Friday, September 21, 2012

Constructivist Intentions: Schemas & Scaffolding at Work

At DuPage Children's Museum (DCM) the educational theory of constructivism informs what we do and how we do it. Whether it is exhibit development or programming, we rely on a theoretical base that focuses on the work of early constructivists such as Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. 

Piaget’s theory is associated with child development and learning, and focuses on stages that begin with birth and evolve through adolescence. Piaget suggests that children progress through a series of stages of understanding that are built systematically on what they already know. Piaget refers to schema as building blocks of knowledge.

Vygotsky offers the term scaffolding when addressing how prior knowledge is used to acquire new concepts. He points to the importance of personal relationships in development and learning. Vygotsky describes the zone of proximal development as the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (Vygotsky, 1978).

Image courtesy of Instructional Development Timeline
by Charlotte McGovern and Barbara Bray

In DCM’s Make It Move Neighborhood we can see schema and scaffolding at work.  Step 1: Constructed ramps and rollers allow visitors to experiment with motion, velocity and speed using ramps that are designed as a permanent wall fixture. 
Mini Rollway
 Step 2: Visitors are guided to build ramps using materials designed to be fit into grooves on the wall. The grooves are purposefully made to encourage experimentation in building ramps with a variety of grades—steep and shallow alike.
Maxi Rollway
Step 3: The guides and grooves are removed and visitors are encouraged to build a structure entirely on their own by using blocks of various sizes and shapes to support a grooved rolling surface. 
Ramps and Rollers

Reference:  Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interaction between learning and development from Mind and Society (p.79-91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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