Friday, January 6, 2017

Constructivism Part 1

In early December, Morah Virginia, Moreh Simon, and I attended Federation’s annual Jewish Early Childhood Education Conference. The theme of the conference was Ayeka, which translates as “Where are you?” It is the question God asks Adam in Gan Eden after Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree, realize their nakedness, and hide from God.
                                    
Each workshop at the conference challenged us to think about where we are in our beliefs about what young children truly need from the adults in their world in order to learn and grow. Where are we in our own personal journeys as early childhood educators? We left inspired and full of new insights and ideas. I’ll be sharing much of what I learned at the conference in the next several bulletin articles.

Meir Muller, an ordained rabbi who also holds a doctorate in early childhood education, gave a presentation entitled Ayeka?: Mirrors, Windows, and the Sliding Glass Doors of Constructivist Classrooms. Based on the work of the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, constructivism is the theory that knowledge cannot be transmitted from one person to another. Facts can be transmitted, and often are, especially in older classrooms. One person can relate facts to another person, and that person can memorize and regurgitate those facts, but that is not true knowledge.

True knowledge goes beyond recitation of facts; knowledge is how one understands one’s experiences, (which include facts, observations, and skills) turns them around in one’s head, makes connections, questions and investigates them, applies them to new situations, and creates new meaning. Knowledge is thereby constructed, and constructing knowledge takes time. In a constructivist classroom, children are given the time to construct meaning of their world through a variety of carefully planned experiences guided by the teacher. A constructivist classroom is full of opportunity for investigation. The teacher doesn’t tell or explain. The teacher asks questions.

So what about the mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors? Rabbi Muller suggested that children need (metaphorical) mirrors in which to see themselves in order to learn. They need to relate to the learning experience and find it meaningful for them before they can fully engage with it. They also need windows to see the outside world, to appreciate that there is a world beyond theirs, with new experiences. Finally, they need sliding glass doors to walk though, to engage with those new experiences and begin to construct knowledge anew.

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