As society’s ever-expanding love affair with technology continues to blossom the growing influence of technological innovation and its role within student instruction in today’s classrooms continues to be a hot topic of discussion. Clearly the changing nature of business necessitates the purposeful use of technology-based activities in the classroom consequently teachers need to adjust the manner in which they approach the effective development and delivery of classroom instruction. Through their actions to actively recognize the full instructional potential of educational technology teachers are now making the pedagogical shift necessary to positively affect student achievement. Now in making these instructional changes teachers must remain cognizant of the need to use of a variety of instructional strategies with students up to and including constructionist theory based strategies involving project-based, problem-based, or inquiry-based approaches. In examining the features of classroom instruction involving project-based learning it is important to note that the foundation of this instructional strategy is, as Han & Bhattacharya (2001) note, built on Jean Piaget’s theory of constructivist learning which asserts that “knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed in the mind of the learner” within a meaningful context. In working to link this theoretical definition with the effective creation of learning tasks involving the generating and testing of hypotheses opportunities do undoubtedly exist for teachers to actively engage students in prediction or ‘what if’ type tasks entailing the construction of personal knowledge.
In examining the attributes of effective constructionist instruction some teachers may lack experience with project-based learning and are consequently left wondering why they should adopt this method of teaching. The simple answer, according to online project-based website Edutopia (2011) is that “project-based learning is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges. With this type of active and engaged learning, students are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying”. In building upon this description the use of project-based learning experiences encourages students and affords them the opportunity to be effectively guided through the investigation and learning process. Within project-based instruction students are encouraged to ask high-quality questions, generate hypotheses and predictions, observe and evaluate information, and finally, as Orey notes, generate some form of external artefact which demonstrates understanding and is able to be effectively shared with others as a means of demonstrating growth in learning (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). Now given the ever increasing focus on effective technology integration and the use of real-world learning experiences, upon reviewing a selection of online project-based learning websites including Edutopia: Project Learning, Project-Based Learning: The Online Resource for PBL, and NASA Solar System Simulator it is apparent that technology can assist teachers in linking instruction with students’ innate curiosity about their surroundings and how things operate.
Obviously the use of technology such as these web-based resources further enhances the refinement of 21st century skills and works to encourage students to learn with technology as opposed to from technology. Now this desired learning shift, as Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski (2007) note, facilitates students incorporating personal knowledge into the technology-based decision-making process whereby they are able to see the possible outcomes of their personal hypotheses within virtual situations capable of providing “incredibly engaging learning environments, resulting in increased [student] motivation and retention in learning” (p.212). Glazer (2001) echoes this research when noting how project-based resources offer students opportunities to purposefully generate and test hypotheses by allowing them to “examine evidence about a particular topic and then respond to an issue or make a decision from a particular point of view”. Now generally when people hear the word hypothesis their minds may or may not automatically zoom off to the realm of scientific discovery, however Pitler et al. (2007) notes that this is not necessarily the case and that in fact the strategic development of hypotheses “is applicable to all content areas” (p.202). In using hypotheses as an instructional strategy the generating process builds upon the foundation of constructionism within project-based learning by effectively enhancing students’ interactions with information and promoting, as Orey observes, the first-hand application of knowledge in the creation of learning artifacts (Laureate Education,, Inc., 2011). In developing project-based scenarios involving hypotheses students are actively engaged in higher order thinking requiring them to make predictions, explain their learning, and then draw and express conclusions based upon their findings. This meaningful interaction with information throughout the completion of the task assists students in linking pre-existing and newly introduced information.
Clearly when implemented efficiently project-based learning involving hypothesizing draws on the inherent motivation of student curiosity, offers an element of challenge, and provides the higher level ‘thinking’ experiences needed to empower students to become active consumers of information capable of tackling real-world problems through critical problem-solving and group collaboration. In getting students actively thinking about the information they are examining, whether with or without the use of technology, teachers are able to encourage the development of meaningful learning connections and the proficient recall of information by their students. In closing the use of hypotheses in conjunction with constructivist instruction challenges students with meaningful activities designed to, as Glazer (2001) concludes, “address broader learning goals that focus on preparing students for active and responsible citizenship” - which is ultimately what effective teaching, is all about.
Edutopia. (2012). What Works in Education. The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning.
Glazer, E. (2001). Problem Based Instruction. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/.
Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.