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Constructionist Learning Theory

This site assumes that the reader is comfortable with constructionist educational principles. For those who would like more background on this, read on.

The essential theory of constructionist learning is that students construct mental models of the world around them, and these are built most effectively by interacting with the world. There are no blank slates. The instructor's job is not to pour knowledge into heads, but to help students build viable mental models. Hence, every student will emerge with a different understanding because every student is different, and that's not only acceptable but unavoidable.

A common way of representing a constructionist teacher is that he or she tries to be a "guide on the side" rather than a "sage on the stage." This philosophy is realized in the Studio-Based Learning model (and others, of course). This does not mean that lectures need to be abandoned, but rather that they serve the grander purpose of equipping students to succeed in building their own mental models. 

In my example course structure, we begin with some tutorials on the basics of App Inventor, tutorials that are essentially modified lectures. Students are familiar with this structure, and leveraging this familiarity is an important part of the course design: the experience is scaffolded to bring students away from dependence on the instructor towards problem-based individual discovery. This scaffolding helps students to transform their generally non-viable preconceptions about software and computing into functional mental models. During the semester, the instructor provides the support and feedback necessary to help them revise these mental models to be more like an expert's model, so that new concepts can be quickly added to the model and their utility made apparent. More concretely, this is done by App Inventor for Android features and Computer Science concepts. Early features are introduced slowly and with much repetition, but as the students gain more understanding and get better at gaining that understanding, additional features and ideas can be learned more quickly.

For more reading on the science of teaching and learning, I recommend How People Learn.
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