new understanding in students. Instructors tailor their teaching strategies to student responses and encourage students to analyze, interpret, and predict information. Teachers also rely heavily on open-ended questions and promote extensive dialogue among students.
Assessment–Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing. Instead, assessment becomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in judging their own progress.
Jacqueline and Martin Brooks, The Case for Constructivist Classrooms.

Theories about learning

Our approach to science education uses the 5E instructional model and has been described as linked to constructionist learning.  There are three main categories or philosophical frameworks under which learning theories fall: behaviorismcognitivism, and constructivism
(thanks Wikipedia)


Behaviorism as a theory was primarily developed by B. F. Skinner. It loosely encompasses the work of people like Edward Thorndike, Tolman, Guthrie, and Hull. What characterizes these investigators are their underlying assumptions about the process of learning. In essence, three basic assumptions are held to be true.[original research?] First, learning is manifested by a change in behavior. Second, the environment shapes behavior. And third, the principles of contiguity (how close in time two events must be for a bond to be formed) and reinforcement (any means of increasing the likelihood that an event will be repeated) are central to explaining the learning process. For behaviorism, learning is the acquisition of new behavior through conditioning.
There are two types of possible conditioning:
1) Classical conditioning, where the behavior becomes a reflex response to stimulus as in the case of Pavlov's Dogs. Pavlov was interested in studying reflexes, when he saw that the dogs drooled without the proper stimulus. Although no food was in sight, their saliva still dribbled. It turned out that the dogs were reacting to lab coats. Every time the dogs were served food, the person who served the food was wearing a lab coat. Therefore, the dogs reacted as if food was on its way whenever they saw a lab coat.In a series of experiments, Pavlov then tried to figure out how these phenomena were linked. For example, he struck a bell when the dogs were fed. If the bell was sounded in close association with their meal, the dogs learned to associate the sound of the bell with food. After a while, at the mere sound of the bell, they responded by drooling.
2) Operant conditioning where there is reinforcement of the behavior by a reward or a punishment. The theory of operant conditioning was developed by B.F. Skinner and is known asRadical Behaviorism. The word ‘operant’ refers to the way in which behavior ‘operates on the environment’. Briefly, a behavior may result either in reinforcement, which increases the likelihood of the behavior recurring, or punishment, which decreases the likelihood of the behavior recurring. It is important to note that, a punishment is not considered to be applicable if it does not result in the reduction of the behavior, and so the terms punishment and reinforcement are determined as a result of the actions. Within this framework, behaviorists are particularly interested in measurable changes in behavior.
Educational approaches such as applied behavior analysis, curriculum based measurement, and direct instruction have emerged from this model.[1]


The earliest challenge to the behaviorists came in a publication in 1929 by Bode, a gestalt psychologist. He criticized behaviorists for being too dependent on overt behavior to explain learning. Gestalt psychologists proposed looking at the patterns rather than isolated events. Gestalt views of learning have been incorporated into what have come to be labeled cognitive theories. Two key assumptions underlie this cognitive approach: (1) that the memory system is an active organized processor of information and (2) that prior knowledge plays an important role in learning. Cognitive theories look beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning. Cognitivists consider how human memory works to promote learning. For example, the physiological processes of sorting and encoding information and events into short term memory and long term memory are important to educators working under the cognitive theory. The major difference between gestaltists and behaviorists is the locus of control over the learning activity: the individual learner is more key to gestaltists than the environment that behaviorists emphasize.
Once memory theories like the Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model and Baddeley's working memory model were established as a theoretical framework in cognitive psychology, new cognitive frameworks of learning began to emerge during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Today, researchers are concentrating on topics like cognitive load and information processing theory. These theories of learning play a role in influencing instructional design.[citation needed] Aspects of cognitivism can be found in learning how to learn, social role acquisition, intelligence, learning, and memory as related to age.


Constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts based upon current and past knowledge or experience. In other words, "learning involves constructing one's own knowledge from one's own experiences." Constructivist learning, therefore, is a very personal endeavor, whereby internalized concepts, rules, and general principles may consequently be applied in a practical real-world context. This is also known as social constructivism (see social constructivism). Social constructivists posit that knowledge is constructed when individuals engage socially in talk and activity about shared problems or tasks. Learning is seen as the process by which individuals are introduced to a culture by more skilled members"(Driver et al., 1994) Constructivism itself has many variations, such as Active learningdiscovery learning, and knowledge building. Regardless of the variety, constructivism promotes a student's free exploration within a given framework or structure.[citation needed]The teacher acts as a facilitator who encourages students to discover principles for themselves and to construct knowledge by working to solve realistic problems. Aspects of constructivism can be found in self-directed learning, transformational learning, experiential learning, situated cognition, and reflective practice and religious practice