Constructivism and the yachtsman…

Sea Cadets Kate Langhorne and Vikas Memhi sail a 420 sail boat off the coast of CFB Kingson during the Advanced Sail Course. They are among 20 top young sailors from across Canada to be selected for the intense summer training program. (Sgt Kev Parle).

Photo credit: Esprit de corps magazine

Introduction

For my learning theory essay I will be looking at constructivism. I will define and describe this learning theory as well as briefly discuss the founding theorists for constructivism. I will then discuss the role of the learner and the role of the instructor, followed by three classroom examples of how I view constructivism working in my sailing courses.

Learning Theory Highlights

“Constructivism is less a single theory of learning than a collection of perspectives all of which share the common assumption that learning is how people make sense of their experience—learning is the construction of meaning from experience” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 36). This learning theory resonates with me as I learn best through doing. I am a self-motivated student or a self-directed learner (SDL). Constructivism “is a humanistic, learner-centred practice that assists adult learning in reflecting on their experience in order to construct new knowledge” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 9). Constructivism is a newer learning theory and draws from theorists such as Jean Piaget, John Dewey, and Lev Vygotsky.

Why I selected this Theory

As noted above, constructivism is learning through experience. The learning is in the hands of the learner and is facilitated by an instructor. This is how I conduct my sailing courses. I never touch the helm when I am teaching. I allow my students to learn and fail as needed and I facilitate their learning environment and offer different scenarios for them to use their skills. Truthfully, when it comes to sailing, I am constantly learning through trying different experiences as well. Either the weather is different, the crew is different, or the boat is different.

Overall, I would say that I am a very hands-on person. I am tactile. I find many of my students are as well. Sailing provides an environment of on-the-spot learning and experimentation for students. Jean Piaget was the theorist who primarily looked at constructivism through the lens of experience and experimentation with others. This is key in my sailing courses as there are so many factors that contribute to my students’ experiences on the water and shape what they learn. In turn, I could argue that I am also in the role of a student as I learn how to adapt my teaching styles from experiences and feedback provided by my students. Likewise, the students will experience different things depending on who they are learning with and what the environment is during their course.

Role of the Learner  

The learner plays a big role in constructivism. In fact, the responsibility of learning a task is placed on the student and is reflected through their ability to repeat the task. According to John Dewey, “An educative experience, […], is an experience in which we make a connection between what we do to things and what happens to them or us in consequence” (Soltis, para. 12). Likewise, Dewey “believed that it is only through experience that man learns about the world and only by the use of his experience that man can maintain and better himself in the world” (Soltis, para. 13).

Self-reflection, and critical self-reflection, play a key role in constructivism. The learner must reflect on what they have experienced and try to apply that new skill in other situations. As Lev Vignosty believed, “the teachers and students collaborate in learning and practicing four key skills: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. The teacher’s role in the process is reduced over time” (McLoed, 2014, para. 60). This is a clear example of how the teacher removes him/herself from a teaching situation in order for the students to continue to explore the learning on their own. The students past experiences and knowledge also play a big role in how they will learn. For example, if I have a student who grew up with a cottage on a lake paddling canoes in the summer, he may have some idea of how the weather affects your experience out on the water while sailing. However, if I have a student who recently immigrated to Canada and who does not know how to swim, he may have a harder time grasping how to become confident out on the water (and I have taught a lot of students who do not know how to swim!).

Role of the Instructor

As noted above, the instructor plays the role of a facilitator. The instructor is there to provide guidance and support; however the students are responsible for taking the steps necessary and completing the work. However, the teacher must acknowledge the needs of the learners. “Piaget’s theory of constructivism impacts learning curriculum because teachers have to make a curriculum plan which enhances their students’ logical and conceptual growth. Teachers must put emphasis on the significant role that experiences—or connections with the adjoining atmosphere—play in student education.” (Unknown, 2016, para. 2).

The instructor must be a sort of coach or mentor for the students and provide them with the tools they need to thrive, without telling them what to do. The students must have choices. Therefore, the teacher must engage the students and challenge them, all while providing them with the tools they need to succeed and overcome any difficulties.

 Three Classroom Examples

  1. Knots

A big part of sailing is being able to tie knots. If you cannot tie a proper knot, you may not find your boat at the dock the next day! Knots are generally a fun and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours with the students. I generally teach them the basic “essential” sailing knots (eight knot, reef knot, bowline, etc.), then we practice. We first practice in the classroom with a special board that I have which has a variety of pulleys and cleats on it. Then, as we move out onto the boats, I ask the students to demonstrate the knots in a variety of places on the boat. Throughout the lessons I will ask them to untie and re-tie knots, as well as provide me with alternate knots to be used in certain situations. This is a way for me to assess their learning, and a way for them to brainstorm new ways to use the skills they just acquired.

  1. Points of Sail

Another aspect of sailing that requires constant “thinking” would be the points of sail. Let’s face it, the wind never comes from where we want it to! The wind is a living thing. It is always moving, and as such, the students always have to be aware of where it is and how to adjust their sails. There are 5 main points of sail (for each tack), and the students need to adjust the sails accordingly for each one. On a white board in a classroom where the wind is “steady”, this is easy. Get out on the water and get too close to land you will all of a sudden have to deal with the mountain effect. Or maybe there is a gust. Or a squall. Or a lull. The students have to constantly be aware of where the wind is. As the instructor, I give them tips on how to read their sails, but then I leave it up to them to feel if the boat is moving the way it should.

  1. Anchoring

Anchoring is another area of trial and error. I teach the students how to read charts and how to identify safe anchorages. However, they may arrive at an anchorage and find there are other boats there. Then what? What if the wind shifts around and you are no longer protected? What do you do? Or worse, what happens if your anchor loses its grip? All of these scenarios are taught and practiced as much as possible, but until the students are out there getting their hands wet, they will not know how well one response will work over another. Again, they need to learn through doing.

Summary

In summary, I find that constructivism is the most pertinent learning theory for my trade and my experience. I learn new things through doing on a daily basis. My students learn things through doing and I simply guide them to the best of my abilities and provide support when they need it. I provide them with a safe place to learn and fail. I try to better myself with each new course I teach so that the next course can be better than the last.

 

 

 

References

Author Unknown. (2016). Piaget’s Theory of Constructivism. Retrieved from http://www.teach-nology.com/currenttrends/constructivism/piaget/.

Fenwick, T. (2001). Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives. Information Series No. 385.

McLeod, S. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html.

Merriam, S. and Bierema, L. (2014). Adult Learning Linking Theory and Practice. Traditional Learning Theories.

Soltis, J. (ND). John Dewey (1859—1952) – Experience and Reflective Thinking, Learning, School and Life, Democracy and Education. Retrieved from http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1914/Dewey-John-1859-1952.html.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stages of Memory Encoding Storage and Retrieval

Memory is the term given to the structures and processes involved in the storage and subsequent retrieval of information.

Memory is essential to all our lives. Without a memory of the past we cannot operate in the present or think about the future.  We would not be able to remember what we did yesterday, what we have done today or what we plan to do tomorrow.  Without memory we could not learn anything.

Memory is involved in processing vast amounts of information. This information takes many different forms, e.g. images, sounds or meaning.

For psychologists the term memory covers three important aspects of information processing:

stages of memory

 

1. Memory Encoding

When information comes into our memory system (from sensory input), it needs to be changed into a form that the system can cope with, so that it can be stored.  Think of this as similar to changing your money into a different currency when you travel from one country to another.  For example, a word which is seen (in a book) may be stored if it is changed (encoded) into a sound or a meaning (i.e. semantic processing).

There are three main ways in which information can be encoded (changed):

1. Visual (picture)

2. Acoustic (sound)

3. Semantic (meaning)

For example, how do you remember a telephone number you have looked up in the phone book?  If you can see it then you are using visual coding, but if you are repeating it to yourself you are using acoustic coding (by sound).

Evidence suggests that this is the principle coding system in short term memory (STM) is acoustic coding.  When a person is presented with a list of numbers and letters, they will try to hold them in STM by rehearsing them (verbally).  Rehearsal is a verbal process regardless of whether the list of items is presented acoustically (someone reads them out), or visually (on a sheet of paper).

The principle encoding system in long term memory (LTM) appears to be semantic coding (by meaning).  However, information in LTM can also be coded both visually and acoustically.

2. Memory Storage

This concerns the nature of memory stores, i.e. where the information is stored, how long the memory lasts for (duration), how much can be stored at any time (capacity) and what kind of information is held.  The way we store information affects the way we retrieve it.  There has been a significant amount of research regarding the differences between Short Term Memory (STM ) and Long Term Memory (LTM).

Most adults can store between 5 and 9 items in their short-term memory.  Miller (1956) put this idea forward and he called it the magic number 7.  He though that short-term memory capacity was 7 (plus or minus 2) items because it only had a certain number of “slots” in which items could be stored.

However, Miller didn’t specify the amount of information that can be held in each slot.  Indeed, if we can “chunk” information together we can store a lot more information in our short-term memory.  In contrast the capacity of LTM is thought to be unlimited.

Information can only be stored for a brief duration in STM (0-30 seconds), but LTM can last a lifetime.

3. Memory Retrieval

This refers to getting information out storage.  If we can’t remember something, it may be because we are unable to retrieve it.  When we are asked to retrieve something from memory, the differences between STM and LTM become very clear.

STM is stored and retrieved sequentially.  For example, if a group of participants are given a list of words to remember, and then asked to recall the fourth word on the list, participants go through the list in the order they heard it in order to retrieve the information.

LTM is stored and retrieved by association.  This is why you can remember what you went upstairs for if you go back to the room where you first thought about it.

Organizing information can help aid retrieval.  You can organize information in sequences (such as alphabetically, by size or by time).  Imagine a patient being discharged from hospital whose treatment involved taking various pills at various times, changing their dressing and doing exercises.  If the doctor gives these instructions in the order which they must be carried out throughout the day (i.e. in sequence of time), this will help the patient remember them.

Criticisms of Memory Experiments

A large part of the research on memory is based on experiments conducted in laboratories.  Those who take part in the experiments – the participants – are asked to perform tasks such as recalling lists of words and numbers.  Both the setting – the laboratory – and the tasks are a long way from everyday life.  In many cases, the setting is artificial and the tasks fairly meaningless.  Does this matter?

Psychologists use the term ecological validity to refer to the extent to which the findings of research studies can be generalized to other settings.  An experiment has high ecological validity if its findings can be generalized, that is applied or extended, to settings outside the laboratory.

It is often assumed that if an experiment is realistic or true-to-life, then there is a greater likelihood that its findings can be generalized.  If it is not realistic (if the laboratory setting and the tasks are artificial) then there is less likelihood that the findings can be generalized.  In this case, the experiment will have low ecological validity.

Many experiments designed to investigate memory have been criticized for having low ecological validity.  First, the laboratory is an artificial situation.  People are removed from their normal social settings and asked to take part in a psychological experiment.  They are directed by an ‘experimenter’ and may be placed in the company of complete strangers.  For many people, this is a brand new experience, far removed from their everyday lives.  Will this setting affect their actions, will they behave normally?

Often, the tasks participants are asked to perform can appear artificial and meaningless.  Few, if any, people would attempt to memorize and recall a list of unconnected words in their daily lives.  And it is not clear how tasks such as this relate to the use of memory in everyday life.  The artificiality of many experiments has led some researchers to question whether their findings can be generalized to real life.  As a result, many memory experiments have been criticized for having low ecological validity.


References

Matlin, M. W. (2005). Cognition. Crawfordsville: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63 (2): 81–97.

Sternberg, R. J. (1999). Cognitive psychology (2 nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

http://www.simplypsychology.org/memory.html

 

Analysis of Gamification in Education

Gamification refers to the application of game dynamics, mechanics, and frameworks into non-game settings. Many educators have attempted, with varying degrees or success, to effectively utilize game dynamics to increase student motivation and achievement in the classroom. […]
Scott, A. and Neustaedter, C. Analysis of Gamification in Education. School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University.

Trends Shaping Education 2015 Spotlight

Over the past decades, societies in the OECD have made considerable progress in terms of gender equality.  Education plays an important role in ensuring that women and men have the same opportunities in their personal and professional lives, through formal schooling, shaping attitudes and transforming behaviours. […]

Burns, T. (2013) OECD: Trends Shaping Education 2015. OECD Publishing.

http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/Spotlight7-GenderEquality.pdf