Old Ideas Made New Again, pp. 7 of 10

The constructivist teacher sets up problems and monitors student exploration, guides the direction of student inquiry and promotes new patterns of thinking. Classes can take unexpected turns as students are given the autonomy to direct their own explorations.  Consider this excerpt from the (U.S.) National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (2010, p. 111):

Students in Juliet Singer’s eight grade social studies class have just been told that their school will no longer offer music instruction because the Board of Education had to cut $25,000from the budget.  Singer’s class has been studying communities and community/school governance, and the students want to know how and why such a change in their program could happen.

Singer asks the class if they can think of a way to save the music program by cutting something else in the budget or by raising more money from the community or a combination of both.  Small groups of students research how the costs of music program compare to other programs, such as reading, science and sports.  Other groups explore the possibilities of raising taxes.  Others investigate community support for music.

After the groups come together and discuss their findings, they prepare a statement for the school board on what they think the board should do, including PTA and student fundraising activities. … When students have refined their policy recommendation, they send it to the board. … Singer invites a board member to speak to the class again and explain how the process of change will move forward if their plan is accepted.

In this example, students gathered information, generated ideas, and reached conclusions. Of course there is the element of the unexpected. What ideas might they develop?  How will the Board of Education respond?  How will the students feel if their idea is rejected?

The second element is the use of disciplined inquiry.  Here students are expected to develop and demonstrate depth of knowledge. Note the use of the word “disciplined.”  That means not simply “orderly,” but it also points to drawing on the disciplines. Students are expected to deal with the significant concepts or central ideas of a discipline. But, as Dewey cautioned, the body of knowledge is not an end in itself. Students use knowledge to understand arguments, solve problems, or construct explanations. That is, to engage in an inquiry process.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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