1. class notes
  2. POE: raisins in soda
  3. discuss readings
  4. shape of the earth
  5. Ames experiments
  6. refine class inquiry
  7. discussion leading

Constructivist learning is based on the learner’s active participation in problem-solving and critical thinking regarding a learning activity which the or she finds relevant and engaging.


Dewey, John (1938/1997). Chapter 3, Criteria of experience from Experience and education. Macmillan.

Ryder, Martin. A useful set of definitions and readings on constructivism

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (1994). Constructing knowledge in the classroom. Classroom Compass, 1 (3).

Wyett, Jerry L. (1998). John Dewey & Earl Kelley: Giants in democratic education. Education.


Kelley, E. C. (1947). Education for what is real. New York: Harper.

  • Ch 3: The Hanover Institute demonstrations in perception
  • Ch 4: The deeper meaning of vision
  • Ch 5: Implications for education


Experiment with the Adelbert Ames demonstrations.


We often speak of teaching as a way of transmitting knowledge, from the expert to the novice. But going back at least to the days of Socrates is the recognition that important ideas can never be simply told; they must be constructed anew. Our ability to make meaning out of prior knowledge and new experiences is a powerful attribute of the way we think. It is also a necessary condition for learning.

An example, drawn from the research of Bill Brewer and Stella Vosniadou, may help here. If you ask a child of age five to draw a picture of himself standing on the world, you might see something like a stick figure standing on a line representing a flat world. That’s not surprising; most of our daily experience supports that idea that we live on a gigantic plain. So, if an adult were to ask, you might hear this dialogue:Adult: Tell me the shape of the world.Child: The world is flat. I can see it.

If the adult were to insist, you might hear:Adult: No, the world is round.Child: Oh! The world is round? Like a pancake!

This would be a rational and creative solution to the apparent contradiction between his experiential reality and the statement of the adult. Of course, the adult might be a bit frustrated:Adult: No, no. It’s round like a ball! Look at this picture of the world taken by astronauts in outer space.Child: Now I see! There are two worlds, the one in space is round, and the one we’re standing on is flat.

Although this example artificially compresses a long developmental sequence, the overall pattern is very real. Children who say funny, even bizarre things, are often making perfectly reasonable inferences combining observation, theory, and creative problem solving. In that sense, their thinking is scientific, even if the particular statements vary from currently accepted scientific concepts or might change as they integrate more observations.