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Our educational philosophy is built on the foundation of the Constructivist Theory– empowering students to take command of their learning as active participants rather than passive observers.

Constructivist Theory

Constructivism is a broad theory that covers how people know things (understanding/ideation) and how they come to know things (teaching/learning).

It is the central concept of our pedagogical philosophy. Constructivism is not the latest educational buzzword– its origins date back to the writings of the philosopher Karl Popper (1972), and even further back to Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1952).

Constructivism describes knowledge as “temporary, developmental, nonobjective, internally constructed, and socially and culturally regulated” (Fosnot, 1996). In Constructivism, learning is a self-regulated struggle between existing personal models of the world and conflicting new insights that derive from interactions with real-world phenomena. This combination leads to the active construction of new representations of reality using culturally developed tools and symbols and mediated by social activity, discourse, and debate.

Constructivism is not a teaching method or technique, but it suggests a different approach to teaching than traditional methods. The constructivist teacher rejects the idea that a teacher can pass on an exact copy of their understanding to students or that whole concepts can be broken down into discrete sub-skills and smaller concepts that can be taught out of context.

The constructivist view of learning is that learners are provided opportunities for concrete, contextually meaningful interactions with phenomena through which they can search for patterns, raise their own questions, and construct their own models, concepts, and strategies. The constructive classroom is a community of learners engaged in active exploration, discourse, and reflection.

Constructivism in the Classroom

Learning is not the result of development, learning is development. Learners need to raise their own questions, generate their own hypotheses, and test them for viability.

Disequilibrium facilitates learning. Errors should not be minimized or avoided, but utilized to challenge learners, through open-ended investigations and meaningful contexts, to reexamine their conceptualizations and modify them when necessary.

Reflective abstraction drives learning. Dialogue within a community of learners generates further thinking.

Balanced Constructivist Learning

Let's take a closer look at the attendant theories paired with Constructivism to provide a balanced approach to learning.

In situated cognition, thinking and learning take place in and are inextricably tied to physical, social, and cultural situations. This notion plays an important role in how we create meaningful contexts in which learners explore real-world phenomena. 

If a learner’s understanding is tied inextricably to the situation in which they developed that understanding, then a delicate balance is required to create experiences that have meaning to the learner and their current understanding, but that are also generic enough that the learner can extrapolate and apply that understanding to new situations, including particularly those that are more in line with the understanding of scientists.

Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) wrote of a distinction between what he called spontaneous concepts and scientific concepts. For him, spontaneous concepts are the rudimentary, non-systematic concepts that develop in the minds of learners, particularly children, through perceived experiences. Scientific concepts, on the other hand, are culturally agreed upon concepts that are systematically organized and transmitted. Vygotsky saw scientific concepts as providing structures for the upward development of spontaneous concepts while, at the same time, spontaneous concepts create the structures necessary for upward development into scientific concepts.

At the heart of activity theory is the idea that consciousness and activity are inextricably linked (Kaptelinin, 1996). Every human activity has two aspects. The first aspect is the interactions with the objective world and the second aspect is the conscious activities that are a part of those interactions. The two aspects cannot be separated. Instead of accepting the traditional notion that thought precedes action, the position of activity theory is that consciousness develops from and comes into being only as a result of interactions between humans and their environment. (Jonassen, & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999).

Activity theory derives from constructivism with its notion that knowledge is constructed by the learner. It simply focuses more on the activities the learner is engaged in and insists that learning is an active process of construction and not the passive reception of knowledge.

Experiential learning emphasizes the importance of experience in constructing knowledge. Kolb (2014) is usually mentioned as the major progenitor for the concept, although John Dewey’s notion of experience and Malcom Knowles’ andragogy are also foundational (Knowles, 2002). Real-life, practice-based experiences in authentic workplaces are considered drivers for relevant teaching and learning.

The term anchored learning was introduced by the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1990) to describe a concept related not only to  situated cognition, but also to authentic learning, and experiential learning.

The concept is not a new one and was described by Whitehead (1929) as the problem of inert knowledge, the phenomenon in which knowledge and skills learned in one context are not spontaneously used in a new context even though they would be useful. Cognitive studies on learning transfer suggest that concepts acquired in a single context often remain coupled to that context, and are not readily transferred and accessed in other problem solving situations. 

Social constructivism is simply an adjunct of constructivism that emphasizes the importance of the social contexts of learning and the extent to which knowledge is derived through collaboration with other learners. Social constructivism posits that learner construction of knowledge is the product of social interaction, interpretation and understanding (Vygotsky, 1962).

As Heylighen (1993) explains, social constructivism suggests that a learner’s most fundamental criterion for judging the truth of any new knowledge is consensus of their peer group. New constructions of knowledge are not based solely on perceived evidence, but, ultimately on whether or not one’s community of learners agrees on the veracity and interpretation of that evidence. The obvious conclusion is that learners must be provided access to  social elements of learning that support the construction of accurate understanding (Hein, 1991).

Additionally, because social interactions are mediated through language, the fundamental importance of communication in the construction of understanding before it can be internalized cannot be overemphasized.  Before knowledge becomes personal, it is mediated through exchanges with others  (Daniels, 2001). Additionally, research provides strong evidence that one of the most powerful contributions of these exchanges is the introduction of contrasting ideas (Howe, 2014).

STEMscopes Layered Approach

We believe doing is the best form of learning. That’s why we follow a layered approach to classroom instruction. These are the research-backed, tried-and-true inspirations to our framework that are at the heart of every STEMscopes lesson.

Based on the theoretical foundation of pedagogy described above, we have derived our Guiding Principles of Best Practice.


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Fosnot, C. T., & Perry, R. S. (1996). Constructivism: A psychological theory of learning. Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice, 2(1), 8-33.

Hein, G. E. (1991) Constructivist learning theory, the museum and the needs of people, paper presented at CECA (International Committee of Museum Educators) Conference, Jerusalem, Israel, 15–22 October.

Heylighen, F. (1993) Epistemology: introduction, Principia Cybernetica. Available online at: http://www.pespmc.vub.ac.be/EPISTEMI.html (accessed 2 March 2004).

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Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT press.

McDonald, S. P., & Kelly, G. J. (2012). Beyond argumentation: Sense-making discourse in the science classroom. In Perspectives on scientific argumentation (pp. 265-281). Springer, Dordrecht.

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Popper, Κ. R. 1972. Objective knowledge: An evo/utionary approach. Oxford :Oxford University Press.

Perret-Clermont, A.-N. (1980). Social interaction and cognitive development in children. London: Academic Press.

The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1990). Anchored Instruction and Relationship to Situated Cognition. Educational Researcher, 19, 2-10.http://0-edr.sagepub.com.library.alliant.edu/content/19/6/2.full.pdf 

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962) Thought and language (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press).

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind and society: the development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Whitehead, A. N. (1929). The aims of education. New York: MacMillan