The Practice of Constructivism in Science Education

By Kenneth Tobin | Go to book overview

3
The Construction of Knowledge: A Radical Constructivist View

Antonio Bettencourt

Expressions like "constructivism," "construction of knowledge," "learners construct meaning," and similar ones are starting to become part of the language of science education. We are liable to hear them in professional meetings or inservice workshops and to read them in articles in the professional journals. As the term constructivism becomes more widespread, different people tend to use it with slightly different meanings, and some use it in a loose way to designate a complex of different pedagogical, psychological, or philosophical tendencies. (The ideas about constructivism explained in this chapter are in no way to be taken as an attempt to define the "orthodoxy" of constructivism. Consistent with a constructivist view, they are simply a model of what it means to know. The claim of this model is to be a viable view of knowledge. This chapter aims at presenting the model and exploring from there some relations with teaching and learning of science.) These tendencies seem to have in common the central assumption that all we come to know is our own construction.

This position seems, at first, to be fairly common-sensical, given that it is difficult to conceive that the world could enter our minds intact and in one piece. We must, therefore, assume that to know is, in some sense, to transform the object of knowledge. The purposes, processes, and results of that transformation are the subject matter of constructivism.

To begin with, constructivism is a theory of knowledge. This means that it involves a conception of the knower, a conception of the known, and a conception of the relation of knower-known. If we agree that learning has to do with the growth of knowledge and that science is knowledge about certain domains of experience, then constructivism has relations with learning and teaching, and with science.

Different meanings can be given to the expression "construction of knowledge." Some of them take the term construction to more extreme consequences than others. This chapter starts by detailing a radical constructivist view of knowing, then explores some of the possible relations between this view and the teaching-learning process in the science classroom.

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