Constructivist Celebration Takeaways

Constructivist Celebration - Playing with the XO Laptop

It has taken quite awhile for me to really piece together my experience at NECC. I’ll be honest, I’ll still be piecing it together for sometime to come. I went into the conference expecting to meet new people and meet face to face with those I’ve connected with on-line over the past year or two. Both happened and the discussions that took place taught me a good deal and confirmed some of my beliefs as well.

However, what has been bouncing around in my head the past few days is my experience at the Constructivist Celebration put together by Gary Stager and the Constructivist Consortium. Here are a few takeaways from Sunday’s experience that made me look a bit differently at the sessions I chose to attend and the conversations that took place throughout the conference.

Real and authentic learning in a digital world may be more important than ever
There’s a lot of talk out there. Since
learning is doing, I’d personally like to see more students blogging about what they are doing, rather than what they are studying. Simply blogging or creating a wiki about a concept or topic does not prove that a student understands or is able to do anything.

The right brain, left brain war of signifigance is bogus
The interplay within the brain’s hemisphere’s is what it’s really all about. Creativity and logic can co-exist.

Open-ended Software
Most computer software available is not truly educational or built on learning theories. Open-ended programs such as the Inspiration series, Microworlds, Tech4Learning‘s programs, Scratch, Starlogo TNG, etc. allow users (this includes educators, parents and administrators) to create from a blank page.

“A good prompt is worth 1000 words”
When Gary Stager shared this point in his opening talk it reminded me of my graduate studies grounded in constructivist theory. The Constructivist theory is not solely about programming.
Constructing one’s own knowledge and skills is very personal learning as it engages emotions through doing rather than listening or simply sharing what is learned.I learned during that work that asking questions is an essential skill for teaching and learning. We must learn to communicate with our students in ways that get them thinking rather than regurgitating.

You really have to care about kids. Really.

Peter Reynolds spoke about an experience where a student reflected on how a teacher “noticed me”. Students see right through superficial “care” and the way we care for students needs to be more then just protecting them on-line or in the physical setting. Konrad and I spoke about this as well in regards to how he interacts with students in the hallway. He comments to students in the hall about their work, progress or a thought shared in class. Small signs of caring add up to a lot.

If you can’t do something well, do it well-ish
Peter Reynolds wrote a book called ish that gets at the idea that we don’t have to be experts at everything. He described this by talking about a drawing of a tree. If you can’t draw a tree draw it tree-ish. We’ve made the word “fail” too negative and halting. Learning is a process, we try things and they don’t always come out “right” the first time, we must be okay with working through stumbles.

Time to play is important
Thanks to Bud Hunt, Scott Swanson and April-Hope for the play time with the XO laptops during the day. While mine wasn’t working well at the time due to some updates needed, these three folks allowed me to play and learn from them. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make the Birds of a Feather session due to other conflicts, but I’m sure more playing and learning will go on after connecting with them here. We don’t allow ourselves to “play” with the concepts or skills that we teach and I think it’s critical that we do from time to time to remind us what it’s like to really learn.

I welcome your thoughts and push-back to further my reflection and learning here.

7 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Brian,

    There are two aspects of this post that jumped out at me. The first was the quote from Gary, “A good prompt is worth 1000 words”. This is still something I struggle with in my classes -wording a really good prompt that is open-ended enough to let the learners explore and isn’t so ambiguous that they don’t understand the question.

    The second was the idea of doing it well-ish. Too many people see failure in not doing something perfectly the first time. One of my goals for next year is to do a better job at cultivating a classroom environment where a “mistake” is an opportunity to examine thinking and extend it.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts.

  2. JackieB, questioning and prompting is so very important. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Open-ended prompts along with allowing students to work through their own questions that result from our prompts. Too many times educators want to get to the “right” answer and to “cover” more content without allowing students to discover understanding themselves.

    Failure gets the short stick sometimes. I know I won’t write the best blog posts and I will also fail to write sometimes when I should, but I will keep at it as I know it’s important to my own learning. Perseverance should be a basic principle students should master early on in their education, right along with learning how to learn.

  3. JackieB, I must agree, that one statement about a good prompt sticks out to me as well. It is very tough to learn how to “allow students to discover understanding themselves” as Brian mentions above. As a high school math teacher, I always asked them to use good “mathish” and wanted to see HOW they got to their answer(s). Early on, not only did I have wait time, but I’m sure just gave them the answer, then wanted them to regurgitate the info. The OpenSource “Birds of a Feather” workshop was one of the other sessions I wish I could’ve made. Next year, I’ll be more focused. Thanks for all of your help this year. Great blog post on your NECC thoughts.

  4. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Gary at a few events we’ve held here at CA BOCES. The notion of “a good prompt is worth 1,000 words” is something he said several years ago, and I continue to believe in the power behind it.

    What’s interesting, JackieB, is that in many of the prompts Gary shared as examples don’t fumble over words at all. Instead, they seem to leave a lot of words out and this leads to a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. Sometimes a prompt that is too loaded with words is also too loaded with rules, and that can stifle creativity and invention.

    Gary was working with us on programmable brick (Lego), and some of his prompts were “Build a machine that can blow bubbles,” or “Build a machine that can hit a baseball.” There is nothing in the prompt stating HOW these things are to be done, just that they are to be done. The possibilities are endless and multiple interpretations led to very innovative results.

    I love the good prompt quote, and am now mulling over the idea of “ish.”

  5. That’s exactly the type of prompt about which I’m talking TClark! It takes a while for my freshmen to get used to this. Alas, I’m not working with LEGO, but good prompts can be used in any curriculum that allows/expects exploration. Their responses to open ended questions allows me to “see” their thinking and also allows the class to go in the direction in needs to based upon the students’ understanding.

    I’d love to attend one of Gary’s sessions. I just started reading Mindstorms… it has me thinking/questioning quite a bit.

    Sorry if I’ve hijacked your comments here Brian. What a great post!

  6. JackieB, one of the most difficulty things I’ve seen about these prompts is that kids have been trained not to know how to respond to them.

    Sounds like you’re looking for ways to engage them, but it may take some handholding at first. They’re not always used to thinking this way, but as teachers we can teach thinking just like we can teach content.

    Glad to see that you value thinking. 🙂

  7. JackieB, no worries! That’s what it’s here for. Thanks for engaging in the discussion.

    I think it’s important to remember to have guiding questions on hand to help students with the “big” prompt or essential question. Good constructivist learning is connected to big ideas or concepts. Using these big concepts and essential questions to lead students to their discovery or guide them back on the right path.

    I recommend reading Papert’s The Children’s Machine as well as

    Tim, thanks for your comments!

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