2022 ACT Conference
October 22, 2022
The ACT 2022 Annual Conference, Constructing an Understanding of How the World Works, will be held virtually on October 22. We continue to deepen our conversations on the tenets of constructivist teaching and how learners and their teachers construct knowledge and understanding of how the world works.
Constructivist teaching is rooted in Piaget’s theory of cognitive and social development which focuses on the structure of human knowledge and the process by which it is constructed. Founding members of ACT, Dr. Rheta DeVries and Dr. Constance Kamii were both students of Piaget and are often referred to as the “mothers of constructivist education”. They encouraged teachers and their students to create their own unique embodiment of the paradigm, while staying grounded in certain necessary elements of constructivism. At this conference, we invite educators to add to the conversation on the constructivist elements of:
An active school.
Piaget (1948/1973) advocated for active schooling in order to produce “full development of the human personality” (p. 87). He asserted “the right to find in these schools all that is necessary to the building of a questioning mind and a dynamic moral conscience” (p. 92). Constructivist educators design activities in constructivist classrooms to appeal to student’s interests, engage them in experimentation, and involve cooperation with others (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987/1990). However, saying that a school is active does not necessarily mean that it is constructivist. One has to specify the nature of constructive activity, especially the specifics of mental activity.
Piaget (1945/1962) pointed out the role of play in the formation of symbolic thought and discussed certain socioemotional benefits of play. However, Piaget (1948/1973) did criticize “an excess of unsupervised liberty which ended in generalized play without much educational benefit” (pp. 6-7). Thus, it is possible to have a play-oriented classroom that is not constructivist go beyond a global justification to clearer analyses of precisely what is the value of activities in which we engage students. What is there in this experience for students to figure out?
In the constructivist paradigm, the most desirable work occurs when students are pursuing their own purposes in figuring out how to do something. Csikszentmihalyi's (1990) notion of “flow” can be applied to much of student work and play in constructivist classrooms.
The learner-teacher relationship and the social-emotional environment.
Perhaps the most important implication Kamii and DeVries drew from Piaget’s work is that teachers must establish egalitarian, cooperative relationships with children and avoid being unnecessarily coercive in order to promote child autonomy.
The three kinds of knowledge.
Piaget’s (e.g., 1969/1970, 1970) distinction between physical and logico-mathematical knowledge proves to have practical utility to teachers. With Sinclair’s additional conception of arbitrary conventional knowledge, teachers can use these distinctions to decide when to give children information (arbitrary conventional knowledge), when to encourage children to experiment with objects (physical knowledge), and/or when to encourage the construction of relationships (logico-mathematical knowledge).
We welcome your proposal to present new ideas, projects, activities, panel discussions, and more to help guide our conversation about the tenets of constructivist teaching as we continue to move forward in this changing world.