Thursday, November 24, 2011


Constructionist view learning as an internal process that occurs when students build external artifacts (Laureate Education Inc., 2010).  Students build an object (an artifact) in the learning process.  While they are building, they assimilate and accommodate their schemas so they can move toward equilibration (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010).  In doing this, students are active in the learning process.  The teacher will only act as a facilitator.

Technology can be a tremendous advantage to this type of learning.  As we saw in Ch 11 of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, Mrs. Omar’s 5th grade class learned about investing money and which model works best.  They did not have to spend a great deal of time working out high school math problems in the process.  The spreadsheet she had her students use computed the numbers for them.  This allowed them to accomplish the teacher’s objectives without getting bogged down in mathematical computations.

Using data collection tools is another use of technology to accomplish learning in Constructionism.  Using sensors and data collection probes, allows students to find data, and be able to plot the data accurately and quickly.  This allows students more time to analyze the data.  From here, the teacher can expand the lesson to include additional thought-provoking questions.

In my physics classes, we use Vernier’s LabPros and data collection equipment.  Students like it because it allows them to analyze the data without worrying about drawing the graphs.  The graphs are already drawn.  When students look at the graphs and various points on the graph, they usually are able to identify what it is I want them to see.  One example is a walking activity.  Students can see how velocity and acceleration work together.  This also helps them to see what is meant by negative velocity and/or negative acceleration.  This is a topic that many students find difficult to overcome.

Many of the problem-based learning classes can get caught up in “little issues”.  An example would be the graphs mentioned earlier.  When these “little issues” are resolved, students can focus on the real task at hand. 

Tim Trotta

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2004). Constructionist vs. Constructivist Learning Theories [DVD]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cognitive Learning Practices - Week 3

This week’s learning resources address how our brain processes information, and how educators can use this information to facilitate student learning.  Much of the information relates to how students can transfer information/data to their short-term memories, and then to their long-term memories.  When students make a meaningful relationship with this storage system, they will be better able to retrieve this information when needed.  As Dr. Orey states in his video, it is not that students forgot a fact; it is students forgot how to retrieve that fact.
Howard Pitler addresses cues, questions, and advance organizers as a strategy to help students in this endeavor of retrieving information.  Cues and questions are similar in that they attempt to trigger something in students’ memories to allow them to retrieve the needed information.  An example would be a teacher trying to help a student remember when Christopher Columbus discovered America.  The teacher might say, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” and let the student finish with the correct answer.  In my AP Physics class today, I helped my students memorize formulas for the moment of inertia of a rotating object.  I related a long rod rotated about one of its ends to a baseball bat. Its inertia formula is 1/3 ML2.  A baseball player swings a 1/3 ML2 rod.  Now when a student forgets the moment of inertia of a rod rotated about its end, I could ask him about the baseball player.  This question strategy is similar to a cue in that it will trigger the retrieval of information. 

Advance organizers help with memory as well, but in a different way.  Advance organizers can help students classify information in an attempt to keep information organized.  In this way, students can make better sense of large amounts of information.  When students can keep this information straight, and have a better understanding of the meaning of the information, there is a better chance of retrieval of this information when needed.  I have been using a graphic organizer for years in my physics classes.  Students are required to have a column for all the given information in a problem.  They are also required to have a column for the information they need to find.  They must also start solving the assigned problem with an equation.  In requiring students to use this advance organizer, they are able to stay more organized throughout their solving of the problem.  Even though students do not like to do this because they feel it is quicker to just “do the work in my head,” students will need the organization skills when solving more complex problems involving multiple unknown variables.  These problems cannot be solved in their heads as they will need to use multiple equations to solve problems with multiple unknowns.  When students have to solve a type of problem they have not seen recently, using the graphic organizer will help them stay organized and remind them of the process used.

There are many advance organizers students may use.  Many of them involve the use of technology.  Word processing and spreadsheet software allows students to take notes.  Many of my current students use these applications regularly with success.  There are also online organizers.  Kidspiration and Inspiration are two that are mentioned in our text.  While I have not used them, they appear to be easy to use and extremely helpful.  The additional benefit of using technology is that students have grown up using these tools.  Students tend to prefer using computer applications over traditional tools, such as paper and pencil.  When students use these tools, there is a better chance the information they are processing will enter both the short-term and long-term memory locations in their brains.

The other strategy in our text that we studied this week is “Summarizing and Note Taking.”  This is a skill that almost all students need to practice.  Even my “cream of the crop” students do not understand how to take notes or to summarize.  This is a skill that must be practiced.  Many students are afraid if they delete a piece of information, it will not be in their notes when they need it.  I am constantly working with students with their note-taking skills.  While I feel like some progress is being made, I feel I could use more advance organizers to allow students to take better notes.

Concept mapping is another tool presented.  Using this strategy, students are able to organize information.  The concept map allows students to rearrange various nodes of information to a format that suits each learner.  Software tools can also take the concept map and export it into an outline.  I have not used these in the past, but I certainly feel like it is something I can implement into my classes. 

Virtual field trips are another strategy used by teachers.  Field trips are valuable experienced if properly planned out.  Students can perform more hands-on tasks on a field trip.  Unfortunately, logistics prevent students from taking many field trips throughout the year.  A virtual field trip can provide many of the same benefits.  I have been taking my physics students to an amusement park at the end of the year.  While it is a fun trip, students are expected to collect data and solve physics problems as they relate to the rides.  With many students playing spring sports, it is very difficult to have everyone attend the trip.  For these students, and other students who do not wish to pay to attend the field trip, students can take a virtual field trip.  Youtube has many attractions from amusement parks all over the United States.  Virtual field trips put students in a real-life situation without actually going there.  Students tend to find these more interesting, and will make learning meaningful on these virtual field trips.  This in turn, will allow greater retrieval of information when it is needed due to the associations students are able to make.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Behaviorist Theory - Week 2

During week 2, we read about two different instructional strategies, “Reinforcing effort” and “Homework and Practice.”  Both strategies use the behaviorist theory of learning to achieve the desired result from the student.  The behaviorist learning theory uses two methods to achieve conditioned responses, reinforcement and punishment (Laureate Education, Inc.  2010).  According to Dr. Michael Orey, reinforcement is the preferred way to go.  While punishment works, reinforcement has a much greater impact on behavior.  Students should see their positive accomplishments be rewarded (reinforced).  In this way, they will show they are learning something.

In the “reinforcing effect” strategy, students are learning about the relationship between effort and achievement.  This seems to be such common sense that we do not need to elaborate on it.  However, research indicates that not all students recognize this relationship (Pitler 2007).  Students need to be taught the value of work.  By showing the students Ms. Powell’s rubric, student have the opportunity to see what the teacher is looking for in students.  Students can also see what behaviors to avoid, such as only studying for a test on the previous night.  By using the spreadsheet idea, students are learning how to collect date, organize data, and create graphs, in addition to understanding how effort impacts achievement.  The calculation and graphs are easy to develop using the spreadsheet.  This makes seeing the results that much easier.  Students who had to make the graphs using paper and pencil may get frustrated that they never see the correlation between effort and achievement due to not completing the graph adequately.

In the “homework and practice” strategy, students have the opportunity to review the newly acquired material.  Practicing this material will strengthen students’ knowledge of concepts.  Pitler recommends giving homework with a clearly articulated purpose and outcome.  He also recommends teachers should also provide feedback as quickly as possible.  By providing this feedback, student work can be reinforced or corrected more efficiently.  Technology can enhance this experience.  There are many online application that provide practice problems with instant feedback.  There are also many applications which can help with the reinforcement of skills.  These include word processing and spreadsheet applications, multimedia, web resources, and communication software (Pitler 2007).  The communication software is being more influential as today’s technology grows.  GoogleDocs is a common communication application which helps to organize information from several students.

The behaviorist learning theory allows for building up students using reinforcement.  Two strategies using this learning theory were examined.  Technology can help in several ways.  As technology develops, there will be even more ways for to reinforce positive student work.
Tim Trotta