At the core of the constructivist approach to education is the idea that students should be actively involved in authoring their own knowledge. Through interacting with texts, content and one another, students use experiences and ideas to create meaning.
In a constructivist classroom, students are not passive receptacles of knowledge; instead, they learn through experiences on which they later reflect. Indeed, authorship, meta-cognition and self-reflection all play a role in such a context. For students to become successful authors of knowledge, the emphasis in the classroom is on content and cognitive skills. As they are encouraged to ask and answer questions, they are given the space and time to wonder and explore their own curiosities.
At the Masters School, our approach to constructivist education emphasizes the key element of collaboration. By supplementing meaning-making with many voices, the understanding/idea/knowledge/skill that is generated is not, and could not have been, created by a sole individual. Instead, it is the result of the diversity of perspectives and the openness to divergent ideas, thoughts and experiences.
Teachers ask students to make connections all the time: to the material, the text, the world and one another. Discussion-based teaching is a means by which students and teachers connect and uncover ideas to illustrate the multiplicity of interpretation, opinion and experience that come into view as a result of the process.
One can hardly predict the permutations that may come to light in a truly open and exploratory classroom environment.
When we gather, each person is really a world unto him or herself, and the readings we discuss tie us to one another and to the texts, from the ancients up to today. Such an approach exposes the diversity of thought that lies just under the surface of any worthwhile topic, irrespective of discipline or activity. Meanwhile, our collaborative discovery bridges connections among people and around subject material within a shared space.
The most authentic educational experience is the one in which students figure out something new while applying a concept by collaborating with peers in a discovery lab.
In doing so, they are each challenged to figure out how to proceed, given how the world works. Through authentic, real-world scientific challenges, students pose questions to one another that push every participant to reason both concretely and abstractly about the concepts they are wrestling with in a science course.
Our goal in the lab is not necessarily to tie neat little bows around scientific concepts, but to enable students to understand the ways science can be messy, and the ways labs might not always go as expected. Figuring out “what to do next” requires real creativity and problem-solving skills.
Moreover, lab experiments crystallize the difference between collaboration and group work — students work in an arena where they actually need each other to succeed. That process and space is where true collaboration happens naturally. Such self-directed, hands-on learning helps students construct their own understandings of the material. Labs, therefore, enable students to gain an authentic, collaborative experience that compels each of them to ask and respond to questions. In this way, our students are truly learning by doing.