Constructivist learning theory suggests that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experience and reflection. Interestingly, this bears considerable resemblance to the model of the scientific method.

The scientific method is a stepwise process followed by scientists to answer research questions.

  • Step One: Hypothsise. Ask a question you would like to answer and based on your prior knowledge guess at the answer.
  • Step Two: Experiment. Test your hypothesis. Develop an experiment that allows you to address your question.
  • Step Three: Observe. Look to see what is happening. Did you find what you expected? What do your results mean?

If we compare it to a constructivist learning approach, a similar process emerges.

  • One: Knowledge. Every person has their own unique knowledge base within which they frame all new experiences.
  • Two: Experience. Each new experience challenges that knowledge base.
  • Three: Reflection. Upon reflection one must reconcile their experience with their knowledge base. This may mean the knowledge base remains unchanged (i.e. the new experience reinforced prior knowledge) or it may result in new ideas being incorporated if the experience is contradictory to prior experience.

Both are models of experiential learning and can be applied in all subjects to build knowledge. Constructivist learning theory aims to use experiential learning to engage student interest, encourage ownership of learning and promote cooperation. Experiential learning is widely recognised within science education as a valuable teaching approach. Experimentation allows students to investigate the world while learning science concepts. It helps students learn how to learn and how to answer their own questions while encouraging creative thinking about how they may test their ideas to address their questions. Some schools are having great success with this approach in all areas of learning (You can read a story about a school in the US here). Try it with your own students and see if you can excite their passion for learning using structured discovery.

If you try this, or have tried it in the past leave us a comment on how it goes/went!