Apparently my last missive ruffled some feathers, which I knew would happen sooner or later. It is one thing to express self-righteous indignation about ed school, but when it crosses the line into criticism of constructivist or “discovery learning”, then it’s like a Congressman talking about revamping Social Security.
The terms “constructivist” and “discovery learning” mean different things to different people. To the ed school gurus as well as book publisher/snake oil salesmen peddling their wares to school boards who eat this stuff up (and make the final decisions on what textbooks to adopt) it means students construct their own knowledge out of whole cloth. To the more traditional-minded, it means the connection that students make between information given to them directly and applied in new situations, or which lead to new insights.
Students may remember having made a connection all on their own, but may not remember the guidance and information that a teacher or book imparted that got them there. There may be an “illusion” of pure discovery at work here: people see what they want to see. One interesting case in point is the TIMSS Videotape classroom study of math and science classes in other countries. When the video was released, constructivists said “See? See? Japanese students work in groups, are given challenging problems without instruction on how to solve them, and the student has to invent his or her own solutions.”
But an interesting paper by Alan Siegel of NYU in fact shows just the opposite. (You can find his paper here, but best to right click and then download rather than try to view online; it takes forever that way which may result in adding to an already foul mood for some of you after reading what