Nov. 21, 1996
Hudson District Exploring Constructivism
By Jennifer DeNoma
UW-RF News Bureau
In Hudson, Bob Steffen's third grade classroom at the E.P. Rock elementary school is dubbed the "demonstration classroom," and could probably also be called "the classroom of the future."
Instead of desks, the students sit at round tables around the classroom. The class is outfitted with Apple computers, a color scanner, a QuickCam and a VCR-all to create an environment to produce very visual results for a crop of learners who have grown up in a multimedia world.
In addition to the high tech element in Steffen's classroom, the students will be learning some skills in traditional learning styles. They'll learn their multiplication tables through the numeral 5 by memorization, and practice handwriting and other skills appropriate for their age.
The result of a $120,000 federal grant, Steffen's classroom is tied to the program, "It's About Time," The effort is described as a marriage between an educational philosophy called "constructivism" and the national "Goals 2000" program to improve the quality of K-12 education.
Goals 2000 calls for schools to help children develop the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy. For virtually every child in the United States, that means familiarity with computer technology.
The majority of the classrooms in the pilot project, including Steffen's, will have Internet access donated by the UW-River Falls. The University also is supplying workshops on computer technology and in constructivist teaching methods.
The Internet access is deemed crucial to the project because of its research capabilities. Students can surf the World Wide Web to obtain useful information that will supplement their own projects.
Last year, George Bowman's Hudson High School history students used the Internet to help them create notebooks exploring the Holocaust and intends to use the information superhighway on projects again this year.
Steffen's demonstration classroom plans to create an electronic zoo as part of their science curriculum and will post a museum site on the Internet as part of their social studies curriculum.
Part of the use of technology is that it simply provides a "hook" to get children interested in learning and is easily applied to many constructivist principles, like group work, project-oriented assignments and self-directed learning.
In other words, kids and computers go together like peanut butter and jelly.
"The computer can get students who previously had little interest in education tuned in," says Charles Sambs, of the Hudson School District.
Part of the attraction is that if the teacher is not the expert, the students can, in some cases, become the experts. Information on compact discs and the World Wide Web can help that progression.
Teachers are given a stipend of $250 for computer programs, materials and supplies.
Two concerns parents often have about constructivism are whether students are learning the progression of material they need to perform in standardized tests, and if the focus away from the teacher will cause discipline problems.
The change in focus doesn't imply that students are allowed to run amok, says Sambs. He reports that among all of the classrooms in his district, the constructivist classrooms have the least amount of discipline problems because the students are so enraptured with learning.
And students placed in constructivist classrooms must still learn age-appropriate skills.
The hope is that the new approach to learning will help students contextualize those basic skills in a way that they have meaning, that the meaning will help the students learn the material better, and those standardized scores will improve.