Sunday, March 05, 2006

May Papert's constructionism become more widely understood

I've noticed Bill Kerr's blogging getting sharper and more critical of late. I'm enjoying the odd attack he launches, backed up with some very useful links and resources. If ever I get to build a faculty, Bill is on my list.

This time Bill has posted about Seymour Papert, refering to his book Mindstorms and his learning theory constructionism - not constructivism!
I don't see much correlation at all between those ideas and the politically correct nonsense that passes as social constructivist top down curriculum reform over the past few years. In my opinion the whole idea of promoting constructivism in a top down fashion through curriculum statements imposed by a hierarchy are farcical and doomed to failure. Papert was always against centrally imposed curriculum arising out of his basic analysis of how a "society of mind" evolved in each individual.
Like Bill, I wish more people in education refered to Papert. When I was in teacher training I nearly failed a subject for using constructionism (it wasn't, and as far as I know, still isn't in the training curriculum of NSW teachers), my lecturer thought I meant to say constructivism. Likewise, when I have sat for interviews and when asked what theories I subscribe to, I have to correct people when they think I mean constructivism when I mean constructionism.

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3 comments:

Bill Kerr said...

That reminds me of a story from a programmer friend who was asked what design technique he preferred at a job interview - he replied, "extreme programming" (a well established design method)- and noticed some reserve coming back at the use of the word, "extreme" - since then when asked the same question he responds, "agile programming" - it means the same thing but is more acceptable to those in charge :-)

Leigh Blackall said...

:) I haven't heard of extreme programming before, but thanks to you and wikipedia have learned what it is and respect it.

Its a shame how name sakes prejudice affects so much of what we do. I would say the name blog has had quite an impact on its formal uptake - hence the renaming to web journal, ePortfolios and the like..

This would be the same for many FLOSS projects like GIMP and Audacity...

Steve Dillon said...

Papert's notions of Constructionism have been a large part of my own approach to teaching music and music education using generative technologies. The curriculum problem it seems is political. Top down approaches provide accountability and control over access. Access and control are key issues in a world where education is seen as a vehicle for social change. Ask any elementary/primary school principal how they are required to respond to every issue of potential risk by creating a specific education program and you get the problem ie Bicycle safety, dangers of internet stalking etc.

Constructionist teachers are transformative educators and they have to be confident in knowing that through the ontologically focused activity they design for children they can achieve a result that will reach or exceed curriculum outcomes. These kinds of teachers are rarer than you may think and this approach is personality dependent.

I have recently been part of some research that compared teachers like this in four countries and the suprising congruence across the countries was found in the teachers ability to both be 'human'- show humanity and to recognise the child's humanity. Once the teacher and student share that relationship contructionism is a matter 'taking the child into a selection of the teachers life as a human being (Mathamatician/ artist/Musician).

This is harder to do and maintain than projecting and being the image of a teacher who is fair and knowledgeable and simply delivers the top down curriculum. I don't think we train teachers to be like this nor do we support them in schools. After 20 years of teaching music teachers I have still seen only 10% who can maintain that approach. The secret I believe is in the leadership in schools- if the principal or head of studies does not support and encourage this approach and favours access and control over educational growth then even this 10% will cease teaching.

The problem lies then in the leadership area and constructionism as an approach has more opportunity to grow and spread when institutionally supported. We need to be able to make an argument that this works and show clear ways of structuring it so that access and control risk issues are solved. Interestingly whenever we work with computers this is possible. Even in my world of generative algorithms which is about improvisation the perceived chaos of learning is immediately framed and controlled by the computer environment. There is hope we just need to reframe our argument.