Ernesto Villasenor

Social Justice Fellow, LA County Education Foundation (LACEF)

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Constructivist Learning and Teaching: A possible way of addressing education disparities?

Constructivist learning and teaching imply the notion and suggest that learning is most effective when the individual is actively engaged in the learning process rather than being in a passive environment, the latter being the case in most learning environments.

There has been a surge in the US in terms of implementing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education initiatives, with the primary focus of preparing our students for the future's economic and societal developments, which will revolve primarily around science and technology.

As an individual that has acquired much information and experience within the STEM fields through the accessibility of programs that encourage constructivist learning and teaching methods, do you believe that such methods of learning could reduce education disparities throughout the entire board, specifically focusing on the K-12 public education?

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    Sep 4 2012: Ernesto, There are no disparities. Education has become bad to everyone equally. The latest thorn in educations side is the failure of the US in the PISA Exams. The federal government showed little interest in education until the national pride was wounded. As a result we have Common Core Standards. In order to retain federal funding and grants the states entered STEM requirements as manditory curriculum elements. All the bandages were applied to the same Bismark educational system we have employeed since public education was introduced.

    The fight you are facing includes book publishers, test developers, federal and state intervention, and the nestmakers at the top of education. Of these the book publishers are the most powerful and decide the direction of the educational process ... all others follow that lead. The most damaging are the federal and state intervention.

    The idea that everyone is going to college must go. Schools need to address the needs of those not going to college also. The simple solution would be to devise a two curriculum system 1) College Prep and 2) Manual trades. College prep is self explainatory. Manual Trades would include auto, woods, metal, nursing, heavy equipment, power plant management, beauty school, etc ... The first half of the day would be dedicated to core subjects and the second half to the curriculum of choice.

    I endorse the competent / non-competent system where a course map is developed and presented in modules allowing kids to develop at their speed while staying with their peer group for social development.

    The whole system requires evaluation. We need to stop putting on bandades and address change. The need exists to apply 21st century technology to 21st century needs.

    Sec of Ed Arne Duncan wants the feds to have full control of education. That would be the single most destructive blow to education. We need the feds out ... not in control. Out of space.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Gail .

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    Sep 4 2012: A big problem with education today is that people are better and better educated about fewer and fewer things. The STEMs are good, but far too incomplete. They must be balanced by the right-brain equivalents to make them relevant to more. They must also be connected to reasons other than money (other fields of inquiry), because when one steps out of the paradigm that you seem to be describing, money is no longer a motivator and self-imposed slavery is no longer worthwhile.

    Ken Robinson notes that we cannot prepare students for the global economy to come. What he doesn't say (because he speaks of education) is that the economy to come will not be like the one we have now - the one that is failing quickly because of growing population combined with growing automation leading to the elimination of consumers that now sustain the economy. Combine the corrupt economic model that was instituted by the few to create a "race of laborers" (slaves) with the growing number of people who are aware of what has happened to them, and the future will be very different indeed, and the STEMs that you mention may be far less important for most, than how to can vegetables.
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      Sep 4 2012: Yes of course!

      The way the country is moving in education, focusing on the STEM fields and the heavily tech-influenced economy creates for an education industrial complex within both K-12 education and at times, higher education.

      The thing that is not taught in school, something that is crucial, is the following: if you pursue your passions in education and through a career, money will not be an issue.
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      Sep 5 2012: Breaking old paradigms cen be an intensely traumatic process. No one does it out of choice.
      Add to that the efforts of the plutocracy to keep the sheep on the farm and the task begins to look daunting.
      The benefits need to be demonstrated clearly and personally.
      De-specialisation is a thing that few can trust whilever the myth of time-scarcity is accepted as fact.
      All that was missing from previous agrarian and hunter/gatherer models was ubiquitous communication.
      In both these models, there was an abundance of surplus time in which individuals could follow passions and accomplish mastery - but word-of-mouth was the only method to capture the value generated by these passions.
      If network infrastructure can be preserved through a collapse or transition, we then face a quandry - the internet is becoming our repository of human knowledge and value - we need only google to know almost anything at all, our brains no longer need to retain these things but what is mising is the means of further acquisition - if you can google it, you do not need to develop the skills to generate it. This needs to be addressed. The alternative is the tragedy of the LIbrary of Alexandria. THis is important.
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        Gail .

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        Sep 5 2012: I would love to find information about the history of the Iroquois nation. I know the basics but not the details. This is a federation of nations that lived in peace for more than 200 years. They did so until the Europeans came, threw off the balance of nature (plundered the hunting grounds that allowed them to live in peace - sharing earth's great bounties and helping one another).

        Of course, they weren't overpopulated like we are, but they did choose to come together and take the risk of declaring peace, and it worked very well. They had a representative government, but it was limited in its areas of governance (as the USA government is supposed to be, but is no longer since the Supreme Court threw out the constitution as the law of the land.)

        I too worry that there could be a 2nd destruction of the knowledge of humankind. It IS important to preserve the knowledge repository. But I disagree that googling inhibits the "desire" to develop skills.; For me, it inspires. I've learned more in the last 5-10 years than I learned in the entirety of my "education".
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          Sep 5 2012: yes - I think it would be a worthy persuit to learn more of a culture that was at peace and did not over-populate. It's a shame the Iroquois had no internet.
          If you gain a comprehensive knowledge of them, do you intend to record that knowledge on wikipedia?
          And for the sake of the topic - do you know anything of their mode of education?
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    Sep 4 2012: it will work for some people.

    the great problem with models and theories is that they need to be applied in combination with other models and theories.

    there is no one single-theory magic-bullet answer.
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      Sep 4 2012: Of course, I don't doubt that and do not solely believe that constructive learning should be the leading and only applied education theory in the classroom.

      There has to be a balance of numerous systems that could address numerous subjects and learning behaviors, as not all individuals comprehend things in the same way.
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    Sep 3 2012: There certainly is optimism that constructivist practice will reduce disparities in achievement, but the merit of the approach if it is implemented well rests, I think, more on its being the best way for almost any child to learn.
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      Sep 3 2012: Of course, and constructivist learning is not necessarily the only approach to see in terms of addressing education disparities.

      Constructivist learning works best for the more hands-on subjects (science and math are great examples), but might not necessarily function accordingly in other subjects.

      One of the main arguments that I am trying to make is that basing an entire education system on passive learning is definitely not the best and efficient way in terms of preparing our students for a future that we ourselves cannot predict.
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        Sep 3 2012: But where that you know of is this still happening? Is it all still direct instruction in the LA county schools?

        I am curious about this, as the big school districts with which I am familiar all have an inquiry focus for math and science. I know there has been a conservative backlash demanding a return to the traditional direct instruction or lecture, whether delivered by humans or video.
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          Sep 4 2012: Oh yeah, especially in some of the independent school districts within LA County. As a product of public education coming out of Compton, CA, I can vouch that approximately 80% of my K-12 education consisted of primarily direct instruction, and the constructivist/hands-on learning really did not come out of majority of my courses other than the AP courses that I took during my high school years, in addition to the afterschool programs that I was a part of.

          Even if you implement and redefine the way education is taught in the inner city and in especially large school districts, one of the factors that still come about our way is the content standards that the schools have to abide to at the state level. Content standards provide a sense of direction in terms of teaching the necessities, but when it comes to solely basing our education on content standards where the students are going to get tested on.....that's a different issue and pickle to deal with.

          Anyhow, coming back on to the flaws of direct instruction: direct instruction can function for various subjects, such as history and English, but others require a more hands-on, experience-filled methods.
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        Sep 4 2012: In English and history, there must be pedagogical merit in actual engagement with text.