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Lifelong Constructionism


Awhile back I wrote Constructivism vs. Constructivism vs. Constructionism. I got to thinking about these issues again this last weekend.

If we believe that lifelong learning is important, what part of constructionism should be lifelong? Is it the learning from constructionism (e.g., the declarative knowledge, the inquiring approach), or is it the process of constructionism? If the latter, we probably shouldn't choose science as the domain of the constructionist projects that we encourage students to tackle.

Amateur scientists are essentially passive. They read books. You rarely hear about amateur scientists making new discoveries. Science is too hard and expensive to do as an amateur anymore. What fun is it to replicate the discovery of a scientific theory from 200 years ago? "Great, f=ma STILL..."

Why is it that there are lots of businesses that survive and even thrive by filling the needs of amateur craftspersons and artists, but very few businesses that meet the needs of amateur scientists? Nature Company sells a few telescopes, but I never see adult kits anymore for electronics (Heathkit went under years ago), chemistry, or biology. But I get huge catalogs from musician supply companies. Is this an indication of the market, or just inadequate marketing?

There are amateur mathematicians, as one would believe from successful puzzle books. There are also amateur computer scientists. Why is that? Is that it's fun to build to a compiler or operating system or graphics tool, even if it's been done before? Or that no one has told the amatuers that there is a right way of doing things, and that someone does know that right way? Maybe what makes amateur arts (including music) and crafts successful is that it's okay if you do it the wrong way. Hard to make f= m 0.5 a work, but my music works for me, even if it doesn't work for you. And I can learn from it (e.g., try to figure out how to improve it, how to make it even better, try to identify the variables), even if nobody else likes my arts and crafts.

There are amateur engineers. There is a huge market in supporting them, e.g., Home Depot. Do these engineers question what they do? Do they really try to learn, a la Constructionism, from their activities? Maybe that attitute, that perspective is the thing that we ought to be focusing on teaching students for lifelong constructionism.

Is there transfer between constructionist projects? If we help students to learn with constructionist projects in arts or crafts, something that they might continue with lifelong, will the attitude and process of constructionism carry across to science? Maybe a more productive path into science is from constructionist projects that are not in science.

Maybe the bottom line is, as is often the moral of education stories these days, "Dewey was right." Maybe teaching students the kinds of crafts that are in their community, that they might be using for the rest of their lives, is the right place to situate learning.

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