Student Perspectives: Constructivist learning
Alex: I learned so much about the budget, the long process that it takes, and I wouldn’t have learned any of this if I was either being lectured at by a teacher or reading it out of a book. I think that when you have other students presenting something to you, you learn more than you do from the teachers, which many teachers don’t believe. They believe that teachers know more than the students and sometimes that’s not the case. In a class like this where you have so many smart individuals, I think letting the students get up and teach to the class is important and other teachers should do it also.
Andrew: I prefer learning hands-on. At the beginning of the year, I did not like group work but now I appreciate it a bit more. I get to work with more people. My views have been broadening, and so it’s a bit easier to work with people who share different views or beliefs. Simulations allow you to see what other people go through. You can see what’s going through the minds of Congressmen or Senators. It’s an enjoyable experience. You get a better view of things. The textbook says something about it but doesn’t really describe what those people are doing or how those actions take place. I think that if we were taught hands-on, it would be a lot easier for people to get a feel of how things work.
Caitlin: It’s definitely different. I find it very refreshing because usually you have very set ways in which you read the book [and] you are tested. You are supposed to comprehend it. Discussion makes the class so different. You don’t have proof that this is a hard class except for the projects. The proof is in the discussion of what you are talking about. She will kind of ease us along until we kind of come to a conclusion. When we read a book (Worldly Philosophers by Hobrenner), we would read a chapter and then we would all sit in a circle and we would all have poker chips. Usually we would have about two or three, and whenever we had a question or wanted to ask something, we would throw it in. We would have a discussion.
Emily: It involves you more. It’s more application and less just doing stuff out of the textbook. We have discussions and debates and some of the debates can be pretty interesting. There is role-playing. You work in groups. It’s not quite as routine. Instead of just sitting there and listening to the teacher talk, you’re participating--and everybody does participate. You don’t have to, but we want to because we want to get our ideas out there. I think that it helps to apply it. It’s not just words on paper, it’s actually how it happens.
George: It’s hands-on, as opposed to learning that this is the budget, this is what it does, and this is a typical budget. We are experiencing what its like to build a budget--the obstacles that you run into, the attempt to try to please everybody, the attempt to try to distribute money fairly. We are learning about the cabinet. We are learning about the President’s group, as opposed to just saying, “Here are the notes. Here is the test.” I think that’s a wise way. With hands-on experience, we remember that this is what we talked about, and since we are working with people, we get to remember the experience we had working with certain people.
Michael: I personally feel that learning like this is a lot more interesting than reading a book and filling out worksheets. You retain the information more and you just get a better feel for how it is in real life and what they really go through to do these types of things. I think that the chief thing is keeping interest because so many students (I’ll admit that occasionally I’ve done the same) just zone out. When it’s small-group discussions, everyone is talking. I would say that this type of thing teaches you more about the topic. [You’re] not cramming to memorize words for a vocabulary test or the ideas for a test. [You’re] really learning the material and retaining the material after you’ve gone on to another subject.
Often we have two lectures. One is a simple light preparation, but the real important one is after we have an understanding of the issue and we personally have some experience with it. We come up with questions when we are working in groups and then we can ask those questions at the later discussion or lecture. That’s when we’re really learning and getting the absolutes. Some things you really couldn’t have a small group discussing, because they’re nothing but facts. But you need those facts for [the] discussion that you might have a week from now so I feel lectures have a place.
When you give someone a little bit of information and then they discuss it and are unsure and have more questions, they develop a desire to actually know what it is. Another big thing is when you’ve discussed it and then she tells you what it is, you really understand it. If she had just come out and told you, you might memorize it and spit it back out on a test and that’s it. It’s really the experience in the discussion that makes you understand what she’s lecturing about.
Sarah: We have read through the [textbook] and done Supreme Court cases. Then we take one for each person and do presentations on them. So we learn from ourselves and then we present to the class. A lot of time your peers will learn from you, almost even better. Earlier in the year we would read a book, but then we would write papers and [have] lectures within the class. We all sit in a circle and discuss what we think on issues--not even issues from the textbook, but sometimes even issues that were happening today--big issues, especially around September 11 . We do use textbooks, but it’s actually more of an at-home thing because the students in seminar are responsible enough to do the homework and we learn it on our own. That frees up class time to discuss other real-life issues. That way you can take what’s in the textbook and relate it to what’s going on now. A lot of times what happens in classroom environments is that you just read out of the textbook and you can’t relate it to anything else that’s going on. With civics, you have to be able to relate it to what’s going on in today’s world.
Tony: This has given us a hands-on example and shows us exactly what happens in Congress with debates and people fighting over what they think is important and prioritizing the different parts of the budget. In this type of a classroom, it provides a very intellectual stimulus. Everyone has to participate in order for it to work because otherwise you can’t decide on anything. When everyone participates, you have different opinions and you have to compromise, which seems to work a lot better than just having it read to you. You can’t see an example you haven’t heard and done yourself.
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