If I behave and work cognitively, can I construct something?

I don’t know where everyone comes from in this course, but I may be one of the few Educational Psychology peeps in the class. Hurray for electives! The understanding of how people learn has always been a curious subject to me as a teacher, grad student in this field, and as a coach. The two different worlds hold their various similarities and differences, but one of those similarities is that process of “attempting” to transfer knowledge to another so that they may be able to understand and apply it. The arguments over whether or not students learn best with behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism have been debated at length over the years.

The other night as a class it appeared we came to the conclusion that constructivism is the ideal choice for higher learning. It has students “constructing” their own knowledge. This can include things like inquiry, problem-based learning, reciprocal/group teaching (peer to peer) etc. Can we always do this? Boy I wish we could. However, where did the skills to be able to behave in class come from to be able to have them listen to instruction. Where did they develop the ability to organize and process the information the find in something like an inquiry project. I think before we get to constructivism we have to use the other two, behaviorism and cognitivism, as stepping stones to get there. This is what is currently influencing my teaching style as I have tried to jump straight to constructivism with my high schoolers, and it doesn’t always work out.

First, let’s address the elephant in the room. Depending on what age-level you are teaching, your students may not be developmentally ready for one learning theory vs. the other. Well, this also might not be technically true and I’ll elaborate on my thinking shortly here. However, if you are teaching early years, for ex. kindergarten, there will most likely be a lot more behaviorism methods used, as you are literally teaching tiny humans how to act socially and what is appropriate and not appropriate. Again, quite literally behaviorism. As for the the other methods I still think something like constructivism could be utilized at the younger age, as mentioned earlier. When I was in the 3rd grade I missed a day of school and missed learning how to divide. Instead of my teacher pulling me aside, she got another student who had it locked down teach me in the hallway quick as my teacher was busy with the others. My 8 year-old peer was able to teach me and demonstrate constructivism even at this young age.

What I think I’m trying to get at is in my mind is that I label early-year learners as having more behaviorism based theories, middle-years as having more cognitive based theories (organizing info, beginning to understand systems, etc) and secondary-based learning as operating more in the constructivism theory. In terms of progression, this makes sense to me. Learn how to act in the world, learn how to process info, use these two to work with new knowledge. However, as discussed earlier, while I think one theory dominates one age group more (and who am I to say whether that is right or not?) I firmly believe that the other theories can play roles in those categories as well (note: the peer teaching me to divide situation. Thanks, Breanna)

I teach high school, mainly grade 9 and 10. This age range is difficult because everyone can be in so many different places developmentally. In the past, I gave an inquiry assignment that wasn’t done the best because I had assumed many kids were able to synthesize and organize new information on their own. Many were not able to and this has led me to do more scaffolding activities. Besides classroom expectations, we can skip through a lot of behaviorist methods (see how they still have impact at this age? Not in the traditionally learning context of your answer is right or wrong but literally in behavior), and jump right to making sure students have some of the processing capabilities that they would have inherited from cognitive theory. Once I make sure the students have that down, can we progress to the more constructivist learning styles like inquiry.

Ultimately, what influences my teaching styles these days are where my kids are at when I get them and then looking to where we need to be. I feel like coming to understand their starting point, and we can do this through diagnostics and other mini what do you know activities, we can better see what we need to touch upon to ideally get to that constructivist style.

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CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM: Will anyone understand this reference?

Ah, 1997. What a year. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won another championship, Clinton banned human cloning, and I was born… or cloned? I am 26 years old. Depending who you ask I am either the youngest Millennial or the oldest Gen Z. I am certainly the best of both worlds due to the fact that I understand memes and I can’t afford a house. Truly a blessing and a curse.

I grew up with technology. Definitely not to the degree that the youth of today do, but I had a smartphone at 14 years old, and even more importantly I learned the Alphabet from a CD-ROM CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM game I got in a box of Frosted Flakes when I was 5. If this makes me feel old, I can’t wait for how some of you reading this will feel. I do remember when it was a big deal that we went from having four desktop computers to laptop carts in my elementary school. This changed things. Really meaning that I could no longer sit in another room playing flash games while my teacher didn’t know. Now I had to play them while sitting in the same room as them and had to hide it. As I am getting a little older and my career is progressing, I am really noticing that the devices, platforms, and programs are changing. I feel that now the amount of different choices educators can pick from is almost overwhelming.

Side note: In class the other day I said students could write their answers to a project in either word or a google doc. They didn’t know what Microsoft word was. Then I remember these kids are younger than the Nintendo Wii and I listened to somber music over my prep. Again, sorry if I’m younger than you and you don’t understand that. Gen Z, baby.

While the choices are numerous, has the reason for/use of technology changed in anyway at all when it comes to education? The baby Greg of the past used cartoonish, singing alphabet caricatures to understand the basics of the English language (this explains so much). Now as (allegedly) an adult, I sometimes use an app with a fun little green owl who teaches me the basics of the French Language (other language learning apps are available). The point is technology, no matter how primitive or advanced can be used to either teach someone or offer them the ability to express their learnings in a variety of different ways. Ex. Instead of having a student draw a picture to represent what they learned from something, they could build something in Minecraft to represent it. Different methods, same point/effect. The creativity piece is huge with technology (insert point about creativity being on a higher plane of intelligence. Check.) it allows for so many different ways to accomplish goals and inspire creativity. Teachers could really open it up so that students have the ability to use technology in anyway that allows them to still showcases their learnings. This can really lean into the strengths and interests of students.

Clark states, “the utility of this knowledge is largely economic. The designer can and must choose the less expensive and most cognitively efficient way to represent and deliver instruction (1994:22). My first thought to this is, ” how lame can your late twentieth- century, capitalist mindset be?” and then I remember I can’t afford a house so what do I know?

The reality is now that times have changed and things are way more accessible than they ever have been. Are there still barriers? You bet there are, but everything has exploded since 1994. when I was a kid I do remember teachers talking about how expensive everything was when it came to all our fancy new toys (desktop computers). ’94 was a different time and the analyzing and study of education has also dramatically shifted. Things are still expensive, but more funding has been put into place in many divisions to be able to offer students resources to be able to learn in different mediums and represent their learnings. Heck when it came to online learning during the pandemic, (I’m speaking solely from my classes and will not make assumptions about others) we were able to transition to online easily as everybody already had technology. A basic phone or laptop was enough. Yes, it is still expensive. However, at the same time it is closer to us in everyway than ever before (he says from his warm apartment, on his laptop provided to him from his school division).

In terms of a contemporary definition of education, I still think it fits the same bill that it could have potentially had in early days. Technology offers students the ability to learn in different ways and showcases this learning in different ways. A tool for showing and telling (I guess in Ed it would be telling first then showing, or I guess a combo,  but you get it). It is just now that there are about 1000 times different ways to do this. Which honestly can make things more complicated. What is best? What could work better? How does the cloud work? Who actually uses BING as a search engine? Unanswerable questions. It does really come down to a trial and error, research, and practice of what one educator might like compared to the next. Some may argue that we should go back to the old school way of doing things to complicate things less. Maybe that method of lecture is what complicates things and discourages creativity and creates bland people later in life with no taste for innovation? That is a different topic for another time.

Thanks for reading my seriously unserious work. I’m off to find a CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM emulator.

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