Thursday, May 31, 2012


This was my first ever VoiceThread, and I must say - I definitely see the worth in this website.  I pieced together part of a lesson that I have created for my students, asking them to make connections between a series of maps given.  We spend a lot of time on sub-Saharan Africa, and ask them to make connections between poverty, birthrate, and vegetation. 
As I get much more comfortable, I definitely will fine-tune the VoiceThread itself.  However, I am very excited about using this in my classroom in the very near future.

Connectivism and Social Learning in Practice

This week, we were introduced to the learning theory of social constructivism.  Going into this week, I fully expected a challenge with this theory.  Previous learning theories such as behaviorism and cognitivism I had heard of, and even knowingly implemented them into my classroom.  Social constructivism however, I had never heard of before this course.  I did not have any prior knowledge to its central components, its core strategies, or any of the founders of this theory.  Not having any prior knowledge of a topic can indeed be intimidating to a learner at any age, and I felt a lot like many of my students must when I introduce a new topic to them.  However, after researching social constructivism this week, I have found that I unknowingly subscribe to many components of this theory and employ many of them in my daily practice.

In essence, the theory of social constructionism/social constructivism is that students learn when they are actively engaged in constructing artifacts and conversing with others (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Dr. Michael Orey described this process very efficiently to me this week, and I definitely feel as though I consistently use it in my classroom.  One part of social constructionism that I certainly use often in my classroom often is the idea of cooperative learning.  In a cooperative learning group, students are responsible for learning information and teaching it to their teammates (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).   In essence, cooperative learning is not so much learning to cooperate as it is cooperating to learn (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p 143).  Students may complain about working in a group with specific partners, but ultimately they will get out of the lesson what they put into it.  The student becomes directly responsible for their education, and the teacher serves to guide them through that content.  I completely agree with Dr. Orey in that when a person teaches others, then that helps the learner develop a deeper understanding of the content that was presented (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). 

It is important that when teachers are designing cooperative learning groups that they use a variety of criteria to group all students (Pitler et. al, 2007, p 140).  Some students are better suited in particular roles in a group, and may struggle if they are not in roles that best suit their individual needs.  The difficulty with designing these types of lessons is that it takes a lot of time to get to know how students work.  Many educators are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to devote the time necessary to get to know the learning styles of each of their students.  This task may indeed be daunting, but there are ways to do this without completely revamping a teaching style that has taken years to develop.  One way to do this is by combining cooperative learning with other classroom structures (Pitler, et al., 2007).  One way that I do this is by having students read core texts in cooperative groups.  As a teacher, I can still guide the lesson when necessary, and I can interject points into the reading as I am walking around the classroom.  Students will usually read the topic together and summarize the information, thus sharing previous knowledge and different skills together.  There are many of my students who do not enjoy the cooperative groups, as many learners prefer to construct meaning on their own.  However, I strongly believe that these types of groups are for the betterment of all students, and they construct their own meanings.

Cooperative learning can certainly be effective through group learning such as described above, but technological tools can enhance the construction of knowledge. The creation and use of blogs, wikis, and podcasts are all ways to engage our students in cooperative groups while integrating technology.  My social studies curriculum allows for me to be extremely creative with the integration of technology into my class.  It allows for opportunities in the technological world that others may not.   We discuss world cultures and global topics, and modern technology allows for information to be passed globally with one click of the mouse.  

As we read this week in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, “communication with students from other cities, states, and countries broadens the perspective of students and challenges them to learn about other cultures, languages, and issues throughout the world” (Pitler, et al. 2007, p 145).  Newer technologies allows for this to happen much easier.  For my first 8 years of teaching in my district, I have had my students writing a pen pal letter to a 'student' from another culture.  Students may watch a film on another culture and be curious as to some of the nuances of that culture, and want to ask questions so I allow for them to be creative.  However, students do not get much in the way of TRUE feedback to their questions.  I answer them, and may not be able to construct true knowledge for the student.  This week, we were introduced to the website  This site allows for students to connect with classrooms all over the globe.  As a teacher of world cultures and social studies, this tool is very exciting for the next school year.  I am very eager to try it out with my students, and develop lessons surrounding the site. 

New and exciting tools like this allow for students to converse with one another, and to create meaning to a broad range of topics.  I definitely love to use cooperative learning in my classroom, and believe that the above activities are directly influenced by social constructivist/constructionist theory.  Now that I know this to be true, I completely subscribe to this learning theory and actively employ it in my classroom


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Constructivism in Practice

Going into the resources for this week, I truly could not make the distinction between constructivism and constructionism.  Dating back to the first time I heard of these theories, I distinctly remember not being able to tell them apart.  I am unsure as to why, whether it was the way it was taught to me, my inability to grasp the concept, or I simply could not process the information, I just could not tell the difference between the two.  This week, a few simple words from Dr. Michael Orey made it very clear to me.  Constructivism is the theory that states each learner constructs his or her own learning experiences and own meanings.  Constructionism is the theory that states people learn best when they build an external artifact or something they can share with others (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Dr. Orey then went on to make this perfectly clear to me, in the constructionism revolves around "the learner building stuff" (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Though this may seem like a simplistic way of describing this process, it is certainly very descriptive.  In a constructionist setting, learners are directly involved in building artifacts, and sharing their beliefs with others. 

After I gained a sense of understanding about what these two theories were, it was time to see how they could be used to enhance the learning of my students.  Both constructivism and constructionism do indeed have a place in the classroom, and the learning resources from this week made it clear as to where they can fit into a well planned lesson.  Our classroom reading this week, from Using Technology in the Classroom that Works truly highlighted some ways that constructivism is able to be used in the classroom, notable through the use of spreadsheets.  Spreadsheets are interactive, in that students can manipulate the spreadsheet to help their own learning, they can consider graphical patterns, and they can test their predictions by receiving quick feedback on multiple scenarios (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski, 2007).  Students can use that feedback to help them construct their own understanding of what they have studied. 

While this certainly seems like a worthwhile endeavor, spreadsheets themselves are extremely time consuming, and difficult to set up.  Many more experienced teachers are not as savvy when it comes to many of the newer technologies, and they may feel overwhelmed when setting up a spreadsheet.  Additionally, even if the spreadsheet is set up, many teachers may feel that they do not have the class time to teach the students how to create their spreadsheets.  This is the great thing about this technology.  Once a teacher creates a formula, the student simply needs to input the data, and the formula does the rest.  Students are then able to use class time to use these spreadsheets to learn the content (Pitler, et al. 2007). 

Pitler et. al describe six different processes that help students generate a hypothesis.  They are:  systems analysis, problem solving, historical investigation, invention, experimental inquiry, and decision making (Pitler et. al, 2007).  It is clear to me that when students are involved in the invention process, they are involved in constructivist activity.  If they are inventing, they are clearly creating their own learning process.  As Dr. Orey stated, constructivism is indeed when students constructs his or her own meaning to a topic (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  If a student is involved in any kind of activity that involves creation of meaning to a topic, and I believe that constructivist theory fits this.

However, the same can be said for constructionism.  If a student is creating, or inventing, they are building an external artifact for learning, and they can share that with others (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  In other words, I believe this process can be both constructivist and constructionist.  I also believe that the other five tasks Pitler et. al describe are all constructionist.  Additionally, I believe that these five can fit into the parameters of project-based learning.  As Dr. Orey states, project based learning involves students in the creation of a product or performance, conducting research, and synthesizing information (Orey, 2001).  This sounds quite similar to the chapter from Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, in that investigation, inquiry, decision making, and analysis help students generate hypotheses (Pitler, et al., 2007).  These types of activities are certainly capable of allowing students to use an external artifact to help drive both instruction and learning.

Although I believe that I have a much better understanding of what both constructivist and constructionist theories are, I still feel that I may be overlapping the two.  I do think that the two overlap in some ways, and can certainly be confusing to those who have not studied them.  Still, both theories have a place in the classroom of today, and certainly are driving many modern instructional models.  I would like to think of myself as a constructionist thinker, as in my social studies class I have the students using information (artifacts) to help drive their knowledge.  One thing is for sure, I can certainly better my instruction, and I strongly believe that this course is pushing me to become a much better teacher for my students.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology.

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cognitivism in Practice

Dr. Michael Orey would state that cognitive learning theory is a process that revolves around the model of information processing, which is done in three distinct steps (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  First, the information goes through sensory registers.  What this means is simply that we receive the information.  The second step would be short term memory.  Short term memory, as the name suggests, only allows for information to be held for a short period of time.  Studies have shown that the human brain can hold about seven, plus or minus 2, pieces of information at a time in our short term memory (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  This is why many of us are not able to remember lists that are extremely long.  In order to remember things in more detail, we need to make connections between our short term memory, and the third step which is to make a piece of information a long term memory.  Rehearsal will help to make those connections, and help to make sure that information is retained.

Cognitive learning theory may indeed be a bit difficult to follow, but knowing that there are three distinct ways to create long term memories will certainly help to guide teachers to designing lessons that best suit the needs of all their students.  The first 'network' of information where memories are stored is declarative information.  Declarative information is where facts and other bits of information are stored (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  As Malenoski et. al. discussed in our readings this week, cues and advanced organizers can help students have a clearer sense of what they are going to learn  (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K., 2007).  Giving students an idea of what they are going to be doing during a lesson will also help them to make connections to prior knowledge, which in turn allows for declarative information to be stored.  Even if the content is new, teachers can give advanced organizers to help sutdents understand new content  (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K., 2007).  Whether the information is old or new, students can retain information given to them through technological tools as simple as a PowerPoint presentation.  Information and facts are then stored, and students will be able to access those ideas for future use.

The second 'network' is procedural information.  In this network, we remember how to do things.  Procedures, such as tying your shoe, your drive to work, or the process on how to solve specific equations.  In many ways, the technology that we have used not only for our classroom applications and instructions, but also for our blog posts constitutes procedural information.  We have to know where to go, how to log on, and how to access our grades.  Think about how hard it was for all of us when our school site changed to the new Blackboard model.  The procedure that we used to not only access our information, but also the way we posted that information changed drastically.  We needed to relearn that information.  For me, making the connection between our previous classroom model and the current one was indeed difficult, and certainly tough to master because it deviated from the procedure that we were used to.  In our classrooms themselves, giving the students ideas on how to properly take notes, and gather information can lead to this as well (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K., 2007).  Teaching students through reciprocal methods also shows students a variety of different approaches to gather the information necessary for each lesson.  In order to get that information, students also need to follow procedures, and a good teacher will be able to model that for their students.

The third 'network' involves episodic information and memories. The events of each and every person fit into this network.  We adapt to life through our experiences, and this is true both in school and out of it. The idea of concept mapping is a wonderful way to bring in ideas from the lives of each of the students in the classroom.  Students will be able to share together, brainstorm, and create connections between difficult topics.  Concept mapping can also be used in all other networks, but I believe it certainly fits into this network extremely well.

Finally, the idea of using blogs and wikis can certainly expand on cognitive learning theory. Students are exposed to a vast array of resources and activities well before they have to turn in their finished product, and have ample opportunity to make connections.  These connections are further amplified by the genuine learning experiences that they are having in creating these blogs and/or wikis.  Powerful tools such as a blog are simple to set up, simple to maintain, and can produce significant learning for students.

The more that students are exposed to a variety of teaching approaches, the better chance they have to making connections to prior knowledge.  Technology can certainly expedite the process, or at the very least provide an aid to helping students make those connections. 

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program five: Cognitive learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Behaviorism in Today's Classroom

In the world of education today, the theory of behaviorism has been rendered a bit obsolete.  Popular during the mid 20th century, the theory of behaviorism centers around the belief that humans react a specific way because of a stimulus, and a response to that stimulus.  B.F. Skinner is likely the most famous behaviorist, notable for his introduction of operant conditioning. However, behaviorism has fallen out of favor with many educators, as it is relatively limited in its scope.  Notably, behaviorism does not allow for much higher-order thinking skills.

However, it does appear that there is a small place for behaviorism in the classroom today.  I do not think that the place for behaviorism is large, but there are a few pieces that seem to fit.  Dr. Michael Orey states that operant conditioning has two possible outcomes to behaviors:  punishment for undesirable behaviors, and reward for positive behaviors.  Dr. Orey continues to state that "reinforcement of positive behaviors is easily the more powerful of the two mechanisms" (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Positive behavior can be just about anything that leads to a desired result in the classroom, from picking up a piece of paper that was dropped on the ground, or going the extra mile by putting in their best effort on an assignment.

Many students do see the results from their effort, however not all students realize the importance of believing in effort (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  We need to make sure that we teach the students about the importance of effort, and make learning meaningful to them.  For example, the text Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works introduced us to a great tool using Microsoft Excel that can keep track of student effort (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  Students are responsible for creating their own spreadsheet, and inputting all information about their effort.  They are also required to post their scores regarding any sort of assessment tool.  Results are visible to both the teacher and the student, and there student and teacher can make connections.  Graphs that are easily accessible to students of all ages can show both educator and student the correlation between the effort that they put in, and the results that they get.  At its core, this is a behaviorist principle, as students have some sort of reward for their desired behavior.  Students who do not succeed can likely see the correlation between their effort and their results.

Other uses of behaviorism encompass the practice aspect of learning.  In other words, behaviorism can help us achieve success in the favorite activity of our students:  HOMEWORK!  The word itself strikes fear into the minds of our young learners, and the lack of homework completion can sometimes drive their teachers mad.  In order for students to complete their work, they first need to know that there is a purpose to the homework that they are doing.  The purpose of homework should be explained to students before they begin the homework, and doing this should help to make it relevant.  One way to do this is by implementing a homework policy.  Sure, just about all schools have a policy in place for completion of homework.  However, clear communication with a homework policy gives the students clear expectations on what they can and cannot do (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  Again, at its core this is a behaviorist idea.  Students can be rewarded for completion of their homework, but at the same time they can be punished for lack of homework completion.

Homework should also give the students timely feedback into their efforts.  While homework in our classrooms of today may differ from the ideas of programmed instruction from the mid-20th century, there are some parallels.  Immediate feedback for student responses is a key feature in programmed instruction (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008), just as quick responses to student homework is vital for creating some worth to the homework assignment.  Homework feedback may not be as immediate as in programmed instruction, but the similarities are there.  While the programmed instruction model may not have an overwhelming impact on education today, there are certainly some positives.  Online tutorials and other ideas that give students interaction on the Internet give immediate feedback to the learner, and teach them right from wrong.  As with all behaviorist approaches though, this process falls short of creating any higher level thinking skills.  This is certainly the major factor that behaviorism has not translated well to the 21st century, and newer 21st century skill set.

While it appears on the outside that behaviorism may be going the way of the dodo, there is still room for limited usage of this theory in classrooms.  Classroom management, introductory lessons, and homework can all have some sort of behaviorist component.  However, educators that want to get more out of their students will likely want to incorporate other learning theories into their lesson designs.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011).  Behaviorist learning theory. [DVD].  Bridging learning theory, instruction, and technology.  Baltimore, MD: Michael Orey, Ed.D.

Lever-Duffy, J., & McDonald, J. (2008).  Theoretica foundations.  (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.).  Boston, MA:  Pearson, Inc.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E.R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007).  Using technology with classroom instruction that works.  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.