Accidental Constructivism

In my quest to use more constructivist practices in my courses, I found a lot of writing about constructivist teaching and Scratch. Scratch is a free, visual based, programming software developed at MIT. I use it a lot when I teach coding because it is very accessible to novice programmers, can be run off of single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi, and (again) it’s free.

I read an account on ScratchEd by Sarah MacDonald about her experience teaching Scratch. She didn’t tell her students how to do certain tasks when they asked; instead she encouraged them to try different solutions on their own. The students would then try a series of solutions, complaining along the way, and would often come up with their own solutions. MacDonald discussed how this reflected constructivist pedagogy. This surprised me since so much of her experience was familiar to me.

I had a cursory knowledge of Scratch and I lot of knowledge of traditional programming languages when I taught a short programming course for high school students. My idea was to use Scratch to introduce coding structure and then move on to something more advanced. To my surprise, the students took my curriculum in an entirely different direction. We ended up spending several weeks on Scratch with students creating several video games and animations. The students were all working on different types of projects. But, for the first time in my experience, they were all engaged. I was learning right along with them. Together we learned how to program keys to control a car on screen, fire projectiles, and to get a character to jump on a platform.

Students demonstrating games they designed

I mentioned in class this week how teachers have to be careful to not act as a barrier to their students’ curiosity. As those words came out of my mouth, I realized why my Scratch curriculum was so successful. I got out of the way! I taught that course before starting at Warner or ever hearing about constructivism. Admittedly, I was just happy that I wasn’t having a hard time with classroom management. However, I realize that using these practices aren’t as difficult as I make them out to be. In the future, I definitely want to be more mindful about my curriculum now I know it’s something I can do.

More on Scratch and Constructivism (with lots of links to resources for learning Scratch):

Our Scratch Project

512-Constructivism

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