Social Constructivism (Journal 3A)

1. Driver et al. Article

This article is a theoretical account of the power of combining personal and social constructivist perspectives on knowing in the context of school science. A radical constructivist thread is woven into this perspective, highlighting the inherent (epistemic) uncertainty of scientific disciplinary knowledge.The authors are international scholars in the UK – Rosalind Driver received the Outstanding Scholar Award from the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (USA) which recognises the contribution of a life-time’s work – sadly she passed away several years ago.

1.1 Nature of Scientific Knowledge

The objects of science are not the phenomena of nature but constructs that are advanced by the scientific community to interpret nature“. What do the authors mean? What view of scientific knowledge arises from the Social Constructivist perspective of Driver et al.? What is meant by a relativist view?

The scientific knowledge is recognized not only because of the symbolic of nature itself, but also further constructed and validated through social interaction or dialog process within the scientific community. There are some “core commitments” within the scientific community to produce the scientific knowledge which could be (now) different from the “reality” of nature itself (who knows?). Therefore, once the scientific knowledge is validated by scientific community, it becomes the “acceptable scientific” concepts. The problem is the individuals or learners are improbable to find these acceptable scientific concepts through their own observation in the natural world. Therefore, if their teacher failed to facilitate the process of introduce the students to this culture or social institution, students will find separated ideas between scientific concepts of nature with the nature itself. It becomes the basic idea of social constructivism to view the scientific knowledge as the result of scientific community’s activities through social process. This view has major implications in teaching and learning science on creating social activities in the classroom. The learning process should recognize that individuals construct their own meaning on scientific knowledge (basic of personal constructivism), but further validated and communicated through social process. It is important to shaping science teaching in term of helping the learners to making sense of the scientific knowledge on their individual level within this cultural process. It is different from empiricist view which organizes individual sense-making and force students to accept the scientific view without any personal sense on it. Therefore, teachers’ role is important to create the “bridge” between individuals’ construction and the community of scientific knowledge through creating the social cultural setting in the classroom.

On the other hand, the relativist position view that scientific knowledge is true reflection of the world. This view points out the absolute truth of the world, which is impossible to have different perspectives on it. The scientific knowledge is true the nature itself, there is no intervention of socially process within the community. As a result, there is only one way to acquire the knowledge through the observation the world itself. Therefore, the progress of scientific knowledge becomes problematic from this perspective when the knowledge is changed because of the result of social process within the scientific community. Then, social constructivist perspective purposes the other view related to this ontology of reality, which is the scientific knowledge is constrained by the world itself, but it further constructed by social process. However, even though this relativist views need to be evaluated, but it is still mostly applied in teaching science, such as my teachingL.

1.2 Learning as Enculturation

From the Social Constructivist perspective of Driver et al., why is the metaphor of learning as enculturation more beneficial than the metaphor of learning as discovery? The interventionist role of the teacher is important for enabling students to construct ‘cultural tools’. What might they be?

The authors point out learning as enculturation engage the learners to involve within the ideas and practices of scientific community which provide the meaningful learning experiences on individual level. Scientific community later recognize as cultural or social institution which provides the process of internalization on it. Scientific knowledge is constructed when the individuals actively engage through social process, such as share the problems and task. As Piaget points out that social interaction could promote individuals’ cognitive development, such as through discussion. Moreover, the representation of scientific knowledge is communicated and validated within everyday culture which is difficult to be discovered by individual without the cultural process within this community. In addition, the authors declare that empiric studies of natural world will not expose scientific knowledge because is discursive in nature. Learning only or “pure” by individual process is almost impossible without social process which is recognize as learning as discovery. Therefore, learning as enculturation is more beneficial than learning as discovery.

Furthermore, teachers’ role is important to help students to make personal sense of the process of knowledge is constructed, generated, and validated within the community. It is more engaging the learners rather than to “organize individual sense-making about natural world.” The scientific knowledge as a product of scientific community culture needs to be introduced to learners. Moreover, well-designed learning experiences need to be developed to help students to recognize their personal sense. Classroom as the place to actively engage the students to understand and interpret the phenomena by themselves, then the social interactions with their peers could provide opportunity for them to reflect on their ideas. Teacher’s role is creating this physical environment to help students reflect on their ideas through this social process. This process will be meaningful for students and it could engage the students to modify their own ideas by themselves if they found it no longer appropriate. Teacher could create the learning environment which could encourage students to give their explanations or arguments on their ideas. Furthermore, the teacher as an “expert member” within the cultural institution need to provide “appropriate” culture tools such as “structuring tasks” which give opportunity for the learners as less experience members for internalize process and the take conscious control. Therefore, teachers’ intervention is essential to “provide appropriate evidence and make cultural tools and conventions of the science community”. As a result, it becomes challenges for the teachers not only to create the uncultured process within the classroom setting, but also face the conflict between the new ideas with the students’ prior knowledge.

1.3 Pluralism

What is meant by students having differing ‘conceptual profiles’ and what is problematic from this perspective about the notion of ‘conceptual change’?…this issue is relevant to the Socio-cultural perspective we explore in the next topic.

The authors provide the notion of conceptual profiles which provide opportunity for the learners to have plural conceptual schemes which appropriate for the specific social settings. Moreover, learning can be better if providing the parallel constructing within the specific context. Because individuals are unique, they could have different perspectives to make sense of the knowledge which doesn’t mean their perspectives are wrong. These different/plural perspectives could be appropriate within specific context. By respecting on the plurality of students’ conceptual profiles, students become more confident to express their own ideas. Through this process, students will found how valuable their thinking within the learning process in the classroom.

On the other hand, the conceptual change which is mostly applied in science teaching) didn’t allow students to have multiple conceptual since science itself is objective truth. Therefore, the conceptual change could be problematic if the individuals only allow having “one conceptual profile” to understand the concept, because their ideas could be appropriate for describe the nature phenomena within specific context. According to Posner group as cited in Taylor (1996), students should have dissatisfaction experience to their own ideas and fin the new ideas are intelligible, plausible, and fruitful. Moreover, school is not only simply to changing one conceptual into the acceptance one, but also to develop the conscious how the theories are developed. However, I think that both of conceptual profiles and conceptual change could be come together on the end of the process. I mean, conceptual profiles could be the “idiosyncratic” with conceptual change if the social setting is specific describing. For example, the concept of chemical reactions could be different from different students, they could see as arrangement of atoms, energy changing, or physical quantum which depend on the setting. But, it the context is specific provided, it could provide “idiosyncratic” conceptual (my assumption).

1.4 No Simple Rules for Teaching

In their summary, the authors’ state that no simple rules for pedagogical practice emerge from a constructivist view of learning”. Why not? Nevertheless, from a Social Constructivist perspective, what is the important features of the classroom role of the teacher? This issue is relevant to Constructivism being regarded as a referent in the next topic.

Since the scientific knowledge is constructed, validated, and communicated trough social process within scientific community, relationship between learning and pedagogy becomes difficult. If the representations of scientific knowledge in the classroom are very different with the everyday representations, learners will find the difficulties within their learning process. Learning science in the classroom introduce students to the new culture and discourse. According to Taylor (1996), “teachers are expected to work collaboratively as agents of cultural change in forums beyond their classrooms. However, it is not simple ways process to involve students within this process, because it needs appropriate ways to making sense on the new ideas. Therefore, teachers’ role is essential to introduce these cultural tools to make personal sense of viewing the world. In addition, in the classroom, teacher’s role is not only to introduce the new ideas and guide them to making sense by themselves, but also to listen and diagnose the instructions which are appropriate. Therefore, teaching becomes the learning process for the teacher to develop this process in appropriate way (teachers also learn), because it needs much effort to mediate between students’ everyday life and scientific world itself. As a result, there are no simple rules for pedagogical practices.

2. Dawson & Taylor Article

This article was written with one of my doctoral students, Vaille Dawson, now Lecturer at Edith Cowan University. Vaille had experimented with using a social constructivist perspective to shape the discussion in her Year 9 science classroom during a topic on ethics in science. The study yielded both promising outcomes and a salutary warning for constructivist zealots.

2.1 Open and Critical Discourse. A critical constructivist perspective shaped Vaille’s innovative approach to teaching bioethical dilemmas in her science class. Critical constructivism is explored in the next topic, so for now please explain the concepts of ‘open discourse’ and ‘critical discourse’ in the context of Vaille’s teaching.

Open discourse provides opportunities for students using their language to describe their own ideas and have learning experience as co-participatory activity. It is part of critical constructivism and challenges the students to face the conflict between their prior knowledge and the topic which is given. The students learn to value others’ opinion and reflect on their own. On Vaille’s teaching open discourse is applied through dilemma topic on Bioethics which challenges students to express their personal value. The applying of open discourse on her teaching represents through two scales of CLES which are personal relevance and student negotiation. On the personal relevance, Vaille stimulates students’ thinking through the ethical issues, listens and accepts to their views. She engages the students through this critically thinking process by bringing the outside world into the classroom. On students’ negotiation, Vaille provides opportunities for students to reflect on their own views and develop their understanding through discussion and collaborative learning activities with their peers. In this point, it is important to educate the students to respect and tolerant with different opinions. In addition, critical discourse provides opportunity to the “uncomfortable zone” which tends to open the existing social reality or culture which sometimes constrains students’ thinking. This process also encourages students to be critical and aware of the powerful myth within their reality. Vaille points out this critical discourse provides opportunities for students to “deconstructing social and emotional barriers to learning” which could engage students to view science as applicable knowledge in the daily life.

2.2 The CLES. Vaille chose 3 of the 5 scales of the Constructivist Learning Environment Survey to help her evaluate the implementation of her innovative teaching. The CLES was designed in accordance with a critical constructivist perspective (more on this in the next topic) to enable teacher-researchers to monitor the implementation of their constructivist inspired teaching approaches. It is available at the web site: along with papers on its development and use (versions for maths and science are interchangeable…just replace the term ‘science’ with ‘maths’). Please summarise the main characteristics of each of the five scales (Personal Relevance, Social Negotiation, etc).

There are five scales in CLES which are Personal Relevance Scale, Shared Control Scale, Critical Voice Scale, Student Negotiation Scale, and Uncertainty Scale.

Scale Name

Main Characteristics

Sample Item

Personal Relevance

· Relevancy between students’ learning and their world

· The degree of activities which bring the outside world into classroom

· Recognize and respect on students knowledge, values and experiences which they bring in the classroom

· Students become recognize the useful of their social world beyond the classroom (meaningful learning experiences)

I learn about the world outside the school

Shared Control

· Recognizing students’ autonomous in their learning

· Students’ participation in planning, conducting, and assessment of learning

I help teacher to plan what I’m going to learn

Critical Voice

· Students have opportunity to express their critical ideas (teacher as facilitator)

· Legitimacy of students’ critical voice

· Students enable to give the critical views on teaching and learning (such as teacher’s pedagogical plans, and methods) or “any impediments to their learning”

· Students could deconstruct social and emotional barrier in learning such as become a passive learners

It’s Ok to ask teacher, “Why do we have to learn this?”

Student Negotiation

· Students engage on cooperative working, reflect on their own ideas, and develop understanding and value

· Students not only reflect on viability of other students’ ideas, but also self-critically on their ideas

· Involvement with other students in assessing viability of new ideas (working together to solve the problems)

· Students also learn to respect and tolerance with other opinions

I ask other students to explain their ideas


· Provisional status of scientific knowledge

· The extent of uncertainty of knowledge which are represented and valued in the classroom

· Teacher as facilitator for students to engage with uncertainty knowledge which could be a part of students’ experiences

I learn that the views of science have changed overtime

2.3 Resistance to Epistemic Transformation. Although many students in Vaille’s class embraced enthusiastically the innovative constructivist learning environment she was attempting to introduce, others resisted. What major factors were identified in this study as having contributed to students resisting the teachers invitation to engage profitably in open and critical discourse? Can you suggest other possible factors?

Vaille created the learning experiences which engage students through open and critical discourse. She designed the learning experiences which provide opportunities for classroom debate and discussion. This type of learning activities require students to be active participate, engage and responsible on their learning goals. It became challenging for the learners who want to move on from their “comfort zone” as passive learners. But, for the others it became problems, since they view learning as “transferring” process. The other reason is because it put pressure to students to give contribution and engage with the learning goals, some students felt uncomfortable on it. Therefore, it is also important for teachers (transformative teachers) who willing to apply the new strategies to realize that some students could be lack willingness to engage with the process. Moreover, her students realize the value of the activities, but they felt that it is lacking relation to their science learning. As a result, they seem unwilling to engage the learning. In addition, social constructivism requires students’ engagement through the collaborative learning. Therefore, it is important for them to understand their own leaning process, especially their own knowledge of the world which based on their experiences. Vallie also taught students to realize and respect on students’ different ideas which sometimes it is difficult to accept others ideas. People tend to be happy as the correct/superior one. I think for applying the constructivism, it is not only shifting paradigms for teachers but also for students from passive to active learners.

3. Confrey article

Jere Confrey (a female) is one of the leading mathematics educators in North America. She has written extensively about the use of a social constructivist perspectivefor shaping the teaching and learning of primary school mathematics.

3.1 What more did you learn about teaching from a Social Cvst perspective from this paper? (eg., teacher questioning, modelling).

A social constructivism perspective gives major implication on students’ role within their learning such as collaboration and negotiation. As a result, teachers’ instruction is important to promote students’ autonomy, reflection, construction, and negotiation. Teacher need to shift their paradigm from traditional to constructivist, form product to process oriented, from routines to reflections. I agree that the most basic skill that teacher need to develop is approach to unexpected respond from their students which have very unpredictable perspectives. It is also emphasized by Piaget that child may see the mathematics or scientific ideas with different way as result of different form of argument, materials, and experiences. It is not easy or simple way to replace this idea, teacher need to convince that “their ideas are not longer effective or the other ideas are more preferable”. Therefore, I realize teaching is not simple way of process changing conceptual.

Furthermore, this paper concern on the role of teachers’ instruction which is important to build the connection between students’ internal thinking process and the object outside. Therefore, teacher need to build models of students’ understanding (students’ construction) through varied ways. The instructions also need to be interactive and responsive to students’ conceptions, in this stage teachers need to prepare themselves to negotiate with students’ existing ideas (which could be acceptableJ). Then, it is important for giving opportunities for students to decide their own construction. In the instruction, teacher need to promote “ 1)the autonomy and commitment in the students, 2) development students’ reflective process, 3)construction case histories, 4) identification and negotiation solution with students, 5)retracing the solution paths, 6) adherence to the intent of material”.

On the promoting autonomy and commitment, it is important to questioning students’ answer which helps students to responsibility on their own learning. It will lead to students become good problem solvers. Furthermore, there are three categories of questions: problematic, action, and reflection. On this stage, students are challenged to encounter the situation, then solving the problems, and reflecting their solution. In addition on construction the case history, teacher try to view their own students’ performance through students’ view which can be taught as a case story. This process helps the students to challenge their own ideas and the teacher to create flexible approaches and multiple perspectives. Then on identification and negotiation of a tentative solution path provide the framework of students’ thinking to solve the problems. Teacher could work with the students to build this tentative solution path which could be through interview. Furthermore, reviewing the solution path provides opportunity to reflect on the problems and solution. All this approaches on the instruction show that the constructivist teacher has more opportunities to share the learning process with the students and more respect on students’ ideas.

3.2 What is the distinction between ‘weak’ and ‘powerful’ constructions? How might this distinction be useful?

The powerful construction engage students to identify and interpret the problems, then justify to their cognitive process. It involves students’ reflection on their construction which can lead to development of their understanding. Because of it involve students’ conscious of their thinking process and it will lead to the meaningful learning experience for them on the individual levels. On the other hand, the weak construction reflect on the learning as transferring process which depends on teachers’ input trough direct instruction. As a result students become passive learners who find difficulties to explain the reasons behind their ideas which become the problem in the learning process. However, this type of construction is common happened in the learning process which mostly influence by the teachers. Furthermore, this distinction will help teacher to decide the appropriate instruction to develop the powerful instruction. It emphasizes the importance of active views from the learners. The social constructivism view will help teacher to build this type of instruction, because students are engaging on developing their understanding through reflection and social process in classroom setting. As a result, students modify their conceptions because of their own conscious and constructive process.


Confrey, J. (1990). What constructivism implies for teaching, in Davis, Maher, and Noddings (Eds.). Constructivist views on the teaching and learning of mathematics. JRME Monograph, Reston, Virginia, NCTM.

Dawson, V.M. & Taylor, P.C. (1990). Establishing open and critical discourses in the science classroom: Reflecting on initial difficulties. Research in Science Education, 28(3), 317-336.

Driver, (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational Researcher, 23(7), 5-12.

Taylor, P.C. (1996). Mythmaking and mythbreaking in the mathematics classroom. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 31(1,2), 151-173.


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