Constructivism: A Prospective Teacher's Perspective: Sheree Carpenter Presents a Prospective Teacher's View of the Implications Constructivism Has for Classroom Teachers. Her Perceptions Provide a Practical Guide for Those Seeking to Make Sense of the Term 'Constructivism'

By Carpenter, Sheree | Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Constructivism: A Prospective Teacher's Perspective: Sheree Carpenter Presents a Prospective Teacher's View of the Implications Constructivism Has for Classroom Teachers. Her Perceptions Provide a Practical Guide for Those Seeking to Make Sense of the Term 'Constructivism'


Carpenter, Sheree, Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom


Introduction

A question commonly asked of teachers today is, 'How do you believe students learn?' No matter what theory or theories a teacher might espouse, it is their belief about how children learn that will ultimately determine how they teach, and what the students will do during lesson time.

Think for a moment about a classroom based on constructivism:

* What would it look like?

* What would the teacher be doing? Saying? Teaching?

* What would the students be doing?

* What types of thinking would be taking place?

While the theory of constructivism is not new, it has certain implications for teachers and students that are not often made explicit. This article aims to provide a number of implications that constructivism has for teachers and students, rather than addressing why this theory should or should not be implemented in the classroom.

What is constructivism?

Constructivism has been described in many ways by a number of authors. Basically it refers to a group of theories about learning that can in turn be used to guide teaching (Appleton, 1997). Teachers who have adopted these theories believe that children construct their own mathematical knowledge, rather than receiving it in finished form from the teacher or the textbook. So, rather than simply accepting new information, students interpret what they see, hear, or do in relation to what they already know (Reys, Suydam, Linquist, & Smith, 1998).

Implications for teachers

Constructivism has many implications for teachers. Whilst the theory does not state what needs to be taught, it can inform teaching practices (Appleton, 1997). When focusing on student learning, a teacher's role can become more indirect and difficult, compared to more traditional and transmissive methods of teaching (Hendry, 1996). Focussing on students' thinking rather than on correct answers enables teachers to encourage thinking processes that might otherwise be overlooked.

Talking about learning in social settings

The role of the teacher in a constructivist driven class is to ensure that many opportunities exist for students to talk about their learning. By maximising social interaction between learners, and providing sensory experiences, students learning will be enhanced (Tobin & Imwold, 1993). Consequently, it is important to encourage discussions between the students, as it is possible they perceive ideas in similar ways. While discussions are important in small groups, whole class discussions are another way to encourage students to share their thoughts regarding mathematical ideas (Wood, 1993). This provides opportunities for students to indicate what they already know and understand about topics, whilst revealing any misconceptions that students might have. As a result, active participation is a vital part of the learning process with a constructivist driven classroom.

There are a number of other things that teachers can do when practicing this theory in the classroom. By setting problem-centred activities students are aiming to solve situations whilst learning mathematics (Wood, 1993).

The use of concrete and manipulative materials can also help students learn as they become actively involved in the learning process. Likewise, open-ended questions will encourage students to investigate the activities they are looking at. Students' questions need to drive lessons, as they are more likely to construct ideas when this occurs. Studies show that 'wait time' after questions plays an important role for the learner. This allows students to think through their own answers instead of jumping and trying to guess the answer in teacher's head.

When providing a number of opportunities for students to represent their knowledge, teachers are encouraging students once again to represent and construct their ideas (Tobin & Imwold, 1993). …

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