I’ve written about constructivism here. If you want to go to a more official source, go here. Constructivism is a philosophy that drives curriculum and instruction toward proper conditions where children are supposed to be able to construct their own knowledge and meaning. These are some of the phrases most often used to describe curriculum and practices that contain constructivism: teachers are facilitators, higher-level thinking activities, project-based learning, group work, pair work, discovery learning, etc. In constructivism no student learns alone and students can only learn from other students, not the old “sage on the stage” called a teacher.In math, constructivism has been evidenced in public schools in one form or another since at least the 1980s as fuzzy math, reform math, and new math. I was an elementary school teacher starting in the late 1990s in an urban, high poverty California public school. Later, I was in a suburban, middle income Texas school. My entire seven and a half years of teaching involved teacher training and teaching of only new math— constructivist math. I never taught the so-called traditional math that Common Core is supposedly fixing. My experience at the elementary level showed me students woefully lacking in the basic math skills needed for higher-level thinking. In my book,Public Ed Dread, I wrote of watching 5th grade suburban, middle-class students “deep thinking” and “applying” their math prowess in multiple-step word problems. So far so good. All was fine until they all had to stop their problem solving and higher-level thinking to put their pencils down and count on their fingers! Deep thinking cannot get very deep when students are stuck on the easiest part. This is constructivist math. It has not changed.
Now, we have Common Core. Common Core is constructivism tied in a pretty bow and repackaged as math that has been reformed. A good article that ties constructivism in with the new Common Core reforms is Constructive Criticism for Common Core Constructivism Deniers:
The bottom line is that the Common Core State Standards are built on constructivist principles and are being implemented, by and large, by constructivist means. If supporters like constructivism, which I suspect most do, then they should just come out and say so. That is not such a difficult position to defend. But don’t attempt to tell me these standards won’t tell teachers how to teach.
Now, we have some examples of the Common Core Standards in action and it looks constructivist to me. I just checked out the 2nd grade math exemplar from a company working with the New York State Education Department on their version of Common Core. In just this example, there appears to be very little individual work and a lot of group oral, choral, pair share, small group share, and interactive finger and white board shares. These buzzwords are part of the language of constructivism. No one can learn alone and teachers just guide. Individual states and the federal government are spending how much to replace a broken philosophy with the same broken philosophy?