Posted by Stanley Communications on 3/2/2023 3:00:00 PM

Kindergarteners were learning to snap their fingers and count out syllables. Later that day at the water table, some of them noticed that when their fingers were wet, they could not make the snapping sound that they could when their fingers were dry. The next day at the water table, one of the children noticed that as he brought his thumb out of his fist, it made a snapping sound. He kept trying it and discovered that as the water evaporated and his fingers became dry, the sound stopped. He then made the connection to the discovery from the day before: “When I snap like this, my fingers have to be dry. When I snap like this, my fingers have to be wet.”  


Constructivism is reflecting on experiences and actively creating an understanding of the world. It is asking, “How does the new fit with my previous knowledge and understanding?” As we “construct” or build meaning, we play with ideas, concepts, connections, words, definitions, and materials. We explore from different angles and perspectives and form new connections. Then we revise and play around some more! In addition to interacting with our environment and people, we interact with our own thinking. We reflect on our experiences and our evolving thoughts and then make sense of it all. Constructivism is at the heart of our BP philosophy. With a constructivist approach, we know that learners understand deeply. Constructivism is how Stanley teachers believe children learn best because it is, in fact, how we all learn best.


In a constructivist classroom, learners are doing the doing, whatever that doing is! Learners are engaging, immersing, interacting, thinking, synthesizing, creating, asking questions, putting together ideas. Learners are hypothesizing, investigating, exploring, grappling, revising, facilitating, paraphrasing. They are engaged and active. As Grace Reilly, 8th grade science teacher, shares, “Teachers are giving space and students are taking up the space. The teacher might be facilitating, but the students are the ones doing the talking, thinking, learning and doing.” 


The teacher, though, does not take a passive role. The constructivist teacher is a mentor, a consultant, a coach. a facilitator, a mediator, a prompter. The teacher is orchestrating. The teacher is creating the open container for discovery, and holding a vision with flexibility. We thoughtfully design the learning experience and environment. We create an invitation for students to enter into learning. We think about the experiences and materials, choices and time needed to build upon and extend a learner’s understanding of the world. We make sure the environment is open and safe and welcoming for learning. Katie Boston, 3-4-5 teacher, describes, “When you construct anything you’re going to build, a bridge or a sandcastle, it takes planning and some trial-and-error, and a strong foundation, and then some flexibility, and time. As a teacher you need all of that. You're developing this plan, and trial and error, and flexibility and a strong base - generally this is where I'm going, then just time.” 


Constructivism places the student at the center of the learning. In doing so, constructivism allows students to learn how to learn! Students learn to wonder, observe, ask questions, investigate, communicate, create, and think critically. As Nan Munger, Middle School Art Teacher, shares, “When a teacher just tells a student something, they’re just not going to remember it and internalize it as well as when they come to it on their own. Either you'll remember it better because you went through the process to figure it out for yourself, or if you don't remember it later, you know the process to get there.” 


Within constructivism, learners develop confidence and trust in themselves. A learner puts all the pieces together and builds their understanding. Being in that active state of creation is empowering. Constructing the stories that we want to tell, the meaning in our lives, and developing a vision of where we're going builds agency. 


A K-1-2 teacher had just finished a math unit on patterns with her kindergarten math group. They had been studying growing patterns by creating their own pattern shapes that were symmetrical. Using a mirror, they were seeing if their patterns were the same on both sides. Then, they started building up with their patterns rather than out. The teacher described her surprise. “I was not expecting that. I was expecting them to build out, but they actually started building patterns in space and they were symmetrical! They took a skill and they were applying it to something totally new that I didn’t even fathom. I knew that they understood what patterns meant, how to apply it and how to transfer that knowledge and create from it.”


Within constructivism, a-ha moments happen for learners when they take what they know and apply it to something new. This transfer of knowledge is powerful for them. It is powerful for us!