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Constructionist learning

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Constructionism (in the context of learning) is the idea that people learn effectively through making things. Constructionism is connected with experiential learning and builds on some of the ideas of Jean Piaget.

As Seymour Papert and Idit Harel say at the start of Situating Constructionism, "It is easy enough to formulate simple catchy versions of the idea of constructionism; for example, thinking of it as 'learning-by-making'. One purpose of this introductory chapter is to orient the reader toward using the diversity in the volume to elaborate—to construct—a sense of constructionism much richer and more multifaceted, and very much deeper in its implications, than could be conveyed by any such formula."

Papert has been a huge proponent of bringing IT to classrooms, as in his early uses of the Logo language to teach mathematics to children. Constructionist learning involves students drawing their own conclusions through creative experimentation and the making of social objects. The constructionist teacher takes on a mediational role rather than adopting an instructionist position. Front of class teaching "at" students is replaced by assisting them to understand—and help one another to understand—problems in a hands-on way.

While constructionism has, due to its impetus, been primarily used in science and mathematics teaching to date, it is arguable that it developed in a differerent form in the field of media studies in which students often engage with media theory and practice simultaneously, in a complementary praxis. More recently it has gained a foot hold in Applied linguistics, in the field of second language acquisition (or SLA). One such application has been the use of the popular game SimCity as a means of teaching English using constructionist techniques (Gromik:2004).

David Gauntlett's ArtLab project has also put constructionism to use in considering new ways to conduct what might traditionally be called media audience research. The ArtLab project involves the subjects of research actively creating (largely) visual objects, which are later elaborated on by their creators. This forms a radical break with the logocentric bias in previous audience research.

No account of constructionist learning would be complete without reference to Lego, which has played its role in constructionism at least as far back as Papert's Mindstorms project and continues to do so in board rooms across the globe, where the Serious Play project has business people learning to express corporate issues and identity through the medium of plastic bricks.

In 2005, Papert, together with Nicholas Negroponte and Alan Kay launched the One Laptop Per Child initiative to put constructionist learning into practice in the developing world. The aim is to provide $100 laptops to every child in the developing world.

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