Archives for category: Constructivism

Jean Piaget
Born: 1896
Died: 1980

Lev Vygotsky
Born: 1896
Died: 1934

2 kinds of constructivism

Educational Technology and Learning Theories

The Science of Learning – Deans for Impact – Annotated

Math Curriculum Report – 12/2/2003

See page 15, which lists criteria for adoption of a math curriculum in IUFSD.

“Constructivist approach with modeling”

This was 2003, 12 years and 3 superintendents ago. “Constructivist” was a requirement for every math curriculum the district considered. Nobody even looked at Singapore Math. Or Saxon Math, or any of the other “instructivist” math curricula available on the market. 

Constructivism isn’t new.

It’s old.

The word “constructivism” has replaced “progressive education,” but it’s the same thing, only worse.

Constructivism is worse because after the 1960s, progressive education merged with postmodernism to produce radical constructivism

The progressive education movement, which began in the 1890s, was always anti-intellectual. But after the 1960s, progressive education became anti-“truth” as well. From the standpoint of radical constructivism, everything is relative, and there are no right answers. (And the right answer can be wrong.)

What’s different about what Kris and Raina are doing is that most administrators give lip service to constructivism while continuing to tolerate teacher-centered classrooms in practice. 

Kris and Raina intend to make classroom reality conform to ideology.

That’s what’s so dangerous.

Right answer is wrong - 10533__Standardized_Testing
Source: Facebook

Workplace skills Irvington_Vision_and_Current_Reality10_2015_2-GMK_pdf - BEST

What do we know about the future? Irvington_Vision_and_Current_Reality10_2015_2-GMK_Strategic plan

A slide from the Strategic Planning forum.

College preparation is not included. Nor does the facilitator see knowledge as important to the workplace.

This is constructivism.

Constructivists believe the world is changing so fast that the knowledge students learn today will go extinct by the time they graduate high school or college.

Therefore you should replace knowledge with empty skills that can be transferred to all the new jobs yet to be invented. 

That’s the constructivist position.

Cognitive science tells us that the constructivist position is wrong: empty cognitive skills do not exist.

Instead, skill and knowledge are flip sides of a coin: no knowledge, no skill. This is turning out to be true with athletics, too. Athletic skill draws upon knowledge stored inside long-term memory.

For the record, constructivism is a very old philosophy, dating back as far as 1900.

In one of the earliest manifestations of constructivism, progressive educators argued that working class students should be taught useful skills like sewing instead of Latin and Greek. Working class parents disagreed. They wanted their children to be taught the same elite curriculum wealthy children were taught.

Today progressive educators argue that no one should be taught traditional knowledge — rich, poor, or in-between.

They’ve updated the “skills” they believe children should be taught to a fuzzy array of workplace skills: leadership, “strategic planning skills,” etc. 

Constructivists believe public schools should become pretend b-schools, and that is what our central administrators, supported by a board majority, are doing.


Kris Harrison’s plan for the district


Definitions of Success 3.5.2013 – Superintendent definition & response

Tony Wagner – Rigor Redefined – Harrison vision – 9.24.2013replaces college preparation with “workplace” preparation

Rigor Redefined by Tony Wagner – October 2008

Creating IUFSD Vision for Technology – 1.28.2014 (annotated) 

Creating the Vision for Technology – 1.28.2014 (original)

Response to superintendent technology memo – 2.8.2014

Flipped classrooms in Irvington – Irvington Insight – 1.2014



District Technology Plan – Adopted 6.15.2015no mention of college preparation; no mention of Common Core

9-29_-_strategic_plan_presentation_FINAL “Framework for Strategic Planning”

STRATEGIC PLANNING FORUM: Irvington Vision and Current Reality 10.14.2015.2 – Strategic planing forum – GMKno mention of college preparation; no mention of Common Core

Super’s plan: replace college prep with “workplace” prep
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered classrooms 
“Fast trends”
Teachers “taking risks”

I’m told a video of Tony Wagner was shown at last night’s Community Forum.

Tony Wagner’s ideology is antithetical to liberal education (which Wagner seeks to “redefine”) and to the findings of cognitive science (see: The Science of Learning). 

Ironically, given how difficult the district’s transition to Common Core has been, Wagner’s work is also incompatible with CC. 

The Common Core has its problems, but one problem it does not have is Tony Wagner. Nowhere in Common Core documents will you find a reference to “21st century skills.” The phrase “21st century skills” is a marketing slogan invented by the “Partnership for 21st Century Skills,” an advocacy group created by technology companies and the NEA.

The Common Core is attempting to improve the level of academic rigor in public schools. CC has gone about this task wrongly, at least in the case of English literature, and the testing regimen is a mess. But the goal is right.

Tony Wagner’s goal is to eliminate rigor altogether. To be fair, his stated goal is to “redefine” rigor. But he is not qualified to redefine rigor in the disciplines, and his attempt to do so eliminates rigor altogether. .


This is the Wagner article Kris Harrison and Raina Kor are using to transform the district:

Rigor Redefined by Tony Wagner


And this is a letter to the Enterprise re: Kris Harrison’s adoption of Wagner the consent of the people:

To the Editor:

At the September 23, 2014 meeting of the Board of Education, Superintendent Kris Harrison briefed the board on his plan for the district.

His plan is drawn from Tony Wagner’s 2008 opinion piece, “Rigor Redefined,” available here:

Wagner believes the world is changing so rapidly that by the time today’s children reach adulthood, most of the knowledge they learned in school will be obsolete.

Thus the school’s traditional mission of imparting knowledge to a new generation should be subordinated to a new mission: helping students master seven “21st century skills” Wagner claims to have identified. (Wagner spends the second half of his essay denigrating Advanced Placement classes and their teachers.)

Two years later, the superintendent has acted on at least five of the seven “skills.” This has had the effect of actually increasing the need for tutors, because teaching knowledge is not the district’s priority. Teaching “21st century skills” is. That’s why we now have flipped classrooms, learning stations in 6th-grade math, children sitting in pods peering at iPads and Chromebooks, guidance counselors ordered not to help students draw up lists of colleges, and a Shark Tank project in the middle school. (The last two innovations fall under skill number 4: “Initiative and Entrepreneurialism.”)

What unifies Wagner’s list of seven “skills” is the absence of knowledge, and that’s the first problem. Cognitive scientists have spent years trying to explain that knowledge stored inside long-term memory is different from knowledge stored on Google. To think critically, you need the former. When you think without knowledge, all you’re doing is taking your clichés for a walk.

A second problem: Wagner’s piece was published before the crash. It was wrong then (as a few minutes on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website reveals), but it’s even further off base today. The 21st century Wagner imagined, with its happy, humming global society and its ever-increasing “abundance,” is not the 21st century we got. Our children got world recession and Charlie Hebdo.

But the most important problem is the fact that all of these changes are being made without the consent of the people. No member of the board has expressed enthusiasm for changing the mission of the school to the teaching of 21st century skills, yet three members of the board have allowed the superintendent to proceed.

I hope the next board will have the strength to change course.


How Kris Harrison has interpreted Tony Wagner’s 21st century skills so far: 

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: flipped classrooms; stations in math class

Collaboration and Leadership: students are seated in pods; teachers “facilitate”

Agility and Adaptability ( ? )

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism: teachers “are encouraged to take risks”; Innovation Fund; Shark Tank project; “leadership coaching”; guidance counselors forbidden to help students draw up lists of colleges because students need to take ownership of the process

Effective Oral and Written Communication: writing taught outside subject-matter courses in violation of what we know about effective practice

Accessing and Analyzing Information: Chromebooks, iPads, Google replaces textbooks

Curiosity and Imagination (“we want kids to make mistakes”… )

Super’s plan: replace college prep with “workplace” prep
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered classrooms 
“Fast trends”
Teachers “taking risks”

This student (video: Flipped classrooms aren’t teaching) makes an important point about the damage flipped classrooms do to the teacher-student relationship.

Progressive educators believe in “horizontal” classes as opposed to “vertical,” hierarchical classes. Inside a horizontal class, everyone is a “learner,” and the teacher is just a guide on the side. As a result, the teacher-student relationship is weakened while the peer relationship is strengthened.

It’s ironic because districts like ours spend a small fortune to reduce class size, but our administrators, aided and abetted by parents on the board, use reduced class size to grow the distance between teacher & student instead of shrinking it.

The smaller the class, the easier it is to put all students in groups. Inside larger classes, the noise level alone makes small-group work untenable.

So we pay for small class size, but we get peer editing, learning stations, & flipped classrooms.

Flipped classrooms are especially beloved by progressive educators/constructivists because they move the teacher to video, and you can’t form a relationship with a video. Inside a flipped classroom, eye contact happens primarily between students, not between teacher & students. 

And see:
Teachers singing about becoming guides on the side
The choice

BEGIN: 1:50
“One method that is used in Common Core teaching is called the flipped classroom, where the students are given work that they don’t know how to do and given blanks or other worksheets and told to come back with the work done. I’ve experienced this more this year and it is incredibly confusing and a monotonous way to learn what I’m supposed to bring to the table. We’re expected to teach ourselves using a video. That’s not teaching. I’ve said this before in other speeches and I’ll say it again because it’s imperative to the survival of education. Teachers are irreplaceable. Irreplaceable. The bond they create, the knowledge they have, the opportunities a student has to ask questions and see multiple examples from a caring, knowledgeable person and not a computer screen is so valuable. One thing I’ve enjoyed most about school as I’ve gotten older is the bond I’ve been able to form with almost all of my teachers, past and present. This is what has let me enjoy school so fully until now. Take this away and you will have a irreparably damaged education forever.”
END: 2:55

Flipped classrooms aren’t teaching

7th grade in a learner-centered school.

This is what constructivism looks like. Students study themselves, in groups; the teacher is a guide on the side.


Compare to 6th grade at Brearley, where students grapple with an “intellectually rigorous and coherent literature curriculum”:

Grade 6

  • Folk Tales (summer reading continued into the fall): A large number are read and a few are selected for class discussion. They include: “The Valiant Chattee-Maker” (Indian), “The Young Head of the Family” (Chinese), and “The Wonderful Tar-Baby” (African-American).
  • Ballads: Five Scottish ballads—“Sir Patrick Spens,” “Edward, Edward,” “Mary Hamilton,” “The Twa Corbies,” and “Barbra Allen,” the last two having available English counterparts.
  • Book of Genesis, King James Version, with some abridgement.
  • Greek mythology, based on selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, The Iliad, and The Homeric Hymns.
  • The Odyssey

Or compare our 7th-grade classrooms to 7th grade in Core Knowledge.

If administrators and board members listened to parents and taxpayers, this is the education IUFSD children could have: CORE KNOWLEDGE – Gr7 – CKFSequence_Rev-4

And see:
6th grade English at Brearley
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered

Technology in Classrooms Doesn’t Always Boost Education Results, OECD Says

. . . students who spend an above-average amount of time in front of a computer at school performed worse than other students, including those who might not use them at all.

In mathematics tests, the survey found that almost any time spent on the computer led to poorer performance on both written and digital tests.

Researchers found much the same results when students used computers for homework. They also found that students who used computers excessively were more likely to feel isolated or alone.

Cross-posted at the Irvington Parents Form

The school board has posted its “District Technology Plan 2014-2018.”

College preparation isn’t on it.

The only goal of “technology,” here in IUFSD, is the propagation of “21st century skills.”

That is a grave mistake, not least because 21st century skills don’t exist.

The phrase “21st century skills” is a marketing slogan developed by the “Partnership for 21st Century Skills,” a lobbying outfit created by the NEA and tech companies that sell to schools.

“21st century skills” are win-win for unions and tech companies.

The union wins because no teacher can be held accountable for teaching 21st century skills.

Tech companies win because schools buy more devices.

You don’t need Chromebooks and iPads to prepare students for college (or law school, or business school, or medical school).

Change the mission to “21st century skills,” and every student needs a mobile device.

Bob Grados, Maria Kashkin, and Phil Whitney have decided that this is our path.

Three people have the power to make this decision for all district children.

Theory of Action

If we provide students with rigorous, authentic learning experiences rooted in a comprehensive curriculum, then they will acquire the knowledge, skills and dispositions of successful 21st Century learners that will prepare them to thrive in a rapidly evolving global society.”

That’s another thing: we don’t live in a “rapidly evolving global society.”

“Rapidly evolving global society” is a slogan created by unions and tech companies.

When you look at the actual data, or live in the actual world, you know that: a) we don’t live in an exciting, fast-paced “global society” (not unless you think Charlie Hebdo and ISIS offer our kids fabulous opportunities for advancement; and b) to the extent that we do live in a “global society,” it’s not “rapidly evolving.” 

The quote-unquote global society is no different today than it was 20 years ago, except that it’s worse in every respect. More financial trauma, more terror.

The simple truth is that our central administrators are completely unmoored from reality, and they are supported by 3 people who know it’s all nonsense but have chosen to impose the will of the central administrators they’ve hired and tenured on the rest of us.

Since the words “comprehensive curriculum” are plugged into the “theory of action” above, I will concede that, yes, of course, the district will continue to “offer” state-required college preparatory courses.

But our central administrators have zero interest in college preparation or in liberal education.

When that is the case, when you’re “offering” liberal education only because the state requires it, you’re not going to do it well.

Time to opt out.


All of this ties in directly with the hours-long interrogation of middle school children who accessed the teacher’s portion of the district website.

Kris, Raina, and Jesse fetishize technology.

They light up when they talk about technology; the delivery of PowerPoint talks and “Think Tank” manifestos on the subject of technology is the only time you hear real excitement in their voices, and see real excitement in their faces. For our central administrators, technology is magic.

If the three (five?) middle school boys who have been treated so harshly had done what they did without touching a computer, they would have been given lunchtime detention and that would have been the end of it.

But these boys broke a rule that involved a computer.

Breaking a rule involving a computer triggers automatic notification of the police. The Code of Conduct says so.


Even worse: reading through the Code, I learned that the punishment for bringing a gun to school is a one-year suspension.

Not expulsion. Suspension. For bringing a real gun in school.

One of the boys was threatened with permanent expulsion for a first computer infraction.

That tells you everything you need to know about our plight.


Do we want to be a constructivist district?
21st-century skills, the document Kris & Raina are using to transform the district

Excerpt from “Constructivism versus Students” by Siegfried Engelmann, creator of Direct Instruction curricula

Constructivism has captured the imagination of many educators, but it is not a strong theory….If we look at examples of first-grade children “learning” in a constructivist classroom, we may observe very few teacher-initiated activities;…it’s clear that the teacher’s role is not to teach, but to facilitate. Children make decisions about their learning or at least the experiences that are designed to promote learning.


[Using Direct Instruction curricula], we do not assume that all children learn at the same rate or make the same mistakes. The two main ways we address these differences is to (1) vary the rate at which program content is introduced and (2) design the material so it preempts major misconceptions that some students will otherwise learn.

We can identify students who require more practice to learn things. We can provide appropriate instruction for them by slowing the rate at which new material is introduced. The students [in Direct Instruction classrooms] are grouped homogenously, placed in instructional programs according to their skill level, and taught at a rate that assures they perform at about 70% correct on any new material introduced in the lesson and nearly 100% correct at the end of each daily lesson. Applying this formula assures that all groups will remain properly placed.

The program we use to teach the specified content must reflect awareness of the mistakes some students will make unless the program is designed to obviate these problems. For example, some beginning students make mistakes in identifying the letters b and d. These are perfectly reasonable errors, because the letters are the same shape in different positions. Students have never encountered objects that have one name when they face left and another name when they face right. So b-d confusion is probably not a result of students having “perceptual problems.” Their perception may be impeccable, but they don’t know when to call that object “dee” and when to call it “bee.”

The simplest way to address this problem is to introduce the letters at different times. For example, introduce d first. Then provide writing and reading practice for several weeks before introducing b. In most cases, b-d confusion is not a problem of students’ learning mechanisms or “perception”; it’s a problem of the program designers and teachers being unable to identify the problem that some naïve learners have in conceptualizing b and d as characters that change their name when they are flipped.

Note that classroom discussions in a typical constructivist classroom never identify the real problem some children have or the fact that their “perception” of b and d being the same are perfectly consistent with their mental schema and experiences.


[T]he first question that must be answered by constructivists is: Do you accept standards as indicators of specific content and relationships students are to learn? If their answer is no, they reveal themselves as radicals whose objectives are inconsistent with agreed-upon skills and information that students are to learn. If they say yes, they must next face what is the most fundamental question about their approach: How successful is your version of the constructivist approach? This question is not answered by how much the teachers or students enjoy their school experiences, but by data on how well students met specific standards. Did they do comparatively as well as students in a highly structured approach?


Mislearning as a Form of Constructivism

I worked with sixth grade “gifted” students who had been in a discovery-math program since kindergarten. The gulf between their verbal skills and their math performance was profound. They thought that the daily discussions about their math experiences were required steps in learning math. In other words, students didn’t simply work math problems; they discussed them and other things that seemed related to the problem or the students’ math history. Possibly the most telling incident of how handicapped they were occurred after I had been working with them for three days. I presented them with a set of word problems that paralleled the problems we had worked in the preceding lesson.

One of the highest performers in the classroom was making no progress on the first problem. He drew some ilk of Venn diagrams and was doing a lot of erasing.

I asked him to read the problem aloud.

Then I asked, “Have you worked any other problems like this one?”

He responded, “What do you mean?”

I said, “Do you remember the problem you worked yesterday about the birds in the barn?”


“Isn’t that problem like this one?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t both of them tell about each part and ask about the whole group?”


“You worked that problem correctly. Why aren’t you working this problem the same way?”

The student didn’t understand this relationship because he had never worked two word problems that were the same and had precious few experiences of solving any problem before the teacher went over the problems and led the discussion of various ways students could have solved them.

At the time this student struggled with the fundamental assumption of word problems, we were working with a class of disadvantaged third graders who were at the same place as the gifted students. By the end of the school year they were more than 40 lessons ahead of the gifted students. They progressed much faster because they didn’t have the misconceptions that prevented them from learning. The learning of the gifted students continued to be painful unlearning and relearning. The disadvantaged students had long since discovered that what they learned next built on what they had already mastered. Other discoveries they made included: I am smart; I learn fast and do well in math; I know how to use what I learn; I like math.

The chaotic experiences and failures of the gifted students preempted them from making these discoveries. Their discoveries were consistent with their experiences. Their responses on a questionnaire we gave them indicated serious misconceptions: they thought working a word problem required a preamble that contained many random observations and much discussion; they had learned key word strategies that sometimes helped them figure out how to work some problems; they gave up trying to learn something from the ensuing discussion; more than half indicated that they hated math.


Who Is the Teacher?

The theme of constructivism is that children formulate their awareness of the world from their experiences. In the typical classroom students share their perceptions. Why? Does this provision benefit the student who is sharing or those who are supposed to be attending? If the input is supposed to benefit the listeners, what makes the input better than that of a knowledgeable teacher who has information about both what students are to learn and the students’ current performance? If the input is supposed to benefit the speaker, only about 1/20th of the total time benefits a given student. Compounding the problem is the fact that this discussion robs time from the period, leaving less time for possible productive instruction.

In summary, the “learners” in a constructivist classroom are very strange creatures. They learn from their experiences; they supposedly benefit from the often-inarticulate observations of other children; however, they are prohibited from learning from a knowledgeable teacher who understands what students are trying to learn and who has information about the various mistakes students make. Not surprisingly, those who promote this orientation don’t have one shred of empirical data to support their prejudices. In other words, constructivism is philosophically impoverished and empirically sterile.

Constructivism Versus Students by Siegfried Engelmann | 2015

This paper aims to discuss epistemological and philosophical foundation of meaningful learning and teaching mathematics and science from the perspective of radical and social constructivism. I have reflected on my experiences of radical and social constructivism through dilemma, dialogue, and defense of my personal epistemology of learning. I went through articles of different authors which immensely put me into a dilemma as I tried to make connections to my experiences of learning and teaching mathematics and science. While doing this, I found myself in a great crevice of philosophical tensions between radical and social constructivism that lead into further dialogue between two selves, one as radical and other as social constructivist, and defended each epistemological/philosophical identities in terms of learning and teaching mathematics and science.
Radical versus Social Constructivism: Dilemma, Dialogue, and Defense
Shashidhar Belbase
Graduate Student of Mathematics Education College of Education
University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming
October 19, 2011

What teachers are taught in education school

Teachers as facilitators

Teachers can facilitate a student’s self imposed learning by using techniques like; peer to peer learning which is when students are left to their own means of discovering the answers to their exercises. After a lesson is introduced students can attempt to learn together and try to help one another solve the problems. Another useful tool for community learning in the classroom is reading or literacy circles. Students are given guidelines and challenged to find the answers as a group. Working together takes the pressure off of an individual and encourages shared learning. The teacher’s job is to introduce concepts, ask questions about the subject and show them what route to take but the students get to the answers by themselves.
SOURCE: Voices in Education | website written by 3 students working on Bachelors degrees in education at the University of Windsor

What the research says


Recent studies conclude that teachers are important for student learning but it remains uncertain what actually determines effective teaching. This study directly peers into the black box of educational production by investigating the relationship between lecture style teaching and student achievement. Based on matched student-teacher data for the US, the estimation strategy exploits between-subject variation to control for unobserved student traits. Results indicate that traditional lecture style teaching is associated with significantly higher student achievement. No support for detrimental effects of lecture style teaching can be found even when evaluating possible selection biases due to unobservable teacher characteristics.
SOURCE: Is traditional teaching really all that bad? A Within-Student Between-Subject Approach BY Guido Schwerdt and Amelie C. Wupperman | CESifo Working Paper No. 2634
And see: Harvard Study Shows that Lecture-Style Presentations Lead to Higher Student Achievement

You can find scattered studies showing success with student-centered learning in some settings.

You can find many studies showing success with teacher-centered learning.

What you absolutely cannot find is a large and respected body of scientific research establishing constructivism as superior to direct instruction.

Yet education schools teach student-centered methods as dogma.

Irvington Parents Forum at Yahoo Groups
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Irvington Union Free School District
Irvington USFD Board Meetings – YouTube

From a UK teacher:

“It wasn’t until I had been teaching 11- to 18-year-olds for four years that I realized I had been consistently misled. Up until that point I had trusted my teacher training to provide the best of what had been discovered in the discipline of teaching and learning. If I had been shown a method or theory by which I could perform my job more efficiently, I assumed it would have been forged in the crucible of experience and evidence. I assumed that what we knew about teaching, say, chemistry, for example, progressed in a linear, accumulative way. But I found the opposite.

As a philosophy and religious studies high school teacher in the United Kingdom, I discovered that a good deal of what was considered orthodoxy in my profession was unsubstantiated. I believe many of my teacher colleagues in the United States have made similar discoveries.

In 2004, I had just emerged from the U.K. Department for Education’s Fast Track recruitment program into teaching, where I had spent weekends learning about Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a program called Brain Gym, and how to sort my students according to their learning styles. I was told that my students possessed multiple intelligences, and it was strongly hinted to me that the more technology I could accommodate into my lessons, the better their needs as digital natives would be met. My initial classroom design of rows and columns was frowned upon, and tables and horseshoes were recommended. And all because, I was told, the research confirmed each avenue.”
Group Work for the Good
Unpacking the Research behind One Popular Classroom Strategy
By Tom Bennett

And see:
Do we want to become a 21st-century skills district?

Irvington Parents Forum at Yahoo Groups
Irvington Parents Forum on Facebook
Irvington Union Free School District
Irvington USFD Board Meetings – YouTube

American schools have been largely constructivist for the past 15 years.

Constructivism means:

Every education school in the country teaches constructivism, and all public schools are required to hire only teachers who have attended education schools (or taken a required number of courses in education, which they take from education departments). This means that every teacher below the age of 45 or so graduated from education school taking it as a given that students should spend their days constructing meaning and conducting inquiries in groups. (Every teacher except for the handful who searched out other views on their own, that is.)

So here we are, 15 years after education schools stopped training future teachers in the techniques of moving knowledge from their own minds into their students’ long-term memories. From America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future:

  • In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores.
  • In numeracy, U.S. millennials ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.
  • In PS-TRE, U.S. millennials also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
  • The youngest segment of the U.S. millennial cohort (16- to 24-year-olds), who could be in the labor force for the next 50 years, ranked last in numeracy along with Italy and among the bottom countries in PS-TRE. In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain.

This isn’t just a problem of urban schools:

  • Top-scoring U.S. millennials (those at the 90th percentile) scored lower than top-scoring millennials in 15 of the 22 participating countries, and only scored higher than their peers in Spain.

America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future | ETS | 2015
And see: Education schools don’t teach teachers how to teach

This year 6th-grade math students have been given only one day of whole-class direct instruction per week.

They spend the other four days engaging in math activities or watching videos at a “learning station,” which they choose.

Many parents have hired tutors to provide the missing instruction at home.

None of our administrators takes responsibility for this state of affairs.

Details at the Parents Forum listserv.

Answer: yes

More technology in the classroom has long been a policy-making panacea. But mounting evidence shows that showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices will not shrink the class divide in education. If anything, it will widen it.

In the early 2000s, the Duke University economists Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd tracked the academic progress of nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students against the dates they were given networked computers. The researchers assessed the students’ math and reading skills annually for five years, and recorded how they spent their time. The news was not good.

“Students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” the economists wrote, adding that license to surf the Internet was also linked to lower grades in younger children.

In fact, the students’ academic scores dropped and remained depressed for as long as the researchers kept tabs on them. What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest. When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff.


An unquestioned belief in the power of gadgetry has already led to educational snafus. Beginning in 2006, the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child project envisioned a digital utopia in which all students over 6 years old, worldwide, would own their own laptops. Impoverished children would thus have the power to go online and educate themselves — no school or teacher required. With laptops for poor children initially priced at $400, donations poured in.

But the program didn’t live up to the ballyhoo. For one thing, the machines were buggy and often broke down. And when they did work, the impoverished students who received free laptops spent more time on games and chat rooms and less time on their homework than before, according to the education researchers Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames.

Can Students Have Too Much Tech? By SUSAN PINKER JAN. 30, 2015


From a constructivist perspective knowledge is not acquired through “memorization” but constructed by assimilating information based on our perceptions and agreed conventions (Bates & Poole, 2003).

An authentic learning framework for integrating one-to-one laptop usage in Hong Kong Schools by Kathryn Reed and Matt Bower

This is completely wrong.

“Constructing” knowledge has almost nothing to do with, later on, actually remembering the knowledge you’ve constructed.

That’s why writers keep notebooks. If you don’t write down the knowledge you’ve just constructed, you won’t remember it the next day.

Speaking of “fast trends,” the superintendent hopes to establish a new “BYOD” policy this fall.

UPDATE 7/8/2014: I gather that the idea isn’t for parents to purchase devices, but for taxpayers to do so.

Laptops in the classroom have been shown actually to reduce learning, but public school administrators have rejected peer-reviewed research for many years.

Recently, a debate has begun over whether in-class laptops aid or hinder learning. While some research demonstrates that laptops can be an important learning tool, anecdotal evidence suggests more and more faculty are banning laptops from their classrooms because of perceptions that they distract students and detract from learning. The current research examines the nature of in-class laptop use in a large lecture course and how that use is related to student learning. Students completed weekly surveys of attendance, laptop use, and aspects of the classroom environment. Results showed that stu- dents who used laptops in class spent considerable time multitasking and that the laptop use posed a signiWcant distraction to both users and fellow students. Most importantly, the level of laptop use was negatively related to several measures of student learning, including self-reported understanding of course material and overall course performance. The practical implications of these findings are discussed.
In-class laptop use and its effects on student learning by Carrie B. Fried | Computers and Education | 2007

There is tremendous pressure, inside the ed world, to transform public schools into make-believe start-ups.

Inside the”student-centered” class of the 21st century, students move purposefully about the room, poking their devices and working in teams to…innovate.

From a typical report in Education Week:

The fast trends:

Schools are rethinking the roles of teachers, as pressure increases for digital-learning integration in classrooms, including a shift to “student-centered” learning and flipped classrooms. The report states that in ideal class settings, the teacher will function as the mentor, guiding groups and individual learners through technology-based lessons.


Trends expected in five years or more:

Overall changes in the structure of schools are aimed to create innovative school designs and restructuring school schedules to allow more flexibility and cultivate student creativity. The report notes that the multi-disciplinary nature of project-based learning and other models requires subjects to be linked to one another, without the restriction of bell schedules and classrooms. Students at Venture Academy in Minneapolis go to school in a repurposed printing plant without structured classrooms and at High Tech High in San Diego students work freely throughout the school building, designing structures and producing multimedia.

This is where IUFSD is headed.

SUPERINTENDENT: Curriculum should be infused with technology
CURRICULUM: I am a child-centered professional
TECHNOLOGY DIRECTOR: Jesse Lubinsky, Technology Director,
..Twitter feed
|  NY Tech Ed blog

“…the chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions, low teacher quality, burdensome government dictates. Many a charter school in the US has been able to bypass those barriers without being able to produce better results than the regular public schools they were meant to replace. No wonder. Many of these failed charter schools were conceived under the very myths that Ms. Christodoulou exposes [in her book Seven Myths About Education]. It wasn’t the teacher unions after all! Ms. Christodoulou argues convincingly that what has chiefly held back school achievement and equity in the English-speaking world for the past half century is a set of seductive but mistaken ideas.”

A Game-Changing Education Book from England
by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
July 2nd, 2013

Do we want to be a constructivist district, part 1

Constructivism in Practical & Historical Context by Brent G. Wilson | February 2010 | Draft chapter for inclusion in Bob Reiser & Jack Dempsey (Editors), Current Trends in Instructional Design and Technology (third edition). Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011.


If you spend time with professional educators – K12 teachers, education professors, or even corporate trainers – you will run into the term constructivism. As its name suggests, constructivism sees learning as a process of constructing or making something. Constructivism says that people learn by making sense out of the world – they make meaning out of what they encounter.


Constructivism is a theory or philosophy of learning “based on the idea that knowledge is constructed by the knower based on mental activity” (Skaalid, no date). It can be defined as “meaning making… rooted in the context of the situation… whereby individuals construct their knowledge of, and give meaning to, the external world” (Babb et al., no date). As an educational philosophy it came to prominence in the early 1990s.Based on writing of that time (Dunlap & Grabinger, 1996; Merrill, 1991; Savery & Duffy, 1996; and Wilson, Teslow & Jouchoux, 1993), the basic precepts are:

  • Learning is an active process of meaning-making gained in and through our experience and interactions with the world
  • Learning opportunities arise as people encounter cognitive conflict, challenge, or puzzlement, and through naturally occurring as well as planned problem solving activities
  • Learning is a social activity involving collaboration, negotiation, and participation in authentic practices of communities
  • Where possible, reflection, assessment, and feedback should be embedded “naturally” within learning activities
  • Learners should take primary responsibility for their learning and “own” the process as far as possible

Our superintendent is a constructivist who is pursuing constructivist reforms.

His predecessor was also a constructivist who was pursuing constructivist reforms (e.g.: “the high school vanishes“), but while she brought in balanced literacy and doubled down on Math Trailblazers, she was never able to transform the high school, possibly because the then-principal was a long-tenured veteran who publicly embraced the various directives but ignored them in practice.

He is gone now, and we are seeing constructivist reforms — flipped classrooms being the most obvious — in the high school.

“Constructivism” is the current term for “progressive education.” Another term: “student-centered.” Constructivist classrooms are student-centered. Traditional classrooms, the kind you would see at an elite college, are teacher-centered.

“Student-centered classroom” sounds like a good thing, but what it actually means is that students teach themselves in pods and pairs. The teacher is a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. Nor does the curriculum hold authority over students, who choose their own books to read. (The middle school Reading Workshop is a student-centered class.)

So that’s where we are. Our current curriculum director is a “child-centered professional.” The superintendent is hiring a new curriculum director, and that person will also be “student-centered.”

The question: is this what taxpayers want?

Here is a definition of constructivist teaching from the article “Ubiquitous laptop usage in higher education: Effects on student achievement, student satisfaction, and constructivist measures in honors and traditional classrooms” | Christian Wurst a, Claudia Smarkola b,*, Mary Anne Gaffney a:

3. Constructivist teaching
Constructivism is a learning theory where individuals construct meaning from their own current knowledge. It is a way of attending to teaching that allows for a multiplicity of alternatives; it is a concept that is broad enough to allow for a great deal of variation but specific enough to provide guidance to practitioners. Many educational psychologists and curricular specialists have created lists of the traits that they expect to find in a constructivist classroom (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Jonassen, 1991; Jonassen, 1994; Murphy, 1997; Partlow & Gibbs, 2003; Savery & Duffy, 1995; Wilson & Cole, 1991) A comparative analysis of these traits revealed ten general patterns that seem to be common to constructivist classrooms. They are:

1. Learning is collaborative and cooperative. Students work in groups or task-based ad hoc teams. These types of groups help students recognize the role of social contracts in the learning process.

2. Students have control and responsibility for their learning. Self-regulation strategies are encouraged. The teachers are more interactive and act as mediators, coaches or translators.

3. There is an acceptance of multiple perceptions of reality and students’ opinions are valued and actively sought by the teacher. Students are asked how they feel about a topic; they are not told what to feel about any topic.

4. Students’ learning is embedded in authentic, real world scenarios and problems are posed as actual situations. When possible, original data are provided to the students.

5. Instructional goals are negotiated not imposed. Students’ questions are valued and sought, and they control the pace and direction of much of the classroom activity. Instructors allow ample time, after posing questions, for students to frame answers. While these goals are often disparate, the solution is negotiated.

6. Assessment is both formative and summative. Grades are based (either in whole or in part) on portfolios, presentations and other forms of knowledge display. Formal examinations are not eliminated; however, their use is heavily supplemented by these other assessment media.

7. Learning is active. Teachers stress understanding rather than rote memorization. There is an emphasis on the integration of learning and life; students are urged to discover the interrelatedness of concepts and their application to the real world. Students are implored to explore alternative understandings and applications of the classroom concepts.

8. Classes are not highly structured. Topics emerge and meaningful digressions are permitted. Students are pushed to derive alternative outcomes for problems and to see conflicting points of view.

9. Teachers are the guides on the side; this often gives rise to the notion that the teacher is a co-learner. They pose problems and engage students in dialogue; they often give advice on how to find an answer to a problem but never directly provide a solution for the problem at hand. Their role is to help the students understand the task, not provide the solution.

10. The students are urged to become self-reflective and to aid their student colleagues in their self-reflection.

Constructivism has altered the roles of professors and students. However, the roles of professors and their students have been slowly changing over time. A key catalyst for this change began in the 1960s when rebellious students on college campuses challenged existing social traditions (Oldenquist, 1983). Students found themselves being treated as peers and participants in many college-governing activities (Joughin, 1968). In 1968, the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges issued a Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students. This document stated that students should be consulted on all educational matters and defined them as the immediate consumers of college educations (Joughin, 1968).

Do we want to be a constructivist district, part 2

Since our district looks likely to adopt “one-to-one” computing in the not too distant future (see: Creating the Vision for Technology), I’ve taken a look at some white papers and reports discussing its effectiveness.

Interestingly, several of them openly report that issuing laptops to all students helps change traditional teachers into constructivists — I say “openly” because the word constructivism is actually used. Normally constructivist practices are promoted sans the label, which isn’t a draw for parents. But not in this case.

Of course, few parents are going to see white papers extolling the transformative wonders of laptops in the classroom, so that may account for the frank celebration of guide-on-the-sidery.

From a report on Microsoft’s Anytime Anywhere Learning Program :

Laptop teachers show significant movement toward constructivist teaching practices. When we asked teachers to reflect on their practices three years ago and currently, only the Laptop teachers showed statistically significant change toward more constructivist teaching practices. These changes included more frequent uses of student-led inquiry and collaborative work, and also included departures from traditional classroom roles and changes in activity structures. Data from Non-Laptop teachers did not show any significant changes in their practice from three years ago. In a measure of more traditional teaching, Non-Laptop teachers report they employ direct instruction (a traditional practice defined on our questionnaire as the sequence “review, teach, guided practice, individual practice”) almost every day, and that this has not changed at all over the last three years. In contrast, Laptop teachers have moved from employing direct instruction almost every day to about once a week in the current year. However, differences in current practices for Laptop and Non-Laptop teachers on most measures were not statistically significant, though directionally Laptop teachers were slightly more constructivist. The laptop program itself, then, may be acting as a catalyst for change.


For both groups, the large majority of teachers who indicated a change toward more constructivist pedagogy also indicated that computers played a role in that change. When we asked teachers to reflect on changing practice, we also asked them to indicate whether computers had played a role in particular changes, such as using more authentic assessment, allowing themselves to be taught by students, encouraging students to choose their own research areas or explore topics independently, or moving away from direct instruction. In each case, more than four out of five teachers who made a change in such practices indicated that computers played a role in this change; in some cases, one hundred percent indicated a computer role. Computers themselves, then, may be acting as a catalyst for change for both Laptop and Non-Laptop teachers.

Teachers sing about becoming guides on the side

Digital Schools: How Technology Can Transform Education:

Imagine an educational system in which pupils master vital skills and critical thinking in a collaborative manner, social media and digital libraries connect learners to a wide range of informational resources, student and teacher assessment is embedded in the curriculum, and parents and policymakers have comparative data on school performance. Teachers take on the role of coaches, students learn at their own pace through real-life projects, software programs track student progress, and schools are judged by the outcomes they produce.4 Rather than being limited to six hours a day for half the year, this kind of education moves toward 24/7 engagement and full-time learning.5
Darrell West | Brookings | 2012
Chapter 1: New Models in Education

So I guess in the brave new world, spring break is going to be a thing of the past.

Makes sense.

Once technology has transformed education, kids won’t care about spring break. They’ll be having too much fun mastering vital skills and critical thinking at their own pace in a collaborative manner through real-life projects to care about going on vacation.

And see:
Consulting the Google machine
Our goal
Response to superintendent technology memo

One of our local high schools started the flipped classroom strategy and both students and parents pretty much rebelled. I was asked to tutor former students taking Algebra 2 who had been outstanding “real” Algebra 1 students. I actually encourage my students to hang out on Khan’s site but only because many of his lessons are interesting and can serve as an excellent supplement. An important part of teaching and learning math is the interaction among students with their peers and teacher WHILE learning is occurring, not a day after the fact. And that even assumes that quality learning occurred while watching videos with no opportunity for questions. The guide on the side folks have been trying to separate me from my students for the past forty years. They accuse you of being the sage on the stage because you dare attempt to teach. If flipped classrooms are being pushed by educrats and colleges of education, beware.

Vern Williams is something of a legend in ‘instructivist’ circles. He teaches algebra to gifted 8th grade students, served on President Bush’s National Mathematics Advisory Board, and was I believe the sole classroom teacher involved in writing the Common Core math standards. (Common Core State Standards Initiative K-12 Standards Development Teams)

Three of his articles in the Times:

All posts on flipped classrooms

This graphic from Knewton, which writer David Neilsen links to, explains the rationale behind ‘flipping’ the classroom. The goal isn’t to “engage” students (Powerpoint movies are boring) or to increase achievement (achievement won’t be measured), but to eliminate the teacher as “sage on the stage.” Or, because the teacher-sage can’t be eliminated altogether–not if you want students to pass Regents examinations–to banish the act of explicit instruction out of sight, in the student’s home. Explicit instruction is rejected by education schools. In their ed-school classes, aspiring teachers and administrators are told that students must teach themselves via “inquiry,” “discovery,” “problem-solving,” “collaboration,” and the occasional “struggle.” The correct role for the teacher, they learn, is as “guide on the side,” not “sage on the stage.” Guide-on-the-sidery is the core belief, the core message, and the core teaching of the education programs all public-school teachers and administrators are required to attend. It is also the core teaching of  the “professional development” provided by education schools and their graduates. In all likelihood this group of teachers singing about becoming guides on the side thanks to Common Core wrote their song at a professional development workshop. The dream of the flipped classroom is the dream of finally removing the teacher from the front of the classroom forever.


Flipped classroom - complete - Knewton

Source: Knewton Infographics

UPDATE: Mathematics teacher Vern Williams responds: One of our local high schools started the flipped classroom strategy and both students and parents pretty much rebelled. I was asked to tutor former students taking Algebra 2 who had been outstanding “real” Algebra 1 students. I actually encourage my students to hang out on Khan’s site but only because many of his lessons are interesting and can serve as an excellent supplement. An important part of teaching and learning math is the interaction among students with their peers and teacher WHILE learning is occurring, not a day after the fact. And that even assumes that quality learning occurred while watching videos with no opportunity for questions. The guide on the side folks have been trying to separate me from my students for the past forty years. They accuse you of being the sage on the stage because you dare attempt to teach. If flipped classrooms are being pushed by educrats and colleges of education, beware.

Vern Williams is something of a legend in ‘instructivist’ circles. He teaches algebra to gifted 8th grade students, served on President Bush’s National Mathematics Advisory Board, and was I believe the sole classroom teacher involved in writing the Common Core math standards. Two of his articles in the Times:
The Tri-State Consortium, a group of public school administrators and teachers from nominally high-performing districts, will soon be returning to Irvington, this time to evaluate our World Languages program.

Tri-State reports are constructivist* in nature: they focus on “21st century skills” and the like as opposed to knowledge.

Constructivists value “skills” (21st century skills, critical thinking skills, critical inquiry skills, noncognitive skills, etc.), which they believe can be taught separately from knowledge. (Another constructivist claim: whatever knowledge one may need in order to execute a skill can be looked up on Google.)

“Instructivists” value knowledge (which includes skills).

That is the conflict.

You can see Tri-State’s “skills” focus in the text below, which is drawn from its 2007 evaluation of the district’s math program. A translation follows the text.

From the report:

1. How effectively does the K-12 Mathematics program prepare students for higher level thinking skills required in the 21st century?

The structure of the Trailblazers program includes a comprehensive mathematics curriculum that contains embedded quantifiable evidence of critical thinking skills, an important part of preparing students for their futures. The program consists of an approach to mathematics that develops resourceful and competent problem-solvers who can use a variety of tools, from manipulatives through to calculators, graphs and data tables. Students, K-5, will transition into sixth grade with a common vocabulary, a consistency of performance-based assessments, and computational fluency.

The Tri-State team’s concern relates to the challenge to maintain the critical thinking skills that students have acquired in the K-5 program as they move into the district’s more traditional math environment. With a clearly articulated balance of integrated critical thinking skills and traditional math, the student results will be a deeper and more enduring understanding of mathematical procedures and concepts.

Currently, there is a wide range of 21st century skills defined as vital for students’ future success; critical thinking is just one of them. The Tri-State team suggests that the district identify, analyze, and select those skills that are relevant and developmentally appropriate to the K-12 program. A coherent plan that identifies specific thinking skills that are assigned by grade level and course, scaffolded to ensure consistency, and agreed upon by administrators and teachers, will establish the framework essential for sustainability.

Tri-State Consortium Irvington Visit Report
November 7-9, 2007

Obviously, these three paragraphs contain a great deal of jargon and obfuscation. In fact, the reason I read the report in the winter of 2008 was that a friend who had tried to read it and failed asked me to read it for him. Reading is all about background knowledge, and to read a Tri-State Consortium report you have to know the Tri-State Consortium world and words.


The first paragraph lavishes praise on Trailblazers. From the sound of it, Trailblazers would be a perfect choice for implementing Common Core standards (as our district interprets the standards).

Note that the report echoes Trailblazers marketing materials, which claimed students would achieve “computational fluency” without drill. Constructivism opposes memorization and drill.


The second paragraph expresses “concern” over the “challenge” of K-5 students being able to “maintain the critical thinking skills” they possess when they enter “the more traditional math environment” of grades 6-12.

Translation: With the adoption of a constructivist math curriculum only in the early grades, K-5 is now on a collision course with 6-12.

The report is clear as to which math curriculum is superior: Trailblazers.

In Tri-State’s mind, the question is: How will Irvington students be able to “think mathematically” in middle school and high school if they use traditional math textbooks and are taught in traditional ways?


The third paragraph recommends that the district create a 21st century skills-style math program for all grades, K through 12.

The final reference to “sustainability” is an allusion to the sustainability of Trailblazers. If grades 6-12 are not brought into alignment with Trailblazers, the report warns, Trailblazers may not survive.

In the end, the Consortium was right about the sustainability of Trailblazers, wrong about the notion that children could acquire “computational fluency” without practice.

Eventually the middle school teachers, possibly encouraged by the then-curriculum director (I don’t know),** protested 6th graders’ lack of preparation, and timed worksheets were introduced in grades K-5. Since one of Trailblazer’s main selling points was its promise that children would learn the math facts without timed worksheets, the worksheets amounted to a repudiation of the curriculum.

Two years later, Math Trailblazers was unceremoniously dumped in favor of a math curriculum that had yet to be written.

* Also see: constructivism, excerpted from An Electronic Textbook on Instructional Technology by Irene Chen
**During a board meeting I attended, the then-curriculum director praised the middle school math teachers for their courage in coming forward. Of course, by that point parents had been coming forward for years, but there was no public acknowledgment that parents had been right.

Trailblazers “Math Night” in 2007
The Banality of Deeper Learning by Tom Loveless May 29, 2013
..11:00am | The Brown Center Chalkboard | Brookings
Irvington Parents Forum at Yahoo
IUFSD Factoids

Irvington Parents Forum at Facebook

No longer can a teacher be the sage on the stage
Common Core essential standards change how we teach
Become a guide on the side to engage
Common Core essential standards change how we teach

Focus on student engagement
Practices communication
Relevant data yes
Common Core essential standards change how we teach

No list of algorithms to memorize
Common Core essential standards change how we teach
Graphing calculators and real-world ties
Common Core essential standards change how we teach


These teachers are singing about constructivism.

Why Minimally Guided Teaching Techniques Do Not Work:
A Reply to Commentaries

Why educationists want to flip the classroom